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Issues of the Day I Thought I Killed a Bee Today

I try to be tolerant when contending with diminutive buzzing fauna.  However, while having lunch in the garden this afternoon one persistent, pellet-shaped creature with busy wings proved a little too pesky. Not only was it annoying, its penetration of my personal space seemed designed to culminate in a sting.

I suffered its machinations during my meal but by the time I had  completed the International New York Times my patience had become frayed and I instinctively swatted the black-stripped, yellow intruder with the newsprint. I leveled a direct strike and was rid of it.   


Or so I thought – and in that I did not find comfort.


Guilt about dispatching a menacing insect?


Not exactly. My concern came from another place: I recently learned that bees around the world, particularly honey bees,  are in crisis resulting in part from an affliction called Colony Collapse Disorder.

So? Why should we care about the death of bees and the collapse of colonies?


The reasons are compelling.


Why Care About Bees?

As a 2013 National Geographic report states that "bees in their crucial role as pollinators are paramount…About a third of our foods (some 100 key crops) rely on these insects, including apples, nuts, all the favorite summer fruits (like blueberries and strawberries), alfalfa (which cows eat), and guar bean (used in all kinds of products). 


Bees are a "moveable force" of pollination, the mechanism by which plants become fertilized in order to reproduce. They also are a key link in the entire ecological web, as explained in this EU Euronews video. Also, as stated in the NG article, "bee health can tell us a lot about environmental health, and thus about our own well-being."


Of course, bees are also responsible for producing a significant foodstuff, honey, which has also been used medicinally throughout the centuries.


There are economic reasons, too. The Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture attributes the added crop value from bees to be about $15 billion in that country each year. But as National Geographic relates, nearly a quarter of US bee colonies perished during the 2013-14 winter season, a trend in bee demise that began in 2006. While this year's colony loss in the US  declined relative to recent years, it remains higher than acceptable winter mortality, as described by the Bee Informed Partnership.  

Collapse: Multiple Causes

According to a May 2014 Greenpeace report, "Plan Bee – Living Without Pesticides" the key factors contributing to bee demise include land use intensification and habitat destruction, the use of herbicides and pesticides, pathogens inimical to bees, and climate change.


Three of the most notorious pesticides belong to a class known as neonicotinoids and the European Union suspended their use in April 2013 (The Guardian) for two years due to mounting scientific evidence that they cause bee death. In recent days President Obama has instructed federal environmental and agricultural agencies to come up with a plan within six months to restore the health of bees and other pollinators (butterflies, bats) (The Christian Science Monitor).  Containing the use of these pesticides is surely among the measures to be weighed.


Any way one looks at things, the ongoing news on bees is not very good at all. Not all bee death is due to Colony Collapse Disorder, which in any case is a cyclical disease that ebbs and rises. But there is considerable evidence that forces other than natural ones are endangering this vital connector of the ecosystem.


In a well-documented background report for Friends of the Earth (FoE) entitled "Follow the Honey: Seven Ways Pesticides Companies are Spinning the Bee Crisis to Protect Profits"  attorney and public health specialist Michele Simon describes a well-moneyed, multipronged public relations blitz by multinational pesticide producers to obfuscate the crisis. She compares the tactics being deployed to those used by the tobacco companies in protecting their economic interests.


All is Not Well


All, then,  is not well in bee-dom, and the gravity of this situation has implications far and wide: environmentally, nutritionally and economically.


Personally, my disquiet concerning the prospect of having killed a bee this afternoon was soon lightened when the critter revived and renewed its buzzing and dizzying flight. Poetically inspired in an Emily Dickenson sort of way, a verse came to mind:


"To see a fallen bee in flight, dispels fright."


To which I might have added:


"A colony of bees deceased, bodes of a witches' brew released."   


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