So, it turns out I read a lot of weird news stories at work, probably because I am often still half away in the morning and procrastinating my important tasks until after that second (or fourth….) cup of coffee. Writing emails is hard, y’all. And while reading those weird news stories (or just scolling through buzzfeed) it’s been pretty surprising to see the stories popping up about…bees. Especially in places like Business Insider or, yup, buzzfeed.
I’m going out on a limb with this post, because I’ll be the first to admit that agriculture is one of my weak areas when it comes to environmental fields. It’s not something I’ve spent time working on, so my knowledge base is cursory. Yet, it’s such a hot topic that I couldn’t leave it alone. See, the buzz in the news is about Colony Collapse Disorder, an affliction first identified in 2005 that causes entire bee colonies to – well – collapse. It’s been on the rise in recent years, with reports this summer of massive bee losses in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. During the years from 2006 – 2011, bee populations in commercial honeybee farms have reported losses of up to 33% (that’s 1/3 of their hives) from the disorder. What’s causing it? Studies have linked a certain category of widely used pesticide, neonicotinoids, to the bee deaths, citing both the impact of the pesticides on bees as well as the near-perfect tracking between increased use of these pesticides and the bee deaths. Evidence is strong enough that in Europe, the E.U. placed a two year moratorium on use of the pesticides beginning in April 2013, and a coalition of beekeepers have actually sued the US EPA to do the same.
But they’re just bees, right? I mean, who cares about them? They sting people and pollinate flowers and, whatever.
Wrong. Bee populations are experiencing a massive decline worldwide, which is seriously bad news for agriculture. That is, the food that you and I like to eat. Cherries, blueberries, almonds, peaches, apples, soy, and worst of all, COFEE – are among the crops impacted because they are dependent on bee pollination. USDA summarized the impacts with this chart:
I’m a bit in over my head in terms of coming up with a bottom line for this post (sorry guys, I’m honest), largely because I also have many unanswered questions. How strong is the link between these pesticides and bee populations? How widely used are these pesticides? Do we have effective replacements? But, as far as I can tell, this is another tick in the box for moving beyond our chemically-dependent agro-business practices (within reason, of course – I recognize that going back to subsistence farming isn’t really an option) and more towards options that don’t do this kind of longterm damage. Ecology teaches that populations affected on a widespread scale often have a rough time recovering after a certain percentage of the population has been decimated. It’s probably a pipe dream to hope that we could be more proactive in the future to prevent this kind of loss, but at least there’s a lesson in here: sometimes, the consequences of our decisions mean real losses for business and for us. I mean – it’s on the Lululemon bags, for crying out loud – what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.
Comments are welcome from anyone who has expertise in this area – or who wants to chime in about the impacts of the declining bee populations on agriculture and what we can or should do about it. As always, keep it friendly.