A few months back, when I mentioned the crisis of the declining bee population, one person commented that she could live without honey if she had to. I sometimes get highly annoyed, to say the least, about such inane comments, but other times I see it as a teaching experience. In this case, I tried to educate, but the person simply shrugged and actually said, “Oh well”. Today, two articles, combined with the Trump administration’s lack of regard for protections of our environment, prompted me to write about the declining bee population once again, this time in more depth.
There is a plague that is being called ‘Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)’, that is decimating the bee population. By the end of bee season last April, the commercial bee population had declined by 44%, as compared with 10%-15% in past years. While nobody claims that there is one singular cause for the loss of so many bees, most scientists and environmentalists believe it is a combination of:
- Loss of habitat, due to a variety of factors including pesticide use, mining and drilling, changing temperatures and weather conditions due to climate change that have restricted the area where bees can survive, as well as eradicated some food sources necessary for survival. Additionally, use of herbicides (weed killer) has reduced the available pollen and nectar bees rely on for pollination.
- A group of chemicals called neonicotinoid pesticides that are proven to harm not only bees, but other insects as well. They accumulate in individual bees and within entire colonies, including the honey that bees feed to infant larvae. Bees that do not die outright, experience sub-lethal systemic effects, development defects, weakness, and loss of orientation. The die-off leaves fewer bees and weaker bees, who must work harder to produce honey in depleted wild habitats. These conditions create the formula for bee colony collapse.
Before we talk about what is or is not being done, what can be done to reverse these problems, it is important to understand why bees are critical to our lives, why we rely on them for much more than the honey we drizzle over our fruit or toast. Bees have played a role either by directly pollinating the many vegetables and fruits we eat, or pollinating the food for the animals that we then consume. It is said that between 30% and 90% of the foods we need to stay alive are reliant on bee pollination, either directly or indirectly. I am not sure why such a large gap, but it seems to vary significantly depending on which study is being cited. My guess is it is somewhere midway, or perhaps varies by region, depending on which crops are grown, but it highlights the difficulties of the science. We already have a global food crisis, caused in part by climate change and overpopulation, and we can ill afford a reduction in available food in coming years, as the population of the world continues to increase.
The consequence of a dying bee population impacts man at the highest levels on our food chain, posing an enormously grave threat to human survival. Since no other single animal species plays a more significant role in producing the fruits and vegetables that we humans commonly take for granted yet require near daily to stay alive, the greatest modern scientist Albert Einstein once prophetically remarked, “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.” – Global Research, Centre for Research on Globalization
In fairness, it should be noted that one group of studies reported by the Genetic Literacy Project (GLP), significantly downplays the importance of bees in food production, concluding that bees are only responsible for about 7.4% of the world’s agricultural value. Not being a scientist, I cannot dispute their findings, but their conclusions are at odds with most other scientific studies worldwide.
Now that we know some of the reasons for the decline in the bee population, and why it matters, it is prudent to look at what is being done to attempt to solve the problem, which will be the focus of Part II of this post. This topic is too important to take shortcuts, so I have decided to divide it into two parts, thus I can cover more of what the U.S., as well as other countries are (or aren’t) doing to assess and address the potentially devastating problem. So stay tuned …
I rarely include a source listing with my posts, preferring instead to include a partial source listing through the use of hyperlinks, but some of these are definitely worth the read, and I decided to include one this time, especially in light of those who may question the legitimacy of my sources. This is only a partial listing, but includes the most important/interesting ones:
- A Bee Mogul Confronts the Crisis in His Field: Beekeeping on an industrial scale is central to American agriculture, and “colony collapse” has proved to be a severe test. New York Times article about the U.S.’ largest beekeeper, his losses, and how he does his job. Fascinating read – I never knew beekeeping was this complex!
- Colony Collapse Disorder Put out by the Environmental Protection Agency and modified under the current administration (since Trump sanitized the EPA) pronouncement about the causes and effects of CCD.
- Bees prefer foods containing neonicotinoid pesticides. Very short summary of an academic article (full article is cost-prohibitive!) regarding bees being drawn to food sources that have been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides.
- Beekeepers Abuzz Over Climate Change and Hive Losses A good overview of the causes, including climate change, that are affecting the bee population
- Bees Are Losing Their Habitat Because of Climate Change An overview of how climate change may be affecting the bee population, and linking bee pollination to our ability to survive on this planet
- EPA acknowledges deadly effects of pesticides on bees, but refuses to restrict their use The title says it all.