Sunday, October 28, 2007

Where have all the honey bees gone?

I am a self-professed news junkie. I am one of those people that psychologists worry about – the ones who remain glued to their seats watching hour after hour of CNN or MSNBC, unable to tear themselves away from the screen depicting all of the misery and violence happening around the world. Some people may think this obsession, like most obsessions is unhealthy. I like to think of myself as abnormally aware of what’s happening in the world.

60 Minutes and CBS Sunday Morning are two of my favorite shows. It’s my dream to be one of the people that hunts around for obscure oddities in the world, reporting back to the rest of the world on how these seemingly unimportant events really have impact on our lives. For now, I’m just on the sidelines of my couch, feeding my inner nerd.

Tonight was no exception. Having my date cancel at the last minute, disappointing though sadly not surprising given his career choice that forces him to work insane hours, I was happily in my home watching 60 minutes over a bowl of comfort food.

Do you ever wonder exactly where your food comes from and all of the steps that went into getting it to your plate? Bees. That’s the answer in almost every case. 60 Minutes is reporting about the decimation of the honey bee population in America, and now I am as worried about that as I am about melting polar ice caps and the little penguins in South Africa who have had their population cut to 1/8 its size in 10 years. (This penguin story was reported early on the evening news with Lester Holt.)

Part of being an environmentalist is that you are a nervous wreck over the state of our planet. If you think about it too much, you truly could become paralyzed by the enormity of the problem. It turns out that there is a step-child industry of bee keepers who rent out their beehives all across the country. 40,000 bees to a hive. And they are the sole reason we even have fruits and vegetable in this country. It takes 30 trips by bees to a single flower per season to make a pumpkin grow. 30 per pumpkin! The unemployment rate of bees is a negative number. Probably a negative triple digit number.

60 Minutes interviewed a honey bee farmer who’s family has been in this business for 50 years. He’s been visiting his hives around the country and many of them have deserted their hives. Gone. Destroyed. There’s honey inside the hives, and even other bees not associated with the hive won’t come anywhere near it. The eggs and larve have been abandoned, a practice very atypical of honey bees. And there are no dead bees anywhere in sight. A scientist who studies honey bees says that the environment is contaminating the hives, driving the bees out. Normally honey bees can find their way back to their uniquely-scented hive within a two mile radius. They aren’t getting lost – they are running away.

This poor honey bee farmer has lost 80% of his bee population, and has spent $100’s of $1000’s of dollars replacing the bees. And he is not alone – honey bee farmers all over the country are experiencing the same problem. No one knows what’s going on and no one knows what to do.

So while we may be celebrating the mild weather we’ve had all fall, I am very worried. Our planet is going through an unnaturally frightening time. In a very real sense, if these bees go, our produce will be sky-high in cost, if not non-existent. So while we may think that the smallest creatures are unimportant when compared to us all-important humans, we need to be more thoughtful about our inter-dependency. In reality, we need the bees much more than they need us.

1 comment:

Christa said...

A recent article from June 30, 2008 - from the New York Times. Discusses how the situation is progressing: