An Introduction to the Conundrum
Industrial farming and the aggressive use of pesticides are harming bees, one of the world’s most crucial pollinators. Dubbed the “Bee Crisis” by mainstream media, the problems bee populations (both wild and commercial) face are multi-faceted in nature.
In the article entitled “A Dangerous Cycle in Food Production” by Beth Gardiner, the bee crisis is described as an ongoing cycle between dwindling bee productivity and increasing the acreage allotted to grow food. More acres taken up by industrialized farming means less room for other food sources that bees need to survive.
Pesticides make the cycle even worse by making bees either less productive or killing them outright. According to Gardiner’s article, that’s not the only component to the crisis:
Global movement of goods, plants and animals exposes insects to alien viruses, fungi, mites and other pathogens, at a time when their immunity is suppressed by poor nutrition. On top of that comes exposure to powerful pesticides and fungicides, often coated onto seeds before farmers even buy them.
Changing the way we use pesticides or developing pesticides that are safe to use around bees seems to be the first priority for solving the bee crisis. However, pesticides are a necessary evil. What we should probably focus on first is making sure that they can find abundant sources of food. New chemical compounds can take a while to research and develop, so boosting their immunity with better nutrition in the meantime would probably be the wiser course of action.
Why I’m Interested
Previously, I had only heard of the bee crisis in passing. The odd article posted to reddit’s news subreddit would catch my eye, but never sparked anything in me besides apathy. I felt far removed from the problem; that if the problem was indeed critical, someone else would be working on fixing it. I’m sure my apathy was shared by others as well.
I saw another article linked to via reddit recently—“Aimed at Zika Mosquitoes, Spray Kills Millions of Honeybees” by Alan Blinder. I probably saw it around September 2nd, 2016.
In that article, Alan Blinder describes how an aerial spraying of naled, a common pesticide used to kill mosquitoes, resulted in the deaths of over two million bees owned by a local beekeeper, Juanita Stanley.
This article changed the way I felt about the bee crisis. Instead of reacting with apathy, I became genuinely interested in researching the bee crisis for myself. Knowing what I do now, I’m shocked that this is not a more widely discussed issue.
Spray First, Ask Questions Later
Pesticides have become the go-to solution for keeping various pest populations under control, so much so that they are used without considering the possible consequences. Blinder states later in his article that, “some experts have questioned the county’s initial strategy, which included spraying during the day, when honeybees are more active.”
The county rushed to eliminate any mosquitoes that might be carrying the Zika virus without considering what the effects would be on other forms of wildlife. A minor alteration to their strategy—spraying the naled at night—would have prevented the huge losses suffered by the local beekeeping community.
One comment from the Zika article in particular summed up how humans are making the problem worse. Juanita Stanley, the beekeeper featured in the article, stated that, “We, as humans, are not doing the research and finding out the facts before we make decisions” (Blinder). We didn’t predict the Bee Crisis through research. We’ve only become aware of the Bee Crisis because we’ve let it progress to the point where it’s a serious problem.
Why You Should Care
Everyone depends on crops that bees pollinate for the variety in diet that we need. If we continue to ignore this growing problem until the very last minute—which is an intrinsic element of human nature at this point—then bees may have an even slimmer chance of recovery.
The bee crisis may be more severe than you think. Gardiner’s article describes some of the recorded losses so far:
American beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their honeybee colonies last year , the White House says. In the Netherlands, wild bee populations have shrunk 90 percent since record-keeping began about 120 years ago, said David Kleijn, an ecology professor at Wageningen University. Some Chinese farmers have to pollinate apple trees by hand because so few bees remain.
With losses that severe, pollinating crops and trees by hand may be just a glimpse of what is in store for future generations of farmers. The current situation is certainly not sustainable.
I hope to explore more of the bee crisis in the future. It is an intriguing problem whose solution is more complex than it appears at first glance.
Gardiner, Beth. “A Dangerous Cycle in Food Production.” The New York Times. 19 Oct. 2015. Web. 2 Sept. 2016.
Blinder, Alan. “Aimed at Zika Mosquitoes, Spray Kills Millions of Honeybees.” The New York Times. 1 Sept. 2016. Web. 2 Sept. 2016.