Energy & Environment — Drought costing California agriculture billions

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

A new study finds that drought is costing California’s agriculture industry billions. Meanwhile, Russian strikes knocked Ukraine’s electricity offline, and the Biden administration approved a new oil export terminal.  This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Sign up below or online here. Programming note: We will be taking a break on Thursday and Friday. We'll be back Monday. Happy Thanksgiving! Close Thank you for signing up! Subscribe to more newsletters here The latest in politics and policy. Direct to your inbox. Sign up for the Energy and Environment newsletter Persistent drought adds to California losses: study As California’s drought stretches into a third straight year, the state’s agriculture industry is incurring billions in related losses, a new study has found.  The report estimates direct impacts on farm activity of $1.2 billion this year — up from $810 million in 2021.But the effects of the drought in 2022 extended far beyond that $1.2 billion sum, according to the report, released by the University of California, Merced’s Water Systems Management Lab.Impacts on food processing industries that depend on farm products were about $845 million in 2022 — up from $590 million last year.  What makes this particularly bad? “California is no stranger to drought, but this current drought has hit really hard in some of the typically water-rich parts of the state that are essential for the broader state water supply,” co-author John Abatzoglou, a professor of climatology at UC Merced, said in a statement.  Altogether, the combined direct and indirect consequences of the drought have reached about $2 billion in value-added losses this year alone, researchers found. By the numbers: These losses amount to a 5.9 percent reduction when compared to those of 2019 and also resulted in 19,420 job cuts, according to the study.  In addition to suffering the impacts of the drought, California’s agricultural economy has also suffered from supply chain disruptions, including the ability to ship crops out of state, the authors explained.  Such delays could result in increased inventory and influence some of California’s specialty crop prices, according to the study.  While acknowledging such negative effects of the drought on agriculture, the researchers found that things could have been worse.  Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin. Officials OK Gulf oil terminal over local opposition Federal regulators this week approved a new oil terminal in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas over the objections of local activists, who argued the move contravenes the Biden administration’s stated climate goals. The Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration formally granted the license Nov. 21, ending a process that began under the Trump administration three years ago.The Sea Port Oil Terminal would be located offshore of Freeport, Texas, with a capacity of 2 million barrels a day.The project would involve two pipelines running through the city of Surfside Beach, where the City Council unanimously voted in opposition to the project in March 2020.  Greenpeace blasted the Biden administration’s approval of the terminal, pointing to an environmental impact statement published in July projecting the terminal would generate 83,000 tons of carbon emissions per year through the construction process alone, with a projected total of 219 million tons a year in downstream refining and combustion emissions.  The environmentalist group also pointed to President Biden’s recent attendance at the COP27 United Nations climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and the Biden administration’s stated commitment to cutting carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030.  “When we say oil and gas companies are sacrificing communities to make a buck this is exactly what we’re talking about. We have less than a decade to cut emissions by half. Approving new oil and gas projects is not a bridge, it is an on-ramp to planetary collapse,” Destiny Watford, climate campaigner at Greenpeace US, said in a statement. “It is peak hypocrisy for President Biden and [Transportation] Secretary Pete Buttigieg to shorten the fuse on the world’s largest carbon bomb by greenlighting additional oil export terminals right after lecturing the world about increasing climate ambitions at COP27.” Read more about the approval here. Ukraine electricity rocked by Russian strikes Russia launched mass strikes on critical infrastructure in Ukraine on Wednesday, knocking out power across much of the country and causing temporary blackouts at power plants, Ukrainian officials said.  Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said the “vast majority of electricity” for consumers in Ukraine was disrupted after the shelling.Officials also reported a temporary blackout for all nuclear plants and most heating and hydroelectric plants, affecting millions of people.  The details: “There are some emergency outages happening. The lack of electricity can affect the availability of heat and water supply,” the ministry said in a Facebook update. “The power workers are already working and doing their best to restore power as soon as possible. But [given] the scale of the impact, it will take time.”  Russia has launched missile strikes targeting civilian infrastructure and energy grids in Ukraine since October following heavy losses in the war.  The Energy Ministry said despite the widespread blackouts, “Russia will not succeed in intimidating Ukrainians.”  “Ukrainians are not afraid of the cold. Ukrainians are not afraid of the dark. Ukrainians are not afraid of terrorists,” officials wrote in the Facebook post.  Wednesday’s strikes included 70 missiles, about 51 of which were shot down by anti-air defenses, according to a Telegram post from state grid operator Ukrenergo, which is working quickly to repair the damage.  Read more from The Hill’s Brad Dress.  TALES FROM THE CRYPT(O) New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Tuesday signed a law temporarily restricting cryptocurrency mining in the state over environmental concerns, making it the first state nationwide to implement such a move. The bill was delivered to the governor on Tuesday after the state legislature passed the measure in June, and The Associated Press reported that Hochul signed the measure.  The restrictions also come after the collapse of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which has led to growing scrutiny of the industry.  But the New York law instead takes aim at the technology’s environmental impact, establishing a two-year moratorium on permits for fossil fuel plants used for cryptocurrency mining that utilizes “proof-of-work authentication.”  The technology, which is used for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, requires large amounts of energy, and the law’s text suggests its use makes achieving the state’s climate goals more difficult.  Read more from The Hill’s Zach Schonfeld.  ON TAP NEXT WEEK Tuesday The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is slated to vote on advancing nominees including (the many-times-delayed nomination of) Joseph Goffman to lead the EPA’s air and radiation office, Beth Prichard Geer to be a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Shailen Bhatt to lead the Federal Highway Administration.  Wednesday The Senate EPW Committee will hold a hearing on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the private sector. Thursday The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a large slate of energy bills.  WHAT WE'RE READING How China, the world’s top polluter, avoids paying for climate damage (The Washington Post) U.S. aims to sanction Brazil deforesters, adding bite to climate fight (Reuters) How the U.S. Abruptly Shifted Decades of Climate Policy (The New Republic) EPA skips stricter aircraft pollution regs (E&E News)  🦃 Lighter click: Go Turkeys!  That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you next week. 

A new study finds that drought is costing California’s agriculture industry billions. Meanwhile, Russian strikes knocked Ukraine’s electricity offline, and the Biden administration approved a new oil export terminal. This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Sign up...

A new study finds that drought is costing California’s agriculture industry billions. Meanwhile, Russian strikes knocked Ukraine’s electricity offline, and the Biden administration approved a new oil export terminal. 

This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Sign up below or online here.

Programming note: We will be taking a break on Thursday and Friday. We'll be back Monday. Happy Thanksgiving!

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The latest in politics and policy. Direct to your inbox. Sign up for the Energy and Environment newsletter

Persistent drought adds to California losses: study

As California’s drought stretches into a third straight year, the state’s agriculture industry is incurring billions in related losses, a new study has found. 

  • The report estimates direct impacts on farm activity of $1.2 billion this year — up from $810 million in 2021.
  • But the effects of the drought in 2022 extended far beyond that $1.2 billion sum, according to the report, released by the University of California, Merced’s Water Systems Management Lab.
  • Impacts on food processing industries that depend on farm products were about $845 million in 2022 — up from $590 million last year. 

What makes this particularly bad? “California is no stranger to drought, but this current drought has hit really hard in some of the typically water-rich parts of the state that are essential for the broader state water supply,” co-author John Abatzoglou, a professor of climatology at UC Merced, said in a statement

Altogether, the combined direct and indirect consequences of the drought have reached about $2 billion in value-added losses this year alone, researchers found.

By the numbers: These losses amount to a 5.9 percent reduction when compared to those of 2019 and also resulted in 19,420 job cuts, according to the study. 

In addition to suffering the impacts of the drought, California’s agricultural economy has also suffered from supply chain disruptions, including the ability to ship crops out of state, the authors explained. 

Such delays could result in increased inventory and influence some of California’s specialty crop prices, according to the study. 

While acknowledging such negative effects of the drought on agriculture, the researchers found that things could have been worse. 

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.

Officials OK Gulf oil terminal over local opposition

Federal regulators this week approved a new oil terminal in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas over the objections of local activists, who argued the move contravenes the Biden administration’s stated climate goals.

  • The Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration formally granted the license Nov. 21, ending a process that began under the Trump administration three years ago.
  • The Sea Port Oil Terminal would be located offshore of Freeport, Texas, with a capacity of 2 million barrels a day.
  • The project would involve two pipelines running through the city of Surfside Beach, where the City Council unanimously voted in opposition to the project in March 2020. 

Greenpeace blasted the Biden administration’s approval of the terminal, pointing to an environmental impact statement published in July projecting the terminal would generate 83,000 tons of carbon emissions per year through the construction process alone, with a projected total of 219 million tons a year in downstream refining and combustion emissions. 

The environmentalist group also pointed to President Biden’s recent attendance at the COP27 United Nations climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and the Biden administration’s stated commitment to cutting carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. 

“When we say oil and gas companies are sacrificing communities to make a buck this is exactly what we’re talking about. We have less than a decade to cut emissions by half. Approving new oil and gas projects is not a bridge, it is an on-ramp to planetary collapse,” Destiny Watford, climate campaigner at Greenpeace US, said in a statement.

“It is peak hypocrisy for President Biden and [Transportation] Secretary Pete Buttigieg to shorten the fuse on the world’s largest carbon bomb by greenlighting additional oil export terminals right after lecturing the world about increasing climate ambitions at COP27.”

Read more about the approval here.

Ukraine electricity rocked by Russian strikes

Russia launched mass strikes on critical infrastructure in Ukraine on Wednesday, knocking out power across much of the country and causing temporary blackouts at power plants, Ukrainian officials said. 

  • Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said the “vast majority of electricity” for consumers in Ukraine was disrupted after the shelling.
  • Officials also reported a temporary blackout for all nuclear plants and most heating and hydroelectric plants, affecting millions of people. 

The details: “There are some emergency outages happening. The lack of electricity can affect the availability of heat and water supply,” the ministry said in a Facebook update.

“The power workers are already working and doing their best to restore power as soon as possible. But [given] the scale of the impact, it will take time.” 

Russia has launched missile strikes targeting civilian infrastructure and energy grids in Ukraine since October following heavy losses in the war. 

The Energy Ministry said despite the widespread blackouts, “Russia will not succeed in intimidating Ukrainians.” 

“Ukrainians are not afraid of the cold. Ukrainians are not afraid of the dark. Ukrainians are not afraid of terrorists,” officials wrote in the Facebook post. 

Wednesday’s strikes included 70 missiles, about 51 of which were shot down by anti-air defenses, according to a Telegram post from state grid operator Ukrenergo, which is working quickly to repair the damage. 

Read more from The Hill’s Brad Dress. 

TALES FROM THE CRYPT(O)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Tuesday signed a law temporarily restricting cryptocurrency mining in the state over environmental concerns, making it the first state nationwide to implement such a move.

The bill was delivered to the governor on Tuesday after the state legislature passed the measure in June, and The Associated Press reported that Hochul signed the measure. 

The restrictions also come after the collapse of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which has led to growing scrutiny of the industry. 

But the New York law instead takes aim at the technology’s environmental impact, establishing a two-year moratorium on permits for fossil fuel plants used for cryptocurrency mining that utilizes “proof-of-work authentication.” 

The technology, which is used for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, requires large amounts of energy, and the law’s text suggests its use makes achieving the state’s climate goals more difficult. 

Read more from The Hill’s Zach Schonfeld. 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK

Tuesday

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is slated to vote on advancing nominees including (the many-times-delayed nomination of) Joseph Goffman to lead the EPA’s air and radiation office, Beth Prichard Geer to be a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Shailen Bhatt to lead the Federal Highway Administration. 

Wednesday

  • The Senate EPW Committee will hold a hearing on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the private sector.

Thursday

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a large slate of energy bills. 

WHAT WE'RE READING

  • How China, the world’s top polluter, avoids paying for climate damage (The Washington Post) 
  • U.S. aims to sanction Brazil deforesters, adding bite to climate fight (Reuters
  • How the U.S. Abruptly Shifted Decades of Climate Policy (The New Republic
  • EPA skips stricter aircraft pollution regs (E&E News

🦃 Lighter click: Go Turkeys! 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you next week. 

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

System to protect threatened species from development ‘more or less worthless’, study finds

Environment ministers’ decisions spanning 15 years made no difference to amount of habitat destroyed, researchers sayGet our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcastDecisions by environment ministers spanning 15 years to either wave through projects or impose stricter conditions to protect threatened species made no actual difference to the amount of habitat destroyed, according to a new study.More than half of habitat cleared to build infrastructure, mines, urban developments and for agriculture came after a minister had decided projects would have a “non-significant” impact on species and habitat, the study says.Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundupThe term “significant impact” was too vague and the criteria around it was ambiguous, leading to subjective decisions.Developers intentionally minimise the potential impacts of a project and governments relied too much on reports from consultants paid by proponents.Social and economic factors were too often placed above environmental risks when decisions are made. Continue reading...

Environment ministers’ decisions spanning 15 years made no difference to amount of habitat destroyed, researchers sayGet our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcastDecisions by environment ministers spanning 15 years to either wave through projects or impose stricter conditions to protect threatened species made no actual difference to the amount of habitat destroyed, according to a new study.More than half of habitat cleared to build infrastructure, mines, urban developments and for agriculture came after a minister had decided projects would have a “non-significant” impact on species and habitat, the study says.Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundupThe term “significant impact” was too vague and the criteria around it was ambiguous, leading to subjective decisions.Developers intentionally minimise the potential impacts of a project and governments relied too much on reports from consultants paid by proponents.Social and economic factors were too often placed above environmental risks when decisions are made. Continue reading...

19 Reader Views on Lab-Grown Meat

“Given the choice between cruelty and kindness, I believe most humans will choose kindness.”

This is an edition of Up for Debate, a newsletter by Conor Friedersdorf. On Wednesdays, he rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Later, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.Last week I asked, “What do you think about meat grown in a lab? Would you eat it? Will your grandchildren?”Matt expects a species-defining shift: Evolutionary leaps in our development have been marked by the development of tools, farming, domesticated animals, and sadly and tragically, industrial farming and food processing. Lab-grown meat is the next evolution of our meat consumption as a species.   I.S. is excited.“Heck yes, I’ll eat it!” she wrote. “If it tastes like the real deal and is safe, absolutely! I stopped eating factory-farmed meat two years ago, and I miss it so much! Especially bacon. Oh boy, do I miss bacon!”   Meredith believes the technology will be widely embraced: I stopped eating meat after being profoundly moved by an article in The Atlantic about nonhuman species having consciousness (“A Journey Into the Animal Mind,” by Ross Andersen). Meat grown in a lab is, so far as I can tell, ethical and humane. It can be produced in a more sanitary environment and saves animals and meat-production workers from the horror of meat slaughter. That is likely to encourage skeptics to try it. Given the choice between cruelty and kindness, I believe most humans will choose kindness. Ruth reminds us that some vegetarians won’t want to consume lab-grown meat: Lab-grown meat is a wonderful idea if it can prevent billions of animals being brought into existence merely to be tortured and die. I would not eat it. I am a vegetarian and I do not like the taste and texture of flesh or of substances that try to imitate flesh. I’m sorry to find that many restaurants have replaced their veggie and bean burgers with the Beyond Burger that I find repulsive. However, all of these substitutes are great for people who like the taste and texture of flesh. I applaud it and hope it succeeds worldwide. Victoria expects her own attitude to change: Would I eat lab-grown meat? Right now, I might, in the way I’ve eaten escargot: skeptically. I suspect there is something lost in the bland sameness of a petri dish, and nothing can capture the nuances of diet and environment that impact an animal’s growth. But I also expect it will become commonplace and I’ll eat it without a second thought, because anyone with the slightest conscience can see that flooding animals with hormones to get them to grow unnaturally large—while keeping them in tiny cages and filthy, crowded conditions—is cruel. John is a skeptic: My spidey senses are telling me this is much ado about nothing. I doubt that the human population of Earth can be supported by lab-grown meat. If it tastes like chicken and costs a similar price, yes, I would eat it. But generally, I think putting our food in the hands of engineers, chemists, and industrialists is a bad, if unavoidable, plan. I’ve always been jealous of my friend who feeds his family with wild harvested game. Just last night, I made dinner from fish I caught. I’d have to spend a lot more time outdoors to pull that off in my household, but I could do it. And animals would live their lives free and wild, not confined to cages barely bigger than their oversize, genetically engineered bodies. Factory farms are a moral catastrophe, but feeding this many people practically requires [them]. Lavina opposes lab-grown meat: The promise of lab-grown meat rings hollow. It will lead to new problems. It ignores the concept that food is life and replaces the normal processing of food with fake, lab-created food. Our food is not a commodity; it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Fake meat ignores the diversity and cultural aspects of food. Its use of genetically modified ingredients to give it that “fake meat taste” will lead to disease and alter the gut biome. Why would we continue in this direction when diseases and poor health are at an all-time high? Instead of finding ways to improve our biodiversity and ecosystems by using regenerative farming techniques to improve climate change, the goal is to force people to consume fake meat and fake food products under the guise of [fighting] climate change regardless of local cultures, climates, and ecosystems. It is about control and profits. These fake foods are being promoted by billionaires who have no knowledge or consciousness of how food satisfies the soul and connects people. I heard from several readers who believed that lab-grown meat was something billionaires wanted to foist on everyone else––and from many non-billionaire readers who are enthusiastic about lab-grown meat to spare animals or in hopes that it would be better for the planet.J. doubts that nature can be improved upon: Chickens are precisely optimized by evolution to make more chickens efficiently. Every part needed to make another chicken from cheap feed is right there. Growing chicken-muscle cells in an expensive, controlled artificial environment is destined to be inefficient by comparison. Using lab-grown meat won’t free up cropland used for animal feed; we will be increasing demand for the same foods, only now they will be fed to cells in the lab. It’s like charging an electric vehicle with a coal power plant, then claiming it’s a zero-emissions car. Anything can look green if you close your eyes tightly enough. Zachary wants to hasten the arrival of lab-grown meat: We need a Project Manhattan–level commitment toward getting the clean-meat industry past its growing pains and up to scale as soon as possible. This would solve a massive contributor to climate change. Most people will never become vegans. The world’s middle class is swelling, and with it, a demand to eat meat that the market will try to meet one way or another. A Project Meathattan is also politically palatable as it would demand no personal sacrifice from people. It’s a win-win for virtually everyone but the industrial livestock industry. I think once clean meat is at a competitive price point and taste, our culture’s attitude will flip like a switch overnight and it will become regarded as significantly more unethical to eat slaughtered meat. We will ask ourselves why we didn’t try to get this technology up to scale even sooner once we see it was possible. Mark doesn’t want lab-grown meat forced on him: People already eat highly processed food. This is usually not healthy. Artificial meat is another processed food. If people want to eat artificial meat, let them eat it. Just don’t create legislation that forces me to eat what you’ve decided is best for you. It’s not all-or-nothing. Not everyone has to eat the same thing. I’m going to keep eating what I have evolved to eat over the last million years. I’m going to continue to eat fresh vegetables, meat from chickens, cows, etc., and grains preferably grown in the United States. MC anticipates a class divide: Lab-grown meat is a trend most of us will participate in, perhaps unknowingly. Similarly to the GMO debate, I imagine a scenario where we’ll see restaurants priding themselves on being “lab-free.” The scalability of the industry seems likely to move lab-grown meat into fast food. Again, we will have another class demarcation. McDonald’s and Taco Bell will be able to fatten margins (as long as it scales) by replacing farm-grown meat with lab meat. Those on the lower echelons of society will be the mass market for “new meat.” Until it gets out of the Uncanny Valley, lab-grown meat will be a fad. But eventually it’ll be common. I don’t imagine future generations will care whether their Big Mac is real or not. Just if it tastes right. Ultimately, I don’t think anyone likes to see the sausage being made. Our industrial food complex feeds the world, and fewer people suffer due to technology. We have to improve, or the future will starve. Mina can’t imagine killing animals if there is a real-meat alternative: This is one of the most exciting discoveries man has made. I have always been a person who hates the idea of sentient creatures being slaughtered to please our tastes. Hypocritically, I have continued to eat meat after multiple attempts to stop. The substitutes at that time bore no resemblance to the real thing, by taste or texture. I couldn’t stand them. I’m not sure if people can grasp what a game changer this would be for our planet. Between the environmental blessings of no more livestock destroying lands, water, and air with their living by-products, we can have a more respectful and peaceful approach to living creatures (which studies have shown leads to more positive feelings for others, both human and animals). No matter how hardened they might be to meat production, the workers in slaughterhouses and meat-packing facilities have high rates of family dysfunction and substance abuse, and also live mostly poverty-stricken lives. Imagine the toll this would take on you, to kill these animals one after another while they scream and fight to get away … I’ve seen it up close, and it is a sight you never get over. I can’t wait for the day when I can finally access this new meat and live without guilt. Would I ever eat meat from living creatures again? Absolutely not. What would be the reasoning, when you have the same product on your plate without taking lives in the process? Carolyn believes that “cultivated meat is critical to our global fight against climate change.” She writes: I was raised vegetarian, so I’ve never knowingly eaten meat or understood the desire for it, but I’ve grown to understand that meat is deeply visceral, emotional, and cultural for billions of people. Despite telling folks how bad meat is for the planet, for animal welfare, for slaughterhouse workers, and for their health, global meat consumption is at an all-time high. Instead of focusing on changing people’s ingrained behaviors and habits, we should focus on changing meat itself. While I’m content eating tofu and chickpeas, for most people, nothing can beat the taste of meat except for, well, meat. And that’s what cultivated meat is. I ate cultivated chicken from GOOD Meat (which currently sells it in Singapore) at COP27 in Egypt late last year. While l can’t tell you that it “tasted like chicken” (because I have no idea what chicken tastes like), it was fleshy and kind of grossed me out—so I’m thinking we’re on the right track? Plus, the meat eaters at my table fully approved. I think we are a ways off from cultivated meat going mainstream, but I am hopeful that what I tasted that day is part of the future and that the next generation looks back at the way we raised and slaughtered animals and thinks, Why did they do it that way? Patrick runs a commercial cattle ranch with his family on the central coast of California. He writes: Commercial cattle ranches focus on cattle headed for consumption. I grew up on the ranch then moved away for about 15 years to work in engineering. About six years ago I moved back to the area with my family to get more involved in the ranch. Since I’ve come back, I’ve been surprised to discover that the Meat Utopia is here. The United States is producing more beef than ever, with fewer cattle, and at a higher quality. I see these changes both in the national numbers and also in the way we do business on our own ranch. The reasons are myriad. Genetic testing and performance monitoring has helped producers select for better-performing animals. Improvements in vaccination have reduced waste, illness, and death. A greater percentage of cattle have higher-quality carcasses. And North American cattle markets are optimizing international trade to match the desired cuts to the appropriate markets. These advancements have real-world implications to reduce the environmental impact of beef while improving the consumer product and keeping costs down. And by acreage, nearly all of the grazing is done on so-called marginal lands: land that is too arid or too steep to support farming. Erin is in the same business: My husband and I are cattle producers on a farm in rural west Alabama. Pretty obviously, I do not have moral qualms about eating meat. I’m an omnivore. I am biologically designed to convert meat into the vitamins, minerals, and proteins that sustain me. And I like it. Even so, I can envision a day when vat-grown meat is a primary source of protein. It will have to be ramped up to scale and it will have to get a lot cheaper, but it will be a significant source of protein for a growing world population. That doesn’t mean there will not be a niche market for the uber-wealthy to purchase beef. For the record, there are a lot of misconceptions about animal agriculture. Cows spend all but the last six weeks of their lives eating grass. They may get mineral supplements as well, especially in winter, but very little grain, if any. Cattle can convert grass to protein. Humans cannot. We cannot digest cellulose. Perhaps in the rain forests of Brazil, the pastures could, and should, be restored to forest. But you are not going to grow a forest just anywhere. There will not be forests in west Texas or even in Kansas. There is a lot of land in the world not suited for crops or forests that will grow grass. And one of the most efficient converters of grass into usable protein is a cow. Cows provide more than meat. There are hundreds of products produced from cattle: marshmallows, leather, gelatin, fertilizer, pharmaceuticals, and more. Just Google “products made from cattle” and you will be astounded. Vat-grown meat? It’s coming, but not in my lifetime. We’ll keep on growing cattle like we have for 40 years. And that is all I have time to say, because I need to move hay out of the barn for the cows before the rain comes. Kathleen hopes lab-grown pork is delicious: The only meat I will consume comes from local hunters, whose practices I know—quick, clean kill, full harvest and usage. The animal has had a full and healthy and natural life. And as my dear husband told me years ago, “Honey, nothing in nature dies of old age.” I would buy lab-grown meat in a heartbeat, as soon as it became available and was proven to be environmentally healthy and healthy for human consumption. My primary motivation for [this] is animal cruelty. Breeding, raising, transporting, and slaughtering “food” animals is monstrous. In Canada, there are the farm lobbies, fishing-and-hunting lobbies, and vendor lobbies—all with massive clout—opposing any significant change. Seeing covert videos taken within animal “businesses” did it for me. And there’s the hideous environmental damage and the damage to human health caused by this “industry.” Altogether, inexcusable. I’m already buying and consuming “artificial” meat but would greatly welcome more variety. (I REALLY miss pork, and there are no pork substitutes available where I live … yet, I hope.) Claire feels queasy about lab-grown meat: I tend to be wary of chemically simulated foodstuffs …… so “chicken” fashioned from a sort of ooze during a process that the company prefers not to describe and that was also described as “gray” and “stringy” sounds atrocious. I’m unsure I would be brave enough to try that, nor would I serve it to an enemy. I hope restauranteurs in Singapore at least place an asterisk next to chicken on menus, with a corresponding footnote. Marketing euphemisms seem more likely: “ethically derived chicken,” etc. In spite of the “Utopia” marketing angle, I wonder if the cost to simulate chicken would be a net positive or if it would better serve Singapore to allocate some land for agricultural purposes. Skya thinks artificial meat has promise for feeding pets: Personally, I am a vegan and will remain so for health reasons. My cats, on the other hand … While humans are dragging their feet for various reasons, all the domesticated animals of the world could be eating laboratory meat right now, making a large dent in the damage that our passion for pets and other captive carnivores causes to the planet. Karl gives two cheers for lab-grown meat … but not three: I’ve been a vegan for ethical reasons since the end of college, so I welcome any developments that help usher in a future where we slaughter fewer animals just because their taste makes us happy. Based on animal-welfare laws (which largely protect animals such as cats and dogs), it’s clear that, collectively, we believe that animals should be treated humanely and their suffering should be minimized. However, we generally don’t extend these protections to the billions of farm animals living today. So reducing their consumption reduces their numbers and thus reduces their collective suffering. I think the reduction of suffering should be an easy position to support. The environmental benefits have the potential to be incredible as well. A transition away from the inefficient practice of raising animals for food would lower our carbon footprint, reduce our water consumption, and save millions of acres of natural land from destruction. But I wouldn’t suddenly change my diet to match the 200-plus lbs of meat the average American consumes each year, regardless of the ethics. In the developed world, our level of meat consumption is unhealthy and is an immense contributor to disease burden. This is in terms of mortality, morbidity, health-related quality of life, and cost. Maybe we could all eat occasional lab-grown meat. It does taste good. But I don’t think it should be a regular thing. We should all cut back on our meat consumption.

Honey bees are not in peril. These bees are.

Matt Dunne/Vox Want to save the bees? First, throw out most of what you know about them. What do you know about bees? That they produce honey? That they live in a hive? That they swarm? Well, I have news: These characteristics don’t actually describe most bees in the US. Of the roughly 4,000 native species, not a single one produces true honey. Not one! Most of them live alone. Most of them have no queen. The bees that many people are familiar with are honey bees, Apis mellifera, a nonnative species that Americans brought over from Europe centuries ago. Beekeepers manage them like any other farm animal, to produce honey and pollinate crops. European honey bees are arguably the world’s most famous insect. They’re honey bees! Fuzzy, buzzing, honey-making honey bees! And they deserve at least some of this attention. About one-third of the food we eat comes from plants that honey bees pollinate, and they face several threats, which has fueled a national campaign to “save the bees.” But all of that attention on honey bees has, some ecologists argue, overshadowed their native counterparts: the wild bees. They’re an incredible bunch, found in all sorts of colors and sizes, and they’re important pollinators, too — better, by some measures, than honey bees. On the whole, native bees are also at a much greater risk of extinction, in part, because of the proliferation of European honey bees. Honey bees are ultimately not at risk of disappearing. So perhaps, then, all this time we’ve been saving the wrong bees. “People are devoting a lot of their love and attention and funding to honey bees,” said Hollis Woodard, a bee researcher at the University of California Riverside. “That can be detrimental to wild bees. If we really want to say, ‘Save the bees,’ I think we need to get some facts straight about who’s who and what’s what.” The rise of the honey bee The bee that many Americans adore was carried here on wooden ships 400 years ago. At the time, US farms were small and pollinated by wild insects. Settlers used the new bees (newbies?) for candle wax and, of course, honey. But in the following centuries, as farms spread and native pollinators declined, honey bees became big business as commercial pollinators. Conveniently, the bees pollinate a wide range of crops and they live in colonies that can be trucked across the country, arriving at farms when plants are in bloom. Today, the US has nearly 3 million colonies of honey bees, amounting to tens of billions of bees. They pollinate roughly $15 billion worth of crops each year, from California almonds to zucchini. Teresa Short/Getty Images European honey bees on an artificial hive in California. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images Honey bee hives in an almond orchard in Dixon, California, on February 17, 2022. Honey bees became popular because they help produce our food. What turned them into environmental icons, however, was a somewhat misleading narrative around “the decline of bees” that emerged in the aughts. Around 2006, beekeepers started reporting huge losses of honey bee colonies. “That rang alarm bells,” said James Cane, a bee expert and researcher emeritus at USDA. “The business of bee keeping was under threat,” he said, and calls to “save the bees” circulated. This threat was, and still is, very real. On top of pesticides and the loss of habitats, parasitic mites were spreading rapidly among hives in the 2000s and causing colonies to collapse, which is still a concern today. But the decline of bees, as most of the public understands it, was always about managed, nonnative honey bees, not wild bees. This distinction is important because European honey bees have a whole industry working to sustain them — to treat sick colonies — whereas wild bees don’t. Even at the height of the bee declines, there were still more than 2 million colonies in the US. Globally, meanwhile, honey bee colonies are now up more than 80 percent since the 1960s. “There are likely more honey bees on the planet now than there ever have been in history,” said Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, a nonprofit that advocates for pollinator conservation. “There’s not a conservation concern.” The same can’t be said for native bees. Many native bees are at risk of extinction If native bees aren’t like honey bees, what are they like? Most of them are solitary and nest in the ground. Most don’t have queens. They don’t do dances to find honey. And none of them produce the kind of honey we eat (bumblebees do make a honey-like substance from nectar, though in much smaller quantities). They’re also a diverse bunch. Some are just a couple of millimeters long and look like gnats, while others — bumblebees and carpenter bees, for example — are longer than an inch. Many bees consume nectar and pollen, like honey bees; others eat oil! The images below show just a handful of them, from the small, metallic sweat bee (which will, indeed, drink human sweat) to the furry, and even cute, American bumblebee. Steve Lenz/Getty Images/iStockphoto A type of sweat bee with a metallic green thorax on an echinacea flower. Jim Rivers Osmia lignaria, the blue orchard bee, a type of mason bee found in North America. Cappi Thompson/Getty Images An American bumblebee in Dummer, New Hampshire. Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images A squash bee pollinates the flower of a butternut squash plant. As a group, wild bees are considered incredibly important pollinators, especially for home gardens and crops that honey bees can’t pollinate. Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, for example, require “buzz pollination;” bees have to vibrate their bodies to shake the pollen free — a behavior that honey bees can’t do (bumblebees and some other native species can). Yet these free services native bees provide are dwindling. While wild bees are, as a group, understudied, existing research suggests that many species are threatened with extinction, including more than a quarter of North American bumblebees. “From a conservationist’s point of view, native bees are the ones in more dire need of support,” Alison McAfee, a bee researcher at the University of British Columbia, has written. These include species that are already federally endangered — like the rusty patched bumblebee — and a pipeline of others that are “marching towards the Endangered Species List,” Woodard said. Joel Page/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images A rusty patched bumblebee specimen at the Maine State Museum Archives in Hallowell, Maine. The main threat is the same one facing nearly all wildlife: the destruction of natural habitats, such as grasslands. “Native bees have been in retreat to the extent that wildland habitat has been in retreat,” Cane said. He used Iowa as an example: Over the last two centuries, the state has lost more than 99 percent of its tall-grass prairie, mostly to industrial agriculture. So has Illinois. Prairies are full of wildflowers and an incredibly important landscape for bees, including the rusty patched bumblebee. Pesticides and fungicides are a problem, too, especially a group of chemicals called neonicotinoids designed to kill agricultural pests. “We have just shown time and time again that neonics are bad,” Woodard said. “They get taken up in the pollen in nectar; they hurt bees in many different ways.” As Vox has previously reported, US pesticide regulation is often behind the science on how these agrochemicals harm bees and other pollinators. (Neonicotinoids are mostly banned in Europe but remain legal in nearly all of the US.) More and more, research also points to yet another, somewhat paradoxical threat. How honey bees might hurt wild bees Honey bees are highly skilled foragers. A single colony can collect about 22 pounds of pollen pellets (pollen mixed with some nectar) over three summer months, according to a 2016 study led by Cane. That’s enough to feed the offspring of 110,000 solitary bees, the study found. “Honey bees are exceptionally good at removing pollen from landscapes,” Woodard said. And that can be a problem for native bees. In certain landscapes, where flowering plants are limited, native insects compete with honey bees for pollen and nectar. As a result, they may have to travel farther to forage and ultimately gather less food for their young. Plus, some native bees only collect pollen from one or a handful of flowers; unlike honey bees, these species can’t easily switch from one source of food to another as pollen runs low. Lauren A. Little/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images A swarm of honey bees on a tree in Reading, Pennsylvania, on April 21, 2020. “You can’t have a finite resource, add a domesticated animal that consumes it, and expect that everything is hunky dory afterwards,” Cane said. (A growing body of research shows that competition with honey bees is bad for native bees.) Commercial beekeepers often let their bees forage in natural ecosystems when the insects are not working on a farm, Cane said. In Utah, where he’s based, managed honey bee apiaries are sometimes parked on public lands, and each one might have 30 or even 60 colonies. It’s like a city of people hungry for food, ready to pillage the countryside, he said. There are also colonies of “feral” honey bees — those that aren’t managed by humans — across the country. Competition isn’t the only concern. Dense colonies of honey bees can also be reservoirs for viruses and other microbes that can cause wildlife diseases, McAfee told Vox. Experts like her fear that those viruses could spill over to the native bee populations, though there are still plenty of unknowns. “We don’t know to what extent those viruses cause true disease and sickness in the native bees,” McAfee said. What’s clear, she said, is that scientists need to better understand and eradicate disease in managed honey bee colonies to stop potential deadly spillover. To protect wild bees, however, scientists will need solutions that go beyond the honey bee. How you can help save the bees Barring wholesale changes to our food system, we’ll still need honey bees. But we need wild bees, too. Farms rely on them, including those with commercial crops (native bees enhance crop yields even on farms that deploy honey bees) and home gardens. If there are flowers growing in your yard — sunflowers, maybe, or echinacea — bees likely pollinate them. That brings us to what is perhaps the easiest way that individuals can help native bees: Plant flowers! Especially native ones that bloom at different times of year. Groups like Xerces Society make this easy by providing planting guides for each region. Native bees (and lots of other critters) also benefit from a bit of mess, Woodard said. Don’t rake up every leaf. Leave a fallen branch in place. “We need a sea change in how we think about the spaces around us, and what is a ‘pretty space,’ and what does it mean to be a good steward,” Woodard said. “Keep things wild, leave things a little less manicured.” What you definitely shouldn’t do, experts say, is buy a honey bee colony. “That’s definitely not helping,” McAfee said. Instead, she said, “people should think about making native bees want to come to them.”

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