Friday, April 10, 2009

Honey bees prefer a low-stress lifestyle

The humble honey bee is in trouble. The mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder is wiping out bees by the droves.

Beginning in October 2006, some beekeepers began reporting losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. Einstein predicted humans would starve within four years without bees. An estimated 80 percent of our food depends on pollination by bees.

(The fantastic bee photo comes from Autan in Japan.) We're copious consumers of fruit in our home, so we're indebted to bees for their magnificent pollination skills.

Nature writer Rowan Jacobson documents the bee predicament in "Fruitless Fall: the Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis." Researchers cannot pinpoint ONE cause of the colony collapse disorder. So I like Rowan's analogy of the quandary of the beleaguered honey bees (page 138-139). It sums it up marvelously.

"You stagger off a coast-to-coast red-eye flight and chug a Pepsi for breakfast to revive. You hop in your rental car and head for your business meeting, but wouldn't you know it, the GPS is malfunctioning in the car and you get lost. You show up for the meeting late, edgy and shaking.

"You have to excuse yourself to hit the bathroom because you've got a stomach but and the antibiotics just aren't helping. Not to mention the fleas that seem to be leaping from the carpet into your socks. Halfway through the meeting a pest-control guy steps in and sprays the room with a white fog that makes you retch.

"You are useless throughout the meeting and don't make the sale you'd hoped to make. But you can't dwell on that because you have to head directly to another meeting. In fact, you have meetings all day, until late at night, and then you have to hop another red-eye home. No time to sit down and eat, so you wolf down a box of doughnuts as you drive.

"You're in bad shape. Not only are you constantly irritable because of the impossible schedule, but lack of sleep, a sugary diet, and chemical contamination are taxing your immune system.

"You'll probably get more illnesses, and your work performance will continue to suffer. When you finally make it home to your mate, you won't be terribly interested in romance, because you've got too much on your mind--such as the fact that your kids seem to have some sort of learning disabilities."

Most commercial bees are trucked around the country to work various harvests, including the "Almond Orgy" (credit to Rowan) in California, where 82 percent of the world's almonds are harvested -- super-intensive-mass-harvesting at its best -- or worst.

Almond growers contract to bring in 1.5 million full-strength hives to pollinate the crop. Beekeepers like the fast and seemingly easy cash. However, the dark cloud is the "brothel effect" (credit to Rowan): the bees can catch all kinds of communicable diseases.

The colony collapse disorder is another "canary in the flock of canaries in the coal mine" that we humans are ignoring while our ecosystem systemically weakens and sickens. Because pesticides are a contributing factor to the Colony Collapse Disorder, it has influenced me to start buying more organic produce.

My son Ian, the organic farmer said, my friends Brittany and Mark decided they could afford to buy organic produce if they gave up cable, about $60 a month. Me, too. Except I don't have cable. I can give up something else, for Lent, forever.

1 comment:

  1. Hey I recently wrote about colony collapse. Hearing about all of these things makes me want to move out of the city into the country so I could raise some bees, chickens, and have a garden! Except living in the boonies carries its own carbon footprint... hmm... maybe I should turn to urban gardening...