Monday, July 16, 2007

Everything's gonna bee alright

Back in May, it was reported that our food supply is threatened by the death of honeybees. Because honeybees are dying off in huge numbers, the many plants that rely on insect pollination are threatened as well. This includes apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, cucumbers, citrus fruit, berries, and melons. Alfalfa, used to feed cattle, also relies on pollination. The article warns that we could soon be reduced to a "glorified bread-and-water diet."

I first heard about this on the Howard Stern show, since he has a couple relatives who hawk bee-related products, but that's easy enough to dismiss as marketing propaganda. The Washington Post, though, they've got to be reputable enough to actually check the facts, right?

Then came the theroies - what could be causing the dreadful CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder? Cell phones were quickly blamed, even though the publishers of the study denied the link between cell phones and CCD. This false relationship was widely published and repeated.

Could this bee another round of fear-based reporting, as we often see in the global warming arena, where the emotional impact of the story overrides the science that supports it?

Turns out, the answer is yes. Between 1987 and 1994, 98% of the wild honeybees in the US died off, and nearly half of all captive honeybees did also. Why? Because of a natural predator - a mite called the varroa destructor. And even though that didn't dent our food supply, we should all be seriously fretting about our ability to feed ourselves in the future.

As usual, the fear-mongers use this platform as an opportunity to flog their favorite dead horses. Anti-industrialists and technophobes rush to the forefront, and are somehow given a forum, as unsubstantiated claims of pollution and cell phone towers are offered as the cause for our impending doom. But ironically, the solutions to our honeybee dilemma are being offerred by those vilified corporations and technology. New lines of bees, like the blue orchard bee, are being bred to provide the cheap labor of pollination. California had a record almond crop last year, not because they demolished cell phone towers, but because the California Almond Board successfully experimented with new pollen-carriers.

Also as usual, the fear-mongers extrapolated a short-term trend and chose to ignore important bits of contradictory history. More captive bees did die this past winter than normal, but that also seems to have been the case in 1897 and again in 1960. And it doesn't even come close to the 98% drop before 1994. As long as you ignore important historical and scientific evidence, you can make a convincing case that the end of the world is fast approaching.

But remember, it's only a temporary reprieve. Even if industry and technology don't kill us by wiping out honeybees, they'll surely kill us all with global warming.



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