Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Bees die, We Die?

Are the bees tired of Humankind's nonsense?

Maybe. They seem to be going away.

Einstein is alleged to have said: "If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination... no more men!"

Sounds scary. Except, Einstein never said that. So it's not so scary. But, if bees are disappearing, then isn't THAT scary? Oh, yeah. That would be frightening. Why? Bees pollinate 70 of the top crops we use to eat. Not to mention, a lot of pretty flowers would have some serious trouble too and we need as much aesthetic organisms as we can get.

But if bees die, many plants do not get pollinated, many animals starve, we have less crops and animals to eat, and therefore, do we have a really good reason now for preparing for vegetarianism? For growing plants in our house, hand pollinating them? Even if we lose the animals to eat, we can still artificially produce, well, produce.

But, what about the bees?

What about Einstein's famous quote? Be careful about people claiming someone said this or that. I heard this on the Bill Maher show. Ellen Page was on, she was Juno in the very cool movie, "Juno" a while back. She is narrating a documentary about Bees and she said Einstein said that, she said Bill used that quote in his show a few years ago. And? They were both wrong. When I heard them talking about it, I was fascinated. So I looked it up. Here is what I found.

Check out the article on Snopes.com. This is a great site. Whenever I get one of those chain emails, I immediately go to snopes, and 95% of the time, they explain it's total nonsense. They said: "...even though Einstein died in 1955, assiduous searching of a variety of databases of historical printed material (e.g., books, newspapers, magazines) has so far failed to turn up any mention of this quote (attributed to Einstein or anyone else) antedating 1994, when it suddenly started popping up in newspaper articles reporting on a protest in Brussels staged by beekeepers."

Okay, so Einstein never said it.

Now, what about the bees disappearing? A brief search of the internet comes up initially with news agencies, ABC, NBC, etc. But these are not the people you want to examine, unless it is for sources, so you can then go to the authorities and see what the true data is directly from the horse's mouth, as it were.

I tried the New Scientist site, but I don't usually like to pay for information if I don't have to (Hey, I'm not rich either and I don't get paid for doing this blog, believe it or not; I TRY to get paid, but so far, no joy). I see Dr. Jeff Pettis, Research Leader, USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory is mentioned a lot (and on Discovery.com) but couldn't find any direct information on him or his research.

A posting on BioBees,  indicates possible causes to bee decline world wide to be:

"* New kinds of virulent fungal pathogens, which can be deadly to bees and other key pollinating insects, are being detected worldwide, migrating from one region to another as a result of shipments linked to globalization and rapidly growing international trade.

"* An estimated 20,000 flowering plant species, upon which many bee species depend for food, could be lost over the coming decades unless conservation efforts are stepped up

"* Increasing use of chemicals in agriculture, including systemic insecticides and those used to coat seeds, is being found to be damaging or toxic to bees. Some can, in combination, be even more potent to pollinators, a phenomenon known as the 'cocktail effect.

"* Climate change, left unaddressed, may aggravate the situation, in various ways including by changing the flowering times of plants and shifting rainfall patterns. This may in turn affect the quality and quantity of nectar supplies."

I checked out the site for the Bee Research Lab, whose site claims that: "Throughout the world the "Beltsville Bee Lab," as it is often referred to, is recognized for its research on bee diseases and pests and for providing a bee disease diagnostic service for 100+ years".

Their site lead to the International Bee Research Association, in Great Britain. They had a link to a pamphlet, "What's happening to our Bees?"

Their pamphlet, sounding very professional and rational, says:

"Whether any single factor is the cause or whether collapse is brought about by a combination of causes is not clear. Certainly there is a paramount need to beware of any interpretation or spin put on one cause or another by those with some foible or an axe to grind. In this respect the popular press seems to delight in acting irresponsibly and will try to tie bee losses into whatever is doing the news rounds on a particular day, the more bizarre the better as far as they are concerned.

"At this stage, few researchers offer any firm conclusions. Some tentatively note, that from preliminary surveys, nearly all beekeepers experiencing CCD in the USA, noticed a period of “extraordinary stress” affecting the colonies prior to their demise. In most cases this stress was a result of poor nutrition or drought brought about by a number of different causes."

So something is going on, in 2010, the State of Washington requested an emergency exemption to use a pesticide hop beta acids (HopGuard) to control the Varroa Mites in Honey Bee populations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Scientific American site has an article (free) that asks: "Plan Bee: As Honeybees Die Out, Will Other Species Take Their Place? In a race against time, researchers propagate native solitary bees as an alternative to our most important pollinators."

Summing up, do we have something to be worried about? I would say that is a qualified , yes. Is there any thing we can do about it? Well, perhaps not directly as with the Scientists and Beekeepers directly involved, but indirectly, we can talk about it, bring it to people's attention, and push for safer use and understanding of how we do things in production of honey and farming.

So, I don't have any answers either. I just find it interesting. But remember that forewarned can be forearmed and ignorance, is the most powerful force for destruction there is. We can at very least, try not to add to it. And that includes not propagating disinformation and hype by the media.

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