EarthJustice Uses Reddit AMA to Break Down Its Honeybee Victory

LOS BANOS, CA - SEPTEMBER 05: Gene Brandi with Gene Brandi Apiaries carries a bee hive on September 5, 2014 in Los Banos, California. As California's severe drought pushes through its third year, honey bees are producing less honey due to a lack of wildflowers and fewer farm crops that honey bees extract nectar from to produce honey.

Beekeepers turned to an environmental organization to help them fight back against pesticides.
(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Advocacy organizations are starting to go directly to the public, via Reddit, to explain their victories. An environmental group did so yesterday, after convincing the courts to ban a pesticide nationwide. The thread has 5,577 upvotes as of this writing.

The case in question followed the EPA’s approval of a pesticide called sulfoxaflor in 2013. As it accumulates in insects, it paralyzes them and then they die, according to Wikipedia. So, Earthjustice, a legally focused environmental organization, took the EPA to court on behalf of beekeepers, arguing that it had not investigated whether the pesticide would accumulate in bee colonies, thereby contributing to colony collapse disorder.

On Thursday, an appeals court overruled the EPA’s approval of the pesticide, according to the L.A. Times. On Tuesday, Greg Loarie, a staff attorney in the organization’s California office, took to Reddit to answer the public’s questions about the victory in court. Several organizations have preceded it on the forum after campaign wins, but it doesn’t appear to be a common practice yet.

Here are a few key moments from Mr. Loarie’s AMA:

  • What’s next? @Lbsaki asked how environmentalists will proceed to save bees. Mr. Loarie explained that there are still other pesticides on the market that work the same way as Sulfoxaflor.
  • How do pesticides contribute to colony collapse?  @ken27238 asked him to break it down, and Mr. Loarie said that colony collapse reflects the broader weakening of a whole hive, making it more vulnerable to other threats. He said, “Almost like a patient with AIDS, beekeepers are seeing their hives succumb to all sorts of maladies that it would normally be able to throw off.”
  • What about seed pesticides? @Ooity asked if pesticides only used on seeds are still a problem. Yes, he contended, they tend to last in soil from one growing season to the next, later showing up in plants the bees consume.
  • Why practice this kind of law? @DaftPump confirms that the AMA reached people the organization hadn’t before, then asks about why the attorney does this kind of work. Mr. Loarie answered that he’s been with Earthjustice for 15 years, and that it’s gratifying to rack up wins even when their opponents have far more money. He added, “But the wonderful thing about the legal system is that it still provides a remarkably level playing field. It’s been a genuine privilege to do this work.”

During the AMA, Mr. Loarie turned to a judge on the case who wrote a concurring opinion with the majority, on the question of whether or not courts should defer to agencies on technical questions. He quotes Judge N.R. Smith as saying:

There is a great difference between ordering an agency to explain every possible scientific uncertainty . . . and requiring it to articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action that is based on scientific data…

Here are some other examples of organizations that have taken to the forum to explain a win in first person:

  • AgGag Law. The Animal Legal Defense Fund used the site to explain its victory over an Idaho law banning undercover investigation of factory farms.
  • Feds and Weed. A pro-marijuana lobbyist with WeedMaps took to the site following a victory in the House of Representatives, which passed an amendment that would stop DEA interference with state legalization of pot.
  • SOPA Protests. After a big win on Net Neutrality, one of its key organizations, Fight For the Future, did an AMA with a cofounder to answer questions about its role.

The conversation on the honeybee Q&A looked largely constructive after an admittedly fast perusal of its 1416 comments. That’s not to say no one got a bit sarcastic.

The firing of the staff person who oversaw Reddit’s popular AMA channel, Victoria Taylor, started a controversy within the site that ended in the resignation of its CEO, Ellen Pao. Since then, the company has been working to make the place less toxic, but the roadmap there has been less than clear.

Disclosure: this reporter formerly worked in the environmental movement on unrelated issues, sometimes in collaboration with Earthjustice.