You might not know this, but honeybees are incredibly important for the global economy — not to mention our health. Honeybees are responsible for about 80 percent of the pollinations that happen worldwide in a given year. A single bee colony can pollinate as many as 300 million plants in just one day. They’re remarkable creatures.
Honeybees share a division of labor with the wind itself, which is responsible for pollinating grains. The world’s bee populations, meanwhile, pollinate other equally important food crops such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. About 70 percent of the top food crops human beings rely on are pollinated by bees.
Sadly, bee populations have never been more vulnerable than they are right now, due in no small part to the chemical and pesticide industries. If things continue, the ongoing worldwide bee colony collapse could herald huge problems for world health.
What’s causing the extinction?
As with a great many of the other problems now facing humankind, the loss of bee species is due, in large part, to our recklessness and shortsightedness.
The rampant use of pesticides, continuing habitat destruction, and air pollution are all major factors in the difficulties now facing the world’s bee populations. In other words, all of the same causes and symptoms of global warming are closely intertwined with the causes of declining bee populations. The fate of pollinator populations links directly with the overall health of the environment.
In a typical year, a bee colony will lose about five to 10 percent of its total population during the winter months. These days, however, losses have been as high as 50 percent for some bee colonies. The results are not only measurable but also frightening. Since 1962, bee colonies per hectare of farmland has fallen by an extraordinary 90 percent, according to Greenpeace.
What happens if we lose these bees for good?
When we think of “bees,” we think of the quintessential black-and-yellow striped bumblebee. However, the truth is there are about 20,000 species of pollinators worldwide, and they are directly responsible for the maintenance of several hundred billion dollars’ worth of food crops. But of these 20,000 species, roughly 40 percent are on their way toward extinction.
The declining bee population is a problem now meeting head-on with our farming practices. In the United States, large tracts of farmland are dedicated to growing just one crop. With both bee populations and wildflowers in decline, these crops are in more danger than ever.
The bottom line is this. The decline of bee populations worldwide is a direct threat to our ability to feed ourselves. If there’s a better reason to raise our voices and bring attention to this issue, it’s going to be hard to find.
What can we do about it?
After all of this bleak news, it’s time for a call to arms. The good news you’ve been waiting for: there are many practical actions we can take right now to slow down the dramatic declination of bee populations.
We turn, once more, to Greenpeace. The top three actions we can take are:
1. Committing to a ban on the most dangerous chemical pesticides
2. Committing to preserving pollinators’ natural habitats
3. Committing to ecological (or “organic”) agriculture
In this political climate, Americans are have gotten used to politicians telling us America is “exceptional” on the national stage, but on this front, the United States is embarrassing itself by inaction — and badly.
Nations such as Bhutan and Mexico have taken bold steps to protect local pollinator species, such as banning genetically modified corn in Mexico and committing to a 100 percent organic farming policy in Bhutan.
Europe steps forward
European nations are also taking the U.S. to task for its lack of action, and thereby leading by example. The European Commission in May of 2012 adopted a ban on three of the most destructive nicotinoid pesticides for a duration of two years. While the ban is in effect, scientists will double-down on assessing the state of their bee populations and chart recovery rates, in the hopes of slowing or altogether stopping their decline.
America’s recent history, meanwhile, has been downright hostile toward our troubled bee populations. Whereas Europe has made a point of holding pesticide companies responsible for the damage they are causing to local species, President Obama’s “Monsanto Protection Act” of 2014 explicitly grants biotech companies immunity in United States courts when it comes to the environmental damages caused by their products.
It’s clear something beyond a change of American leadership is necessary for truly coming to terms with this problem. If you want to signal your support for meaningful action, take a moment to send a message to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Remember, change only happens from the bottom up.
This is a guest post written by Megan Ray Nichols.
Megan Ray Nichols is passionate about environmental issues. She is the editor of Schooled by Science, a blog dedicated to breaking down complex scientific topics into understandable pieces. Now that you’ve learned more about declining bee populations, you might be interested to learn more about climate change.