For some people, bees are simply an annoyance. They buzz around, crawl inside soda cans, chase people down the street and sometimes even sting. If you're unlucky enough to be allergic, bees can literally be a lethal threat.
Yet, the simple fact is, if bees didn't exist, neither would humans. Accordingly, it's extremely disconcerting that honeybees have been dying at an alarming rate over the past decade or so.
At present, the honeybee population in the United States is less than half of what it was at the cessation of World War II.
This past winter, 23.2 percent of America's managed honeybee colonies were lost. The figures were worse during the year prior, but bees are still dying at a disturbing rate, and something needs to change.
The US government has stated that bees are now dying at an economically unsustainable rate. Indeed, in the United States alone, bees contribute to $15 billion in crop value. Without them, agriculture as we know it would collapse.
Bees... Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Em'.
Even if you hate bees, you need them. They are responsible for much of the food on your plate. Bees perform a task that is vital to the survival of agriculture: pollination. In fact, one third of our global food supply is pollinated by bees.
Simply put, bees keep plants and crops alive. Without bees, humans wouldn't have very much to eat.
To put this into context, these are many of the crops pollinated by bees: Almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cashews, coffee, cranberries, cucumbers, eggplants, grapes, kiwis, mangoes, okra, peaches, pears, peppers, strawberries, tangerines, walnuts and watermelons.
Without bees, these crops would cease to exist. Bees are crucial to our existence as well, thus we must work harder to protect and preserve them. Likewise, as renowned entomologist Marla Spivak puts it:
Anyone who cares about the health of the planet, for now and for generations to come, needs to answer this wake-up call. ...Fewer bees lead to lower availability and potentially higher prices of fruit and vegetables. Fewer bees mean no almonds, less coffee and less alfalfa hay available to feed dairy cows. ...We need good, clean food, and so do our pollinators. If bees do not have enough to eat, we won't have enough to eat. Dying bees scream a message to us that they cannot survive in our current agricultural and urban environments...
Why Are Bees Disappearing?
Presently, there is an ongoing debate surrounding the disappearance of bees. It seems pretty clear that pesticides are the main culprit, however.
Since the end of World War II, the use of pesticides in agriculture has increased exponentially. Relatedly, it is now suggested that the widespread use of pesticides known as neonicotinoids is having a detrimental impact on the health of bees.
Neonicotinoids, which are chemically similar to nicotine, are an extremely popular pesticide. They are also likely poisoning bees and other pollinators. In essence, pesticides are terrible for the environment, and they are killing the organisms that help the world, and humans, survive.
A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that these pesticides directly contribute to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD is essentially the process by which honeybees spontaneously abandon their hives. When bees are exposed to pesticides like neonicotinoids, they go insane and don't know how to return home. It's almost as if they are given a form of Alzheimer's.
It's important to note, however, that while pesticides are likely a large part of the reason bees are dying, there are other factors in play as well.
In essence, this is a complex problem that the world's top scientists are still investigating. In addition to pesticides, for example, it is believed that bees are also dying from various parasites, like the Varroa mite.
Hence, bees are dying from a combination of factors, but primarily due to the impact of human practices and the ongoing problems associated with climate change.
Humans are destroying wild habitats in which bees traditionally get their food. When bees pollinate various plants, they are also receiving sustenance in return. As Marla Spivak states:
...The ironic thing is that bees are not out there pollinating our food intentionally. They're out there because they need to eat. Bees get all of the protein they need in their diet from pollen and all of the carbohydrates they need from nectar. They're flower-feeders, and as they move from flower to flower,basically on a shopping trip at the local floral mart, they end up providing this valuable pollination service.
Some beekeepers have attempted to replace natural nectar with a substitute to feed their bees, but ultimately it doesn't sustain bee health the same way. There is no substitute for the natural way of the world.
Moreover, it is believed that climate change has also led to a disruption in the synchronization of flower opening and bee hibernation. This also causes bees to die.
Simply put, humans are terrible for bees. Pesticides, environmental degradation and pollution, are all contributing to the alarming rate of bee deaths.
The tragic irony of this is, by killing bees, we are hurting ourselves. Our survival depends on the health of the planet and its species, and unless we begin to realize this then we will continue to contribute to its demise -- and our own.
We Can Save The Bees.
Luckily, there are already efforts to save bees and other pollinators. In fact, in June, President Obama established a Pollinator Health Task Force. This is a federal effort to help quell the loss of important pollinators, such as bees.
Likewise, the USDA has announced $8 million in incentives for farmers who establish new habitats for honeybee populations.
Additionally, simply having a garden can greatly assist the health and livelihood of bee populations. Simply put, plant flowers in your yard and neighborhood, don't contaminate them with pesticides and you will help save bees.
The more flowers there are, the better chance bees have of receiving the nutrition they need to survive. Having more bees means good things for the planet, and for us.
It's also important that we plant a diverse array of flowers in a multiplicity of locations. We need flowers in urban and rural environments. This will help ensure the health of bees and our crops.
This is not our world alone, we share it with a massive variety of species. Humans have done the most to damage the planet, thus it is our duty to reverse this trend and fight for its health.
We only get one planet Earth, there are no second chances. When a species goes extinct, that's the end. We cannot allow bees to go extinct if we have any hope of surviving.
Likewise, it's time to open our eyes to the impact of climate change. It's reassuring that studies have shown that due to human efforts, the ozone layer is now beginning to heal, but there is still much work to be done. Protecting the planet will be an ongoing task that requires constant vigilance.
There is no better time than now to begin reversing the detrimental impact humans have had on the environment. The first step is educating people on the problem, and how they can contribute to a solution.
This is an endeavor that will require the participation of all of the world's 7.1 billion inhabitants. When it comes to the survival of the planet, we cannot afford to be ignorant or apathetic.
Photo Courtesy: We Heart It