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Save the bees and go solar

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This week we experienced the longest day of the year. As the sun reached its furthest point on the horizon, it flooded half the world with the brightest light of the year. This week also marks Pollinator Week, an annual celebration of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other amazing and important pollinators who fertilize plants, provide us with healthy food and improve habitats for wildlife.

With our rapidly warming climate and plummeting pollinator populations, we need to adopt solutions. Rapidly scaling up pollinator-friendly solar farms is one such solution.

Facing a serious crisis: global warming

Global warming is perhaps the most severe of a series of interlocking ecological crises that have emerged from our reliance on fossil fuels, our society’s fixation on maximizing economic growth, and a “throwaway” economy built around the extraction of resources from nature and their conversion into disposable or even single-use products that generate pollution and waste.

Human activities have already caused a warming of about 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels. At its current rate, global warming caused by human activity is increasing by 0.2°C per decade. If the planet continues to warm at its current rate, the rise in global average temperature will most likely reach 1.5°C – the ambitious target adopted by the world’s nations in the Paris climate agreement – ​​between 2030 and 2052. intensity and speed threaten the future stability of our climate.

To avoid the worst impacts of global warming, America and the rest of the world must quickly reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by 2030, global net human-caused greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels.

Not only is the amount of emission reductions important, but so is the speed. As carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants accumulate in the atmosphere, achieving deep reductions in the short term reduces the magnitude of the reductions we need to make later.

We must aim for a future powered by 100% renewable energy and do everything possible to achieve this vision as soon as possible.

A converging crisis: the collapse of pollinators

As our planet heats up, other related crises demand our attention. For example, the worrying decline in pollinator populations. The number of butterflies, bumblebees and other pollinators is declining around the world. Surveys have even documented local extinctions of once-thriving pollinator species. Scientists attribute the collapse of pollinator populations to several factors, including climate change, habitat fragmentation, pesticide use, and more.

To restore pollinator health, we must:

  • reduce the pollution that warms our planet

  • reduce the use of pesticides that harm pollinators

  • aggressively expand habitats so that these remarkable animals have flowers to feed on and places to live.

Action to co-locate solar and pollinator habitats

One solution to climate change and pollinator decline is to plant native pollinator habitats under and around solar farm panels.

According to the Center for Pollinators in Energy, when solar farms first started operating, gravel or monoculture lawn often surrounded ground-mounted solar panels. Now, as more US homeowners, businesses, and government entities install solar panels, we see a desire for pollinator-friendly infrastructure to maximize environmental benefits.

Meanwhile, solar capacity is increasing rapidly. This spring, the United States had 121 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity, producing enough energy to power more than 23 million homes. And solar costs have come down. Between 2010 and 2018, the cost of utility-scale solar systems dropped by 80% to 82%.

Some local farmers, like Jesse Robertson-Dubois, are already talking about the benefits of collocating solar panels and pollinator habitats on their farms.

My hometown of Amherst just started a task force to determine solar regulations. One of the things they will consider is whether to require solar developers to plant native pollinator habitats under solar farms located in cities.

In state houses across the country, lawmakers are considering ways to expand pollinator habitats. In Texas, lawmakers passed the Texas Pollinator-Smart Program to encourage the creation and maintenance of habitats for bees, birds and other pollinators at solar power sites. Had the governor not vetoed the bill, the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension would provide educational materials and technical assistance to those interested.

Other states have other models. For example, 12 states have published pollinator-friendly scorecards (eight of these states require them by law), which establish a set of criteria for what is “beneficial to pollinators” in a facility’s managed landscape. photovoltaic solar.

To solve the converging crises of global warming and pollinator collapse, society must refuel with clean, renewable energy, while transcending our fixation on maximizing economic growth and our “throwaway” economy.

Collocating solar panels and pollinator habitats won’t solve all of our crises, but it’s a small solution that garners broad support. As we celebrate the Summer Solstice and Pollinator Awareness Week, let’s look at this solution.