Where have the honey bees gone? It’s a question I’ve been pondering and I think it is certainly something we should be greatly concerned about. This is one of those many “little” details that isn’t on the radar of most people yet it may prove to be very significant in the story of our survival as well as the story of our destruction of our planet. We humans are not very good at noticing the important details of the ecological systems we are destroying. We go about our lives and we assume that everything will be okay. In the U.S. we don’t think much about where our food comes from and we assume that the store shelves will be fully stocked. We assume that the chemical pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on crops or that we spray on our lawns are safe for us and the environment.
For many years we have assumed that the “civilized” world we were creating was of benefit, that it was “good”. Most people trusted that those in power, government and capital, knew what they were doing, that they generally looked out for the public good. If we will pay close attention to what’s happening to the honey bees we will ultimately find out that we have assumed far too much about our own survival. We’ll discover that industrial processes, the technologies, that form the foundation of a consumption-based life, were never intended to be safe or sustainable. We’ve put our own survival in question as well as the survival of the other species that we share this planet with.
We’ll start with a brief excerpt from an interview with May Berenbaum. An Entomology professor and department head at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she recently wrote an Op-Ed article in the New York Times about the collapse of honey bee populations.
How bad is the current decline in honey bee populations?
Honey bees have been through the wringer since the early 1980s, when a species of parasitic mite was accidentally introduced into North America. As of 2005, we had about one-third fewer honey-producing colonies than we did before the introduction of the mite. Between 2005 and 2006 there was another marked decline, and now it looks like the numbers are dropping precipitously. What makes the situation particularly critical is the fact that the demand for pollination services – not honey, per se, but pollination services – is exploding.
Have you ever seen anything like this before?
No, this is without precedent on this scale. Bees have died before, in vast numbers, but generally they leave bodies behind. Now, there are no bodies. That’s what’s so puzzling. People have suggested that colony collapse disorder could be the result of the combined effects of parasites, pesticide exposure and fungal disease. But where are the bodies? It is very strange, very sad.
Next we have two excellent articles by Craig Mackintosh of Celsias who has been following the story with great care. Colony Collapse Disorder – a Moment for Reflection?:
And, again, when considering the plight of the bee – let’s remove our blinders, and look around a little more. How are other creatures (some of them also pollinators, like butterflies and birds) being affected by our pesticides, our mechanisation, and our specialist systems? We focus on the honeybee only because of its direct and immediate threat to our livelihoods, and indeed our food supply – but, there’s a whole other world out there that’s suffering under our (mis)management. We’re just not paying attention.
If enough spokes in a wheel get bent or broken, the wheel will eventually collapse (there’s that word again). From appearances, at the moment, the livelihoods of beekeepers, farmers and agricultural industries are the immediate concern (estimates of 14 billion dollars worth of agricultural produce is at risk in the U.S. alone), but even this will become inconsequential if this problem progresses into a kind of biological meltdown. Insects, plants and animals, are all interdependent, and we rely on them (despite popular belief, and contrary to the PR broadcasts of the chemical companies). If pollinators are indicators of the health of our environment – our current canary-in-the-cage, so to speak – then isn’t it time we moved to safety?
Here is an update to the brief bee story we did a few weeks ago. I’ve been keeping an eye on the Colony Collapse Disorder phenomenon that is causing a lot of furrowed brows in the U.S., as this may well become the biggest issue of 2007.
Things are getting dire on the U.S. agricultural front, and there are similar reports beginning to filter through from countries in Europe.
Huge monocrop farming systems and specialisations, and the spread of suburbia across natural habitat, are removing natural diversity. Bees have been lumped together in the millions, in a factory farm type environment not so unlike that of our chickens and other livestock animals. Many of these bees are transported across several states to perform pollinations in orchards and farms around the country. Today they are in contact with substances they shouldn’t have to deal with – pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and pollen from genetically modified crops. Researchers are scrambling to find answers, and as the spring season is upon us, time is running out.
Honey bees, which are not native to the U.S. incidentally (they were imported for crop pollination), are tasked with the pollination of approximately one third of all U.S. crops.
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