Monday, March 7, 2011

And now they're gone...

Sadly, my two hives fell victim this winter to some unknown malady, which I suppose means colony collapse or 'CCD' as it's known nowadays.

Bee colonies have long suffered from common ailments such as mites, fungal infections, and bacterial diseases. But, of late, their fortunes have taken a serious downturn. Colonies simply disappear leaving plenty of food behind and no signs indicating what was the matter.

These apiary Roanokes have puzzled scientists, but they don't much puzzle me. I say that without the least bit of arrogance or pride, but with more than a little sadness and frustration.

We treat bees badly on the whole, so badly in fact that given a sane moment or two we might better ask ourselves how in the world they've lasted this long rather than why they're now vanishing. We steal their food, move them around to suit our ends, breed them into shockingly narrow genetic corners, and poison them with millions of pounds if not tons of commercial herbicides and insecticides each year.

The barrage of bad behaviors we've inflicted on bees is the problem. But, maddeningly, our reductive penchance for quick fixes and 'answers' now has us mostly casting about for the 'secret' behind bee die-offs. We've pointed the finger at everything from cell phone signals to viruses.

But, more likely, we are the problem or, more precisely, our relationship with the rest of the biosphere is the problem. Somehow, we've come to the conclusion that we own it. Planet as chattel.

If there is a smoking gun here, my guess is that it's probably the neonicotinoid pesticides we've grown attached to in the past decade. These beauties are sold under trade names such as "Cruiser", "Platinum", and "Admire". We like these insecticides because they're easy on mammals.

By design, however, they're not easy on insects. Neonicotinoids are built to wreak havoc on insect nervous systems. It's hard not ask whether that might also have something to do with the fact that bee colonies stricken by colony collapse simply get confused and wander away from their hives.

Whether by design or chance, it can hardly be lost upon the creators and purveyors of poisons like these that their apparent lack of effect on humans and other mammals would considerably enhance their saleability in this day and age where 'green' is increasingly a feature and a commodity in its own right. It's always important to hide the bodies.

Ironically, the very reason we're able to be so naughty in a planetary sense is also the bad news we're going face in the form of consequences: we're perched precariously atop the food web.

Bees, those lovely insects we're busy trashing, do all their magic quite a bit farther down the line...but not that much farther. We depend directly upon them for about 30% of our food supply via pollination. If bees go, we'll know about it in the worst possible way.

Here's the short version: If you use toxins, don't. Find alternatives. Accept tradeoffs. Think farther out in your own self-interest. Be more patient. Try participation instead of control.

There's a good chance your next meal or the one after that will depend upon it.

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