It’s a hot summer’s day, the sun is beating down on the meadows, as you listen closer to sounds of nature around you, you hear a low buzzing sound. You look a little closer and there is a honey bee resting on a flower. At first you are frightened hoping it won’t sting you. Then you realize that it just gathering pollen and nectar from the plant. The bee then moves to the next plant holding a pollen sac from the previous plant which it drops on this new plant. This movement of pollen is what allows these plants to reproduce. Everyday the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) makes its rounds to 2,000 different plants to extract pollen from their stamen, resulting in the pollination of thousands of plants. Because bees are such efficient pollinators they have been widely used in the big agricultural businesses to pollinate crops. Companies have bee colonies that they house and send out to pollinate for them speeding up the process of nature. The European honey bee is widely used, but bumble bees, leafcutting bees, alkali and mason bees are also used as pollinators. Bees are responsible for pollinating 80% of flowering plants, this includes 70% of the plants that humans eat every day. (USDA)
Since 2007 the number of bees around the world has been substantially decreasing. Scientists believe that this decrease is due to a number of different factors such as pesticides, pathogens, habitat loss, and global warming. Bees are highly susceptible to the neonicotinoids which are found in many pesticides produced today. Pesticides are sprayed on plants, sometimes plants are pretreated with them, especially in big ag and if bees are exposed to these toxins they are weakened and this can take out a whole colony. Pathogens can also be spread among bees from varroa mites, which bite bees and spread disease among colonies. When combined pathogens and parasites are highly deadly to a colony of bees. While these two are the most highly recognized reasons for colony collapse disorder (CCD) there are also the risks of loss of habitat and global warming. Loss of habitat affects wild bees by the loss of rural areas for bees to pollinate, leading the bees to have no food, which leads to death. Global warming also affects bees, when bees go into hibernation they expect to wake up and find flowering plants to feed on. However, the warmer seasons make the plants flower and die faster so the bees wake up and there is less to pollinate and less to eat. (Zissu)
Scientist attribute all of these causes to the losses in the bee population, however they don’t account for the deaths in the shipping of bees. Since bee colony numbers have been dwindling agricultural businesses have started shipping hives/colonies all over the world. If one of these colonies is diseased the pathogen spreads to all of the hives effectively killing thousands of bees. The average colony contains one queen, hundreds of males, and around 50,000 worker bees. If there were to be 10 hives in a transport that could potentially be the death of half a million bees. If all of these bees were to die off who would pollinate the flowers. In the US, in 2015, 42 percent of the bee colony population collapsed, that is nearly half of the population. In 2016, there were 2.59 million colonies in the US, which is less than half of the 6 million colonies in 1947. (USDA) This rate of bee colony collapse poses a serious risk to our food supply. Without bees we lose all of the plants that are dependent on bees to pollinate, for example almonds. (Jorgensen) There will be much less variety in our diets if bees were to go extinct. Resulting in a very different assemblance of meals that we eat daily.
History of Bees
Bees have been around for a 100 million years, according to the oldest known bee fossil. The first bees are thought to be carnivorous and ate other small insects, it remains unclear why they switched to a vegetarian meal. Once they made the shift they began to evolve with flowering plants to better aid in pollination. Bees have been pollinating flowers and gathering nectar for millions of years. It is their natural instinct. Bees are found throughout the world, and have been documented in the history of many different cultures. Their hierarchy of order from queen bee to worker bees has been studied tenusly by many cultures, and has been useful in teaching cooperativity in most cultures. Bees are mentioned in the bible along with they honey that they create. People everywhere have been using their honey for years as a sweetener and food source. Today there are 20,000 species of bees around the globe, they do not all have the same structural lifestyles as the honeybee.
Risk and Hazard
Bees fall into the Risk and Hazard category of the objects of concern topics that we learned about. The decreasing bee population is a risk to the world as a whole. Without bees many of our crops will die. As the honey bee population decreases so does the amount of plants being pollinated which affects their ability to flower and reproduce. Without flowering plants we don’t have the fruits and vegetables that we eat on a daily basis. Bee hive colonies in the US have steadily declined over the past 60 years. Starting with 6 million colonies in the 1940’s to 2.5 million today. Bees are crucial to our everyday life, all over the world bees are pollinating, and continuing the life-cycle of plants. The average honey bees can visit 2,000 plants in one day, this makes them the most effective pollinator, of the other 200,000 pollinators in the world. Even if we did have all of the other pollinators working around the clock to pollinate our plants they can’t compare to the work that a single bee does in one day alone.
Without bees are world would be in disarray. Bees contribute to ⅓ of each of our meals, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, and even coffee. Pollinators are crucial in industry as well, they provide half of the world’s oil, fibers for clothes and other raw materials. (Planet Bee Foundation). “87 crops worldwide employ animal pollinators, compared to only 28 that can survive without such assistance”(Palmer). In other words 60 plants are needed by pollinators to produce food products, not among those 60 are stable items like rice, corn, and wheat. Therefore, our world survive without bees acting as our main pollinators, however it would be bleak. We eat such a large variety of different fruits, vegetable, and nuts. Without pollinators these numbers would dwindle and we would no longer have things like apples, avocados. Without bees helping make these fruits and vegetables, it is most likely that labs would genetically engineer them, or they would be made from bees in isolated areas. This would cause the prices of everyday items to skyrocket. In turn making our meals much less exciting, being a foodie I would not enjoy this.
Bees are a very important part of our ecosystem as a whole, they evolved with plants for millions of years. The loss of one means the loss of another. Without bees our plants will die and this correlated directly with the food that we eat. Bees are crucial to our society in many ways, without them we would be paying more for what should be grown naturally and we will be losing a big part of our history. Bees have been around for centuries and have become a highly studied organism in our educational systems.
The decreasing bee hive populations also falls into the category of Environmental Ethics. Environmental Ethics is the proposal that we should give value to the non-human world as much as we do the human world. Therefore, we should treat our planet with the same rules and laws that we have amongst other living beings. Plants, animals, and nature should be given rights and should be granted more importance in society. Hence, they are apart of our environment and keep our environment from collapsing with all of the contributions that they make to it. Pollinators in particular are a huge part of our healthy environment, as we have discussed greatly in the above sections. Pollinators are a contributing member to our society. Pollinators account for more than 217 billion dollars in the global economy each year, 24 billion to the US alone. Honey bees alone contribute to 15 billion of the 24 billion dollars that pollinators generate in the US each year (Planet Bee Foundation). That is bees account for 63% of the total money that pollinators bring in to the US economy. Without bees the US economy and not to mention the world’s economy would take a huge hit.
Bee’s contribute to so much in the agricultural business, without them the production time of these crops would be much slower. It is for this reason that they are shipped all over the world to pollinate plants at big agricultural companies. So why is it that we aren’t educated on their imminent extinction. If we were to treat bees with the same values as we do humans, or even other mammals this could raise awareness and possibly save the lives of many of these hives. The idea behind Environmental Ethics is to bring to the light what is wrong in our society in the way we treat our natural beings and world. We are treating these bees wrong. Bees need to be seen as more than just an insect that stings you when they are angry, because they are so much more than that. They bring life to so many plants on this planet, in turn bringing joy to humans through honey and a variety of foods. These bees have been dying for many years and it isn’t of major concern in our society. With the government trying to cover up the fact that pesticides are a major reason for these bees deaths. While the rest of the public not even realizing the risks of the loss of bee species, there is not much being done to save the bees.
Some things that we could do to protect the bees are decreased use of pesticides could have a large effect on the bee population. This movement starts at home, in your back-yard, then moves into the community, to local governments to ask them not to use pesticides. If bee hives do not get sick from pesticides and pathogens then the population numbers could become strong again. The awareness on the declining bee hives is very low, there are groups working to spread awareness, however, more needs to be done if we want to try and stop a species from going extinct before us. Like not putting neonicotinoids in pesticides, making laws to not spray pesticides in certain areas, and not pre-treating plants with pesticides or genetically modifying them with pesticides.
As we have seen throughout this paper, bees are a crucial member to society, and they should be treated as one. We need bees if we want to continue having all of the options that we have today. When many of us see a bee, our immediate response is fear. However, we should look at bees and see a beautiful species that does so much for our world, whether they are wild bees or managed populations. Bees have been around for millions of years, and have remained a crucial part of our ecosystem before their discovery in the agricultural business. Bees are an “Object of Concern” and they are in dire need of more attention from the government and other agencies in order to save the population that remains. As stated before a way that we can help them is stop the use of pesticides in our communities and our homes. Only growing organic crops that don’t use synthetic pesticides, big agriculture would have to make a monumental change, but organic is better for everyone anyways, especially the bees.
In 2015 after the colony numbers dropped below 42% the white house implemented their plan to help grow the pollinator population by building pollinator gardens near federal buildings and restoring government owned lands to support bees. (Zissu) While this is a good start to helping the wild population grow, it doesn’t solve the pesticide problem that will continue to diminish the population in the years to come. In rural parts of China as way to work around the loss of pollinators problem they have begun to do the work that the bees used to do. In Hanyuan county also known as the “world’s pear population” pesticides have led to a reduction in the population of bees, so the people have begun to pollinate the pear plants as the bees would have. (Williams) With numbers of bees decreasing all over the world it is likely that one day this practice of human pollination will be seen throughout the world. This process started in Hanyuan because of the cheap labor costs and compared to the cost of reamping the bee population, however it may just have to stay.
It seems that we will be looking at a much different world if we continue to let all of the colonies collapse. A world with less food variety and more expensive food options which is hard to imagine with the prices already being so high. A world where workers spend their days pollinating plants so crops can grow and produce fruits, vegetables, and nuts. A world where bees don’t exist and a huge part of our history is lost, because we care more about money and the rise of our economy than they life of a living organism.
“Honey Bees”. United States Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. February 10, 2017. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/planthealth/plant-pest-and-disease-programs/pests-and-diseases/non-regulated/honey-bees/!ut/p/z1/04_iUlDg4tKPAFJABpSA0fpReYllmemJJZn5eYk5-hH6kVFm8X6Gzu4GFiaGPu6uLoYGjh6Wnt4e5mYGwa6m-l76UfgVFGQHKgIAB3fNrQ!!/
Jorgensen, Paul. “Why Are Bees Important? 33 Reasons to Care About Saving the Bees.” Life Basics Organics, 25 Sept. 2015, www.lifebasicsorganics.com/blog/why-are-bees-important.
Palmer, Brian. “Would a World Without Bees Be a World Without Us?” NRDC, NRDC, 18 May 2015, www.nrdc.org/onearth/would-world-without-bees-be-world-without-us+https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/humans-bees-china_us_570404b3e4b083f5c6092ba9.
“WE NEED BEES.” Planet Bee Foundation, Planet Bee Foundation, www.planetbee.org/why-we-need-bees/.
Williams, Casey. “Photos Capture The Startling Effect Of Shrinking Bee Populations.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Apr. 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/humans-bees-china_us_570404b3e4b083f5c6092ba9.
Zissu, Alexandra. “The Buzz About Colony Collapse Disorder.” NRDC, NRDC, 31 Dec. 2015, www.nrdc.org/stories/buzz-about-colony-collapse-disorder?gclid=Cj0KCQiAsK7RBRDzARIsAM2pTZ85-dpQAbikyVWrRHC0jlqJiVLyh87a3zXftvM2wJEWyY73fbcMIacaAhyJEALw_wcB.