Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A World Without Fruits and Vegetables...

That prospect may seem a bit bleak, but sadly isn't that far-fetched with the state of our honey bees. I am talking about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), also known as Mad Bee Disease by the French. Sudden die-offs or disappearances of bees in the States and around the world not only threaten industries reliant on bees for pollination purposes, but serve as an indicator of a more serious underlying problem in our environment. $15 billion per year in apples, berries, cucumbers, almonds, and other crops in the US rely on bees for pollination. Vanishing of the Bees shares some of the disturbing details.

Vanishing of the Bees - Trailer from Bee The Change on Vimeo.

Beekeeping is not a new trade, so we know when something is up. Domestication and keeping of bees for honey and pollination purposes dates back at least five millennia. This ancient sweetener is liquid gold - another one of those luxuries from nature that we've come to take for granted. But our agricultural system has also changed a bit in 5,000 years.

Hive-based bees are an amazing phenomenon. About 95% of a hive is composed of female workers and the queen bee (who can live up to 5 years!), while the rest are short-lived male "drones" whose sole purpose in life is to mate and then die. There is more research underway now, looking at environmental factors that could be influencing this great bee die-off. But one thing is certain: our little pollinators are a sure indicator of a terrible imbalance in a natural systems.

The film takes us through the possibility of disease or parasite causing colony collapse, but ultimately landing on "systemic" pesticides, or those long-lasting and incorporated into leaves and/or pollen itself. Such classification of pesticide causes "sublethal damage" to exposed critters, weakening immune function, tampering with the nervous system, and stunting juvenile bee development. Instead of causing acute and readily apparent illness and death of individuals, it shakes the foundation of the entire colony. As our country shifted from small-scale, diversified agriculture to large monocultures, pests and diseases necessitated the use of more lethal chemicals. Monocultures are not naturally occurring for a reason, yet in modern constructed crop systems they present a "pest party" (thank you Michael Pollan).

There is so much more to this story that is locked away in this documentary. It truly terrified me, left me in tears during other portions, and soundly reinforced that we have no idea the repercussions we will face for screwing with natural regulatory and support systems. And, I am becoming more and more convinced that exposure to the unavoidable and pervasive toxins - pesticides and beyond - is at the root of many of the autoimmune and debilitating ailments experienced by my peers (and perhaps even my own).

As Albert Einstein wisely said, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." My hope is that enough people in my generation are as incensed about the toxic world to which we are exposed, that we will overcome these gargantuan problems by shifting the mentality under which our government and corporate world operate.


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