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?

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