Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A World Without Bees

As the reports are coming in about the effects of Hurricane Sandy, one thing is becoming abundantly clear - there is no way to put a price on the damage. Infrastructure, such as subways, bridges and roads have been weakened. Piles and piles of debris and garbage have been strewn about unceremoniously. Personal property has been tossed about like confetti. And then there's the bees. That's right, I said bees. The Brooklyn Grange Navy Yard urban farming project was hit pretty badly by surging waters, and about 1 million of their bees were swept out to sea. They recently completed a $22,000 Kickstarter campaign which enabled them to gather some high quality, hearty bees, making them the largest commercial apiary in the city. But why should I worry about a bee business? Well, a world without bees would be a pretty devastating place, one without food.....and without food, we haven't a snowball's chance in hell of survival. There's nearly 7 billion people on the planet, all requiring sustenance, and all, whether or not they know it, depending on the most prolific of pollinators - the bee.

Without bees, our agricultural plants cannot be pollinated, which means no more plants. There are other pollinators, but none so dependable as the bee. With over 20,000 species worldwide, the honey bee remains the most economically valuable pollinators. The economic impact can be seen in the agricultural products they pollinate - the bees hard work equals about 10% of the value of human food production (UNEP Emerging Issues: Global Honey Bee Colony Disorder and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators, p2). Natural disasters and human activities have directly impacted the bee population of the planet, and therefore putting our food system on the brink of collapse.

Bee populations worldwide have already been on a steady decline for the last 60 years. This can be linked to pesticide use, habitat degradation and fragmentation, and parasites. Ecological disasters, such as massive hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and floods, will continue to work against the bee population. Losing 1 million bees in a single storm may not seem that bad, considering what seems like a plethora of bees worldwide, but it is. Not just because if it's economic impact to the Brooklyn Grange, or the surrounding gardens, but because of the ecological impact. Bees are what help keep our plant diversity alive - they buzz from plant to plant, pollinating as they go, helping to maintain a biodiversity that could crumble without them.

Ecological and environmental costs of such storms as Hurricane Sandy are going to be unfathomable in value. It is extremely important that we, as global residents, understand the immensity of such a risk. Bees buzzing around a garden may seem like a nuisance to many, and to many others it doesn't even register as important, but without the prolific pollinators, our food system could collapse. As we watch the news coming in with images of building and infrastructure damage to homes in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Canada (among the several other areas in the region feeling the effects of a 900 mile storm), remember the true cost of such storm systems. 1 million bees washed to sea in a single night - like an entire sliver of the ecological global system wiped out of existence. How do we make up for these losses? And more importantly, how do we value these services before they are lost, so we understand the true need to protect them?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Or How I Learned to Love Climate Change

You know that feeling when you have been telling people something over and over again, you've even given them a manual, and no one listens. Then a hurricane the size of most of the east coast of the United States slams into you, and you look around and say "See, I told you the climate was changing and our storm systems would become more intense and severe. Let's revisit that Climate Adaptation Plan I wrote last year." It is with this "Frankenstorm" that I will reignite the fire of change within my community. Sometimes people need to be shown something first-hand in order to accept its reality. That's okay, especially in this situation, because the climate is changing, and whether or not we pay attention, it's going to suck us in and force us to adapt to it. All I am suggesting is that we go in with our eyes open, with tools, skill sets and an action plan in place. Even if we cannot predict the exact reactions of the ecosystems to the changing climate, training our brains to be more perceptive of the world around us, and being prepared to handle the changes will set us on the right track. Since when has preparedness ever failed us?

Now that I got my rant out of the way, I'd like to seriously discuss what Hurricane Sandy means for the future of the climate along the east coast of the United States. Sure, any change, in any system, inherently affects all other systems around the globe, but for now I think we need to focus on the immediate. How do we properly predict, prepare, plan, and perform accurately in the face of these changes? Whether or not you believe that the obviously changing climate - 2012 was the hottest year in recorded weather history - was caused by humans, is natural, or a combination of the two, it cannot hurt to understand it better. Basically, the atmosphere is clouded with an excessive amount of gases, like Methane and Carbon Dioxide, which is causing friction as the molecules rub together and the suns rays filter through them. The water temperature, where the sunlight hits, is getting warmer - and remember, the planet is 97% water, which covers a lot of the Earth's surface. This rising water temperature means that not only are polar ice caps melting, causing sea levels to rise as that ice turns into water, but it also means more severe storm systems, and potentially changing the entire global currents system. These currents are directly responsible for regulating the Earth's temperature, and any change in, or worse yet a collapse of these systems will have immediate and dramatic effect on the planet. And not in a positive way.

This all seems doom and gloom, and it very much has the potential to be, but I'm also an optimist. We may not be able to reverse the effects of the changing climate, but we can adapt to them. The first step is acknowledging that the climate is changing - be aware of it, take notice of the weather patterns, open your eyes to the world around you. The next step is to make the changes necessary. Period. End of story. We don't have a choice in the matter. Let's stop pretending we do and let's make infrastructure adaptations that will continue to support our basic human needs. More severe storm systems means increased amount of crop losses as we deal with excessive drought, winds, and floods; it means increased health care costs as heat is knocked out in the winter, ac in the summer; it means knocking down trees - our oxygen source - and blowing away topsoil - our agricultural source - and treating man-made infrastructure - think roads, power lines, buildings - like inconsequential twigs.

I love mother Earth. She sustains me, gives me food to eat, water to drink, people to love, animals to admire, trees to shade me, and so much more. Without her, every dollar in the world is just a useless scrap of paper. Hurricane Sandy is warning  us, and it is our duty to listen. This is the largest recorded storm in history with the lowest pressure system the east coast has ever experienced, and it's coming on a full moon. There will be damage from this storm. But it's not the only one we have to worry about because this type of weather pattern is going to become a regular occurrence. Are you going to stand up and live in harmony with planet, adapting to its changes, or are you going to stick your head in the sand and pretend it's not happening? It's your choice whether or not you will become fodder for the storm.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Getting involved in your community, and with your fellow community members, is an excellent way to not only get your voice heard about the things that matter to you, but also to feel a bit of ownership and pride over where you live. In the last 60 to 70 years, since the birth and rapid growth of suburban neighborhoods, people have become less connected to where they live, and who they live with. Oftentimes, we don't work where we live, so we get up every morning and leave, come home around dinner time, eat and settle in for the night. There is little time for socializing, and even less time for citizen involvement. But we need to learn to make the time.

There are several ways to get out and be an active and engaged citizen. You can volunteer. Soup kitchens, schools, and local nonprofits (among many other groups), are always looking for volunteers. If you have children that attend local schools, you can join the PTA (parent teacher association), or a number of other groups that help out with field trips, food preparation, and general tasks. Volunteering is a great way to feel good about helping those in need, while keeping yourself involved in the going-on's within your community.

You could also take a more involved approach by running for city government. If you want to make a change to things happening within your community, on a policy level, then running for city council can help get your voice heard. This takes more of a time commitment than volunteering, but can be more effective. Before you decide to join the next election, however, do a little studying up on who is currently running the city, what their stance is on important policies, and when the next election is. Attend open city council meetings and hear what is being discussed. Being knowledgeable about what your community is doing is an important piece in deciding whether or not you feel the need or desire to get involved in the political forum.

Perhaps the easiest way to get involved within your community is get to know your neighbors. Have a block party. Bring a new neighbor (or even an old one) a plate of homemade goodies. Invite your neighbors for dinner. Start a neighborhood watch group. Or a neighborhood book club. Meeting your neighbors will help you feel more connected to your community, which means you will feel more responsible for it. That sense of responsibility is what will bring you a sense of ownership over where you live, which comes with it a desire to take care of it, and the people that live within it.