This week we saw the longest day of the year. When the sun reached its farthest point on the horizon, it rained half of the world with the most light of the year. This week also marks Pollinator Week, an annual celebration of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other amazing and important pollinators that fertilize plants, provide us with healthy food and enhance wildlife habitats.
With our climate warming rapidly and pollinator numbers dropping sharply, we need to embrace solutions. The rapid expansion of pollinator-friendly solar farms is one such solution.
Tackling a terrible crisis: global warming
Global warming is perhaps the worst of a series of interlocking environmental crises that have arisen from our dependence on fossil fuels, our society’s focus on maximizing economic growth, and a “ditch” economy built around resource extraction from nature and its resources. Diversion into disposable products – even for individual use – causes pollution and waste.
Human activities have caused a temperature of about 1.0°C above already pre-industrial levels. At its current pace, global warming caused by human activity is increasing at a rate of 0.2°C per decade. If the planet continues to warm at its current rate, the average global temperature rise is likely to reach 1.5°C – the ambitious target adopted by the world’s nations in the Paris Climate Agreement – between 2030 and 2052. Warming at this intensity and speed threatens future stability. for our climate.
To avoid the worst effects of global warming, America and the rest of the world must quickly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by 2030, net human-caused greenhouse gas emissions will have to be cut 45% below 2010 levels.
The amount of emissions reduction is not only important, but also the speed. As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse pollutants accumulate in the atmosphere, achieving significant reductions in the near term reduces the size of the reductions we need to make later.
We need to set our sights on a future powered by 100% renewable energy and do our best to reach this vision as quickly as possible.
Converging Crisis: Pollinator Collapse
As our planet warms, other related crises are screaming to get our attention. For example, the alarming decline in the numbers of pollinators. The number of butterflies, bees and other pollinators is shrinking worldwide. 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 the health of pollinators, we need:
Reducing the pollution that warms our planet
Reducing the use of pesticides that harm pollinators
Vigorously expand habitats so that these wonderful animals have flowers to feed on and places to live.
Work to locate solar habitats and pollinators
One solution to climate change and pollinator degradation is to grow native pollinator habitats under and around solar farm panels.
According to the Pollinator Center in Energy, when solar farms took off, grasses of gravel or monocropping often surrounded solar panels fixed to the ground. Now, with more US homeowners, businesses, and government agencies installing solar panels, we’re seeing a desire to create pollinator-friendly infrastructure to maximize environmental benefits.
Meanwhile, solar energy is growing rapidly. This spring, the United States had 121 gigawatts of solar PV capacity, producing enough power to power more than 23 million homes. Solar costs have fallen. Between 2010 and 2018, the cost of utility-scale solar systems fell 80%-82%.
Some local farmers, such as Jesse Robertson DuBois have already spoken about the benefits of assembling solar panels and the habitat for pollinators on their farms.
My hometown of Amherst, I just started a working group to define solar bylaws. One of the things they will be looking at is whether they will require solar developers to grow native habitats for pollinators under existing solar farms in the city.
In state homes across the country, lawmakers are considering ways to expand pollinator habitats. In Texas, lawmakers have passed the Texas Pollinator-Smart program to encourage the creation and maintenance of habitats for bees, birds, and other pollinators at solar sites. If the governor does not veto the bill, the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension will provide educational materials and technical assistance to those interested.
Other countries have other models. For example, 12 states have published pollinator-friendly scorecards (required by eight states by law), which set out a set of criteria for what is “beneficial to pollinators” within the managed landscape of a photovoltaic solar facility.
To solve the converging crises of global warming and the collapse of pollinators requires society to replenish its energy using clean renewable energy, going beyond our focus on maximizing economic growth, and our “neglected” economy.
Gathering solar panels and pollinator habitats won’t solve all of our crises, but it’s a small solution that finds broad support. As we celebrate summer solstice week and pollinator awareness, let’s count on this solution.