Honey bees: the harbinger of the apocalypse?
So I feel like we’ve been hearing about the collapse of honey bee colonies for ages at this point but we never seem to see reports on WHY it matters if honey bees disappear. I mean, it’s just one less annoying bug to worry about, right? Wrong.
Recent reports from reputable news outlets suggest that not only is colony collapse disorder running strong but the situation is dire. Fresh food prices are on the rise and I bet you can guess why: demand is disproportionate to supply. As demand from emerging markets (Brazil, South Africa, China, etc) continues to increase you can expect that prices will also increase if global food supply does not follow suit. The problem is that price increases are outstripping increases in demand because the supply of fresh food is not static. It’s decreasing. Which brings me back to bees.
Many plants reproduce by growing things that we call fruit, vegetables and nuts. In order for many plants to reproduce (read: bare edibles) the “male” plant parts have to pollinate the “female” plant parts. Insects like bees and butterflies help to facilitate this process as they fly from blossom to blossom (here’s the Wikipedia explanation if you want further detail). Unfortunately without bees fewer plants are able to be pollinated which means fewer plants are able to produce their prized edible components. For reference, some pollination dependent plants include: Apples, berries, cotton, almonds, and alfalfa.
Let’s take a deeper look. If the bee population were to die off completely we could probably survive without apples, berries, and almonds. It would be a sad life, sure, but we could do it. But what about cotton and alfalfa? Cotton is a MAJOR global commodity – clothes, bedding, carpeting, currency, and more would all become so difficult and expensive to produce that there would be mass shortages in a matter of years. Alfalfa feeds a large proportion of the world’s livestock and without it it’s likely that we’d lose large numbers of these animals to starvation, cutting the availability of meat and dairy products.
What I find scary isn’t these effects – I mean, let’s face it, if the apocalypse does come we’re unlikely to have access to the above commodities in the same quantities anyways. What I find scary is the impact price increases and scarcity have been known to have on human behaviors. Let’s take a step back in time to the Irish potato famines of the late 19th century. Sure, there was a mass exodus to more prosperous countries but within Ireland itself there were riots and mass starvation. Things that, given today’s international connectivity, technological development, and the expected high standards of living we have in the Western world could lead to nuclear war and/or civil war and/or massively tyrannical governments. Yay.
So back to the bees. The New York Times and NPR are reporting that studies have linked the use of certain pesticides may be causing colony collapse disorder and the decline in the bee population. The chemicals fog honey bees’ brains and make it more difficult for them to find their way home to signal food. This suggests that the bees themselves may be starving to death. At least they aren’t rioting. Just saying all you “allergic to bees” types….
But it’s not all doom and gloom; there’s still something you can do to help out. Take a moment and write a letter to local farms asking that they stop using some of these pesticides until further work can be done. Support research by making a small donation to those labs conducting research on how to save the bees. Hell, benefit yourself and the bees by planting a window box (or a garden if you live in a place with enough land available to do so) to help feed them. And I know it’s tough, but if you can, buy pesticide free produce to help ensure that your dollar doesn’t go to support mass farms that use these harmful chemicals. At this point we aren’t just saving the planet. We’re saving society. All by saving the bees.