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Attack of the Bee Killers.

March 17, 2011

One thing that climate change deniers seem to misunderstand is the importance of their argument. Their attitude seems to be that if the science of climate change can be falsified or at least thrown into doubt, then the whole environmental movement would lose its purpose. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if we were to accept the hypothesis that climate change is not man-made this would not mean that concern for the environment and attempts to live more sustainably became irrelevant.

We should be less reliant on oil, not just because of the carbon emitted when we burn it, but because it is a limited resource and our search for new sources of oil leads to the destruction of pristine environments and important ecosystems. Plastic production and disposal has a devastating effect on the health of animals and humans. The destruction of rainforests drastically reduces the diversity of life and threatens the lifestyles of indigenous peoples. Scientists have suggested that humanity is responsible for a mass extinction event as destructive as the End Permian or End Cretaceous (which wiped out the dinosaurs). The introduction of alien species into ecosystems often has negative consequences far beyond the expectations of the people responsible. The introduction of Nile perch into Lake Victoria to provide tourists with game fish led to deforestation on the banks of the lake and an ecosystem which took millions of years to evolve was destroyed in decades. We are living well beyond our means, running up a huge environmental debt which will have to be paid sooner or later. Climate change is just one of many examples.

 

Apis mellifera - an endangered species?

Perhaps the most striking and worrying problem, however, is the death of the bees. Over the last few years honey bees throughout much of the world have been dying in their millions. This does not just mean that we will run out of honey. Bees are the most important pollinators of most of the fruits and many of the vegetables we eat: no bees means no apples, pears, almonds, cauliflower, etc. Although grasses, and so staple crops like barley and rice, are wind-pollinated, the loss of bees and consequent loss of a large proportion of our food sources (up to two-thirds) would radically disrupt our ability to feed ourselves and cause huge economic problems. And this may happen within a few years with no chance for our agricultural system to adapt.

It seems that there are a number of reasons for this collapse. Wild bees have been largely wiped out by large-scale agriculture which destroyed the bees’ natural habitats. Much commercial farming, particularly in the United States relies on commercial bee-keepers who truck hives around the country to pollinate different crops. It is these bees which are dying and this unnatural lifestyle may play a role in the problem. Other factors include the lack of a varied diet as a result of the bees living in monocultures, viruses and parasites which may have evolved new strains and the heady cocktail of pesticides which bees are exposed to. Climate change and the consequent changes in weather patterns may also contribute. The lack of a single clear cause makes the problem particularly difficult to tackle and though it is clear that we have caused the problem it is not at all clear what we can do about it.

That the humble bee should be the agent of humanity’s demise seems to me to be poetically appropriate. It reminds us of the fragility and interconnectedness of the ecosystems on which we rely to live. We like to believe that we are outside nature or have conquered it but we are as dependent upon it and as much a part of it as any other species. The death of the bees is as much a consequence of the unholy alliance of technology and greed as is climate change. The bees, however, might get us first.

For some ideas about what you can do see here.

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From → Environment, Science

4 Comments
  1. inkspeare permalink

    I enjoyed this piece. I have been learning to live a greener life and it has been a day by day effort. I am getting much better at it. Some changes were easy, others changes required a bigger effort – but I am getting there. I am surprised at how many people disconnect themselves from the impact that their actions have on the planet, on other people, and in nature in general. I believe that everything affects everything else and we are all one with creation – all creation. As energy beings we will return to a source someday.

    • I think the reasons people ‘disconnect’ from the results of their actions are complicated and involve various things. It seems to be in the nature of consumerism to encourage irresponsibility, however. It seems to me to be simply irrational to fly or drive or constantly use plastic bags.
      Not sure what you mean by ‘energy beings’ but the fate of energy may well be complete dispersal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_death_of_the_universe

  2. Thanks for helping to raise awareness on this issue! It is true that the “little things” that often go overlooked are so important – crucial, even.

    I was struck recently at how the plight of creatures like bees is similar to the problem of the oyster, the creature that cleans our water supply. So small yet so important.

  3. That’s alright.
    There’s a new problem everywhere you look, but also new solutions. I was just watching something about chimps in Uganda who are suffering as a result of deforestation. The deforestation is also destroying water supplies for humans but they are now beginning to reforest for the sake of the people and the chimps.

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