Unless, you live in California, as I do, you may have missed this latest development in the California Apple Moth spraying initiative:
California urban areas will not be sprayed aerially with pesticides to fight the light brown apple moth, state and federal agricultural officials announced Thursday. Instead, officials intend to fight the invading, leaf-munching pest by releasing sterile moths and using other methods, according to California Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura and Cindy Smith, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official in charge of insect control. The change of course comes after thousands of citizens questioned the safety and effectiveness of the spraying program that was promoted by Kawamura and federal officials. The officials had said the pesticides contain a synthetic pheromone – and other ingredients – that would confuse moths and interfere with reproduction.
Needless to say, I am pleased. No pheromone for me and my family. The name itself sounds like it could cause cancer!
More importantly, what happened is a testimony to the power of grassroots organizing. I thought it would be worthwhile to go over all the steps that led to the citizens’ victory:
- City of Albany’s Integrated Pest Management Task Force, led by Nan Wishner, worked with concerned citizens and environmental groups.
- To bolster citizens support, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, other members of California delegation and state legislators who introduced bills to restrict use of chemicals, city mayors, and UC Davis entomologists, all wrote letters to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- Based on reports from local MDs, there was evidence from from earlier limited aerial sprayings, that chemicals were responsible for hundreds of respiratory and other health effects.
- Internationally known UC Davis entomologists James Carey, Frank Zalom and Bruce Hammock wrote U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer asking that the program be re-evaluated and warning that spraying a pheromone product wouldn’t eliminate the pest. They also said the moth would pose no more of an economic threat to California’s crops than similar pests.
- A coalition of eight cities – San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, Richmond, Piedmont, Alameda and Albany – as well as 185 nonprofit citizen groups – prepared to send letters to Kawamura, insisting that the department complete an environmental impact report before doing any aerial spraying.
- Earthjustice attorney Deborah Reames argued that spraying major urban areas with potentially harmful chemicals to eradicate a species could have significant effects on public health and the environment.
Some key lessons here:
- It helps to work on an issue that moves citizens, in this case personal health.
- Do your homework, collect enough evidence to support your case, and ask for experts to back up your points
- Create a non profit organization to champion your cause
- Co-opt other existing organizations that have a stake in the issue
- Work up all the echelons along the power ladder, from neighborhood associations, to city council, all the way up to the House and your Governor
- Get the judicial system involved
- Befriend your local media; if the story is good it will get picked up in the blogs and the national news
I have written before about the evil role of special fossil fuel interests in blocking some key climate protection initiatives. What happened with the apple moth made me wonder, if the same kind of smart grass roots organizing could apply. The only problem is the impact of Big Oil lobbying is not as direct and personal as being sprayed with some pheromone. . . Still, there must be a way!