Bees On The Brink And What We Can Do

[Writer’s Note: 1) Nope, didn’t proof read it…it’s 1am for pete’s sake. and 2) This is an expression solely of my views and opinions based on what I know, what I think I know and how I strive to live my singular life. This is an important topic that I think needs a louder voice in the public conversation. If anyone or any organization has issue with what I have to say, I welcome the opportunity to further the conversation, understand viewpoints, exchange ideas and most importantly work on solutions.]

This week is going slow as I find myself thinking we’re a day ahead of where we really are. We are staying very busy at the estate, though making little progress.  The welcoming warmth of Summer has returned to the area, though we could use some rain.

We went to a special screening of ‘More Than Honey‘ this evening in Kent. It’s a recent documentary on the honey bee highlighting how important they are to human survival and how they are struggling to survive. From the description on the ‘More Than Honey‘ website:

“Over the past 15 years, numerous colonies of bees have been decimated throughout the world, but the causes of this disaster remain unknown. Depending on the world region, 50% to 90% of all local bees have disappeared, and this epidemic is still spreading from beehive to beehive – all over the planet. Everywhere, the same scenario is repeated: billions of bees leave their hives, never to return. No bodies are found in the immediate surroundings, and no visible predators can be located….

…Scientists have found a name for the phenomenon that matches its scale, “colony collapse disorder,” and they have good reason to be worried: 80% of plant species require bees to be pollinated. Without bees, there is no pollinization, and fruits and vegetables could disappear from the face of the Earth. Apis mellifera (the honey bee), which appeared on Earth 60 million years before man and is as indispensable to the economy as it is to man’s survival.”

Actually going into the film, my wife and I didn’t know what to expect. Just this week I read a Time Magazine cover article on honey bees, and as it turns out many of the facts I read about in the magazine were highlighted in greater detail in the documentary. Bees are so fascinating in my opinion, and their importance to our survival can not be overstated enough.  Here are some of the points I found interesting, that were highlighted in the movie:

  • All the colorful fruits, nuts and vegetables like apples, almonds and cucumbers are pollinated by bees, the boring stuff like corn and wheat are pollinated by the wind.
  • Honey bees are not native to North America, they were brought by colonists who wanted fruits and vegetables like they had at home in Europe.
  • California’s almond crop, which is 90% of the world supply of almonds, is pollinated entirely by bees trucked in, often from out-of-state. The bees pollinate the trees then they have to be trucked out promptly after the bloom is off, otherwise they would starve to death if left in the miles upon miles of monoculture almond groves.
  • In China, Mao ordered all the sparrows killed because they ate too much of the people’s grain. This caused a huge infestation of insects so the gov’t sprayed every thing with insecticides killing all the bees in some regions. They now have to pollinate their crops by hand, using human labor instead of bees.
  • While bees are not native to Australia either, the bees there are devoid of the Veroa Destructor mite which is decimating bee colonies in North America and Europe.
  • Africanized honey bees may be one of the best bets to save the honey bees. They have better immune systems, and produce more honey than the docile domesticated bees being farmed world-wide.

Ultimately what it comes down to is that mankind has worked diligently to enforce its supremacy over the natural world, which in turn is leading to the ultimate extinction of mankind. The only question is whether any other species will outlast our own.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the term used to describe the mass death of bee colonies across the globe. No one knows exactly the cause. Most likely it’s a variety of things. In my opinion though, and the movie outlines it nicely, ultimately it’s mankind insatiable need for food (sustaining an overpopulated world), expansion (capitalism and ideology), and domination (ego and ideology) that will be the downfall of the bees….and anything else that gets in the way of man’s manifest destiny. One hath look no further than the Bible to gain insight into man’s mentality for 2,000 years that has gotten us to where we are today:

Genesis [1:26, 1:28-1:30] “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth….'”

“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

God may have said it was okay, but in reality our myopic short-sighted domination is killing us and the world around us.

An example from the movie is, and as lay people the wife and I both were a little surprised, that the industrial apiarist didn’t know what the cause was for his bees dying. It all falls under CCD but common sense was telling us something different. The almond pollinating bees are often sprayed with fungicides meant for the trees, while they do their pollination work during the day because the workers can’t work at night. The fungicides don’t kill the bees directly but can be found in all of the larvae created after spraying causing them to sometimes die. Then the bees are loaded onto tractor trailers and shipped across state lines with no ventilation so many overheat and die there. Then they are so weak they need to be doused in antibiotics and fed sugar-water instead of nectar. The hives travel from North Dakota, to California to Washington and back to North Dakota once a year, every year. All in close quarters where colonies interact and spread disease and water down their genetics, and reduce their ability to ward off infection. At the end of the year hives are forcibly split into 4-5 new hives to replace the ones they lost and the cycle starts all over again. (In the wild a hive may only split into 2 new hives by the way.)

And we wonder why bees are dying off?

C’mon you don’t have to be a Harvard grad to know that we’re screwing with the natural system for our own perceived gain and it’s a really f*cking dangerous game we’re playing. This is common sense, grade school stuff but few have the courage or influence to challenge the system. This industrial system is defended as being the cost of progress. They wish they could manage bees like our grandparents did but now everything is 10x bigger and as such needs to be managed accordingly.  This mentality permeates throughout our culture, business and industrial sectors, so in a way who can blame them.

Maybe it’s in our DNA?

Overall I liked the movie and would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about bees in general (the movie opens with an epic view of a queen hatching) as well as the challenges they face in our world today.

What can they do to fix it? Start working with nature not against it.

1) Stop practicing monoculture agriculture on an industrial scale. Here’s what an almond grove looks like (along with an article on beekeeping and almonds):

The edge of an almond grove, imagine it going on for miles in every direction.

The edge of an almond grove, imagine it going on for miles in every direction.

Bees travel up to 3-5 miles to find pollen and nectar. When there is just one crop, e.g. almonds, corn, wheat, rice, etc. throughout that range, bees can’t survive. In fact nothing can. Nature thrives off diversity, not monocultures. But our huge demand for corn, and other crops means large industrial farms that grow nothing but one crop for miles which are essentially like deserts for bees and other species. These monocultures require copious amounts of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers to survive resulting in weak, disease prone species of insects, plants, and ultimately humans. For example, large companies like Monsanto create toxic genetically modified seeds with insecticides in them. That way the toxins are throughout the plant, even the bits we, and the bees consume, which ultimately poison bees and everything else. Then the same company sweeps in and looks to save the day by developing medicines for bees to treat the problems that probably wouldn’t have existed had they not destroyed our food supply in the first place. But this is how we think. They’re no different from most of the people, businesses and industries out there in regards to how they think and act. At some point it’d probably be better if they just put a bullet in us and called it a day.

On the other hand diverse polycultures naturally take care of themselves and every organism living within them. They require fewer resources and intervention by man (which makes them cost less in the long run actually if we thought that way). We need to get it through out heads: work with nature not against it.

2) Stop moving bees around. Once a polyculture is set up, set up bee hives and don’t move them. While the industrial bee keepers will sue Congress to stop this from ever happening, because like most industries: if it’s common sense then it must be bad for business, it doesn’t mean we can’t do it anyway. With all these polycultures around create a network of beekeepers and leverage the buying power of the industrial trade group, AND the pros of the local apiarist that is critical to beekeeping and bee health. Keeping bees in one place and letting them migrate naturally will assure that they are stronger and keep diseases and pests from spreading. We were at a beekeepers meeting recently and the bee specialist from a major university in the state showed a chart of bee disease in Ohio. No surprise the instances of disease followed the highways. Local bees are more stable, less stressed out and less prone to spreading disease.

3) The government needs to do a better job funding bee research and bees need a louder voice in Washington D.C., in Hollywood, at the barber shop, during dinner time. If I knew the first thing about lobbying I like to think I’d rather enjoy being a bee lobbyist.  People who love bees tend to be too busy to stand up, or they’re not cut from the ‘run and gun’ vocal sales men for Big Energy, Big Food and the other groups setting the course for national policy. And frankly it’s not just bee people that have a tough time with this, but for our purposes today we’ll stick to bees. No one realizes how important they are (as well as many other species, social causes and other causes) to our survival as human beings. Also the negative impact we have on our economy with our misguided plans, procedures and practices.  One example of progress that will never fly in D.C. is a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides like they have in Europe. The Big Chemical companies are too powerful to let that happen even if it means we starve to death, and our economy collapses, in the meantime.

What can we do to start fixing it? Realize we have a voice, a vote, and we are more powerful than any gov’t or corporation.

1) Buy local honey. Stop buying it from China, which is where most of what you see in the supermarket, or Walmart or any other large chain comes from. Chinese honey has the pollen stripped out so you can’t tell where it came from (or maybe it’s not – read this NPR article that says no pollen honey is fine – I disagree), and it’s laced with chemicals. Pollen gives honey it’s signature, and technically if there is no pollen in the honey it’s not honey. Large domestic honey producers aren’t much better in my opinion. They move their hives around which is bad like we mentioned before. They also have so many hives to manage that the process is completely out of step with how bees should be treated in my opinion. Also they’re more likely to have pesticides, and drugs in the honey which over time accumulates in our bodies. The best you can do is buy your honey from a local apiarist. You might even be able to see the hives and land your honey came from. Look up your local bee keeping association for a source. If you don’t have one, think about starting your own hive…

2) Become an apiarist. It’s fun, exciting and not nearly as daunting as you think. You’re hive will essentially become a new pet, and you can go as little or big as you want. If you have kids, even better. It will give them an appreciation for the natural world and where their food comes from. And your garden will have never looked as good as it does once your bees find it.

3) Choose a different path. Stop investing in companies like Monsanto, and Bayer that are killing us and bees under the guise of feeding an ever-expanding population. Read more about bees or where your food comes from or the ingredients in products or whatever interests you and can have a positive impact on the world around you. Then go share, teach and learn more. Forward this blog to someone (or forward one that’s a well written version), or send someone an article on the topic. Spread the word. Leave the place better off than you found it. Curb our population growth; I know this is tough but we’ve reached our carrying capacity for this earth (actually exceeded it). Ask difficult questions of your gov’t, the companies you buy stuff from, of your grocery store, of your family….of yourself. And then go find the answers. These are just some ideas off the top of my head.

4) Buy local, organically grown food. We’ve lost touch with where our food comes from. If we knew, then we’d probably make some changes. Buying local reduces our dependence on industrial food sources that foster the proliferation of chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics that ultimately are going to kill us all. Also be aware, if bees go away I hope you can live on corn, wheat and rice the rest of your life. Forget about other veggies and fruits. Not gonna happen. Unless you want to put on a bee costume and dust pollen on flowers instead of going to the spring opener of your local baseball team.

5) Plant native flowers and plants in your yard. Stop using toxic herbicides and pesticides, and use organic fertilizer. Hey, I know it’s tough. I just sprayed yellow jackets with Raid the other day, so let’s all take baby steps and at least agree to work towards a zero use goal.  Our bees love our clover in the yard and the wildflowers we planted, as well as the veggies. Maybe you hate bees, and humans….the least you can do is plant something way off in the corner of your yard that bees (or another animal might like).  I wish we lived in a society where having natural looking landscapes were seen as impressive and the man made manicured landscapes were kind of frowned upon. I just think the world would be a happier place for us, bees and everyone.

What can bees do?

Well bees are pretty incredible but they are at the mercy of what we decide to do. We’ve virtually eradicated wild bee populations and with each year bees become more domesticated and dependent on us, and our industrial ways – dependent on our medicine and food substitutes.

It’s up to us. Not our kids, not our grandparents. Not the government or the almond growers or industrial honey producers. It’s not even up to China (though even they admit, pollinating by hand is an asinine way to live).

You and I have to figure this out.

And yeah, it’s kind of is a matter of life and death.

2 thoughts on “Bees On The Brink And What We Can Do

  1. First of all, great writing and information!
    I think the observation of dominion and man’s ego needs to be dissected. There is a clear difference between dominion (the right to rule) and domination (exercising power or control) I think it is man’s free will (aka ego) that distorts what God intended. For God wanted us to love one another as ourselves. I think this can easily be extended to our environment. So free will, when misguided, produces myopic views that are self centered and (self) destructive.
    St. Augustine tells us how to properly deal with free will: “love God (love) with all your heart, then do what you will.
    Go bees!!


  2. Thank you Joe for the added perspective. You bring up a good point worthy of reflection and thought. I didn’t pick up on the ‘dominion’ vs. ‘domination’ nuance (in my defense it was late and I tend to work and think at a million miles an hour with little regard for letting fact or reality cloud my judgement). I think a large percentage of the real influencers in our world were raised with the mindset that man is to reign ‘dominance’ over our natural world; that the nature’s bounty was put forth in the service of mankind. I’d be so bold to say that changing that dangerous mindset universally would do more to restore our natural world than all of the energy, habitat and other sustainability reformations [maybe this is the wrong word] combined.


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