September 1, 2016

Bad news: Bees are Dying. Good news: We can Save them Together.

A photo posted by AroundTheWall (@aroundthewall) on

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” ~ Albert Einstein 

In 2014, I helped co-found a non-profit cause that focuses on local, organic food production.

I was contributing in small part to the community level, where I truly believe tangible change is made and the impacts can be felt—down to the subtlest level.

Since that time, I’ve moved onto other areas in life—but again this summer, I have had the pleasure of volunteering once a week to helping expand their mission.

One thing that stood out to me immediately—while wandering about their orchard of fruit and nut-bearing trees, richly diverse garden and aquaponics greenhouse—was a splendid wildflower assortment with a little sign in it that said, “Pollinator Patch.” I was pleasantly enthused by the idea that alongside the cultivation of food for human consumption, was a specific area designated solely for bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and the like—pollinators.

I personally enjoy each of these species of pollinators and have a special fondness even for bats (they eat bugs), but I’ve discovered a unique draw to the honey bee specifically. For the past couple of years, I’ve began walking a lot more than usual (for health reasons and also, just for fun) and one thing that quickly stood out to me was the amount of dead bees I was seeing along trails and roadways.

Perplexed by this, I began to ponder, why?

Such an industrious creature—working tirelessly at cross-pollinating flowers and plants day in and day out, which supports feeding us and providing us with crops for textiles, and healthcare products on a global scale. Some of these dead or disoriented bees were obviously being hit by vehicles and sometimes even cyclists. Other times though, I couldn’t really decipher why they couldn’t fly, although it seemed they were trying incredibly hard to.

So I began doing an extraordinary deed: each time I saw one of these fascinating little creatures (alive) on or near a roadway, I’d collect it and transport it to the nearest flower patch, where it would immediately resume its thankless duty—cross-pollinating.

This made me feel good about doing my small part in this world, when so often it seems that we are powerless to do anything at all. I rest easy at night, knowing I’ve done something to help keep our ecosystem intact, even amidst the chaotic undertones of an unrelenting city-scape.

What effect this would have on an entire population of bees or their colonies is entirely speculative, but the way I feel about helping in such small ways reminds me of my own humanity. A desire to remain connected to our natural world—wherever I’m residing.

Before I get back to the non-profit and why it’s doing a good thing for both community and nature, I’d like to share the following, below.

Recent studies suggest:

International scientists have concluded that “future-proofing” can help stand up to an otherwise global, agricultural paradigm that could potentially threaten pollinator’s existence. It’s been noted that agricultural expansion and the emergence of new pesticides and viruses presents a potent threat to the survival of native pollinators.

Legal protection can help ensure that pollinators (like bees, bats, butterflies and hummingbirds) are able to survive over the next few decades, despite the rapidly changing climate and human encroachment upon our natural resources, including how they’re currently managed (or depleted).

(It’s said that 35% of global crop production and over 85% of wild flowering plants are reliant upon pollination to some degree.)

Six main issues have been identified in this study, led by 17 scientists, government researchers and NGOs, consisting of both threats and opportunities:

Global scale agriculture, corporately owned by only a small number of companies controls the majority of land use. The use of mono-ag (homogenous) practices threatens to damage diversity of our ecosystem and the protection of pollinator species because of this.

Insecticides, like a new class known as sulfoximines (sulfoxaflor) needs to be tested for sub-lethal effects on wild pollinating species.

The emergence of new viruses.

Risk assessment of bees to manage crops, other than the honeybee, i.e. advantages and/or disadvantages of different bee sub-species.

Climate change and extreme weather effects.

Mandating the reduction of chemical use, outside of agriculture. Legislation to protect pollinators could be one advantage to limiting use of industrial chemicals over the next three decades. (As it turns out, this study suggests that the single largest threat to pollinators was/is the consolidation of the agri-food industries.)

This is a great resource to help put things into perspective as to the gravity of our global climate and the effect human encroachment (especially commercial applications) has on pollinators (not to exclude all other species of life in this sequence also).

So what can we do as individuals?

Well, like I observed at the aforementioned garden, we can plant wildflowers that support pollinator species, like the honey bee. We can join efforts with local nonprofits and farms or even manage our own CSA if we’d like to. The local, legislative front is one branch of government where we can truly ensure our voice is heard, listened to and where tangible change can be implemented (like minimizing the use of pesticides and insecticides in city parks and along trail systems).

There’s no right or wrong way to getting involved on some level—even if it’s just a matter of re-locating a lost bee, which happens to be stranded on the roadway. Many of us can relate to what it feels like, to be stranded, disoriented or lost. We wish to be home again, when we feel such ways, within the security of our nest.

Collectively, we can make a difference.

Learning to work together with other like-minded individuals provides all manner of good-natured experiences and memorable achievements we can truly be proud of. I want to see my nephews grow up in a world where our current generation bridged the gap between economy (economics; profits) and planet (humanitarian deeds, connection and survival).

We’re stewards and our job here and now is to lead by our own highest example through actionable influence.

We do what we can, when we can with what we have before us. That’s impactful.

Let us be mindful of even the smallest species here, which happen to have one of the greatest impacts on our viability to survive—of which is finally receiving a global audience and consideration for its welfare, longevity and protection as a catalyst to ensure the future of all species here.

Let us not forget about the pollinators, working tirelessly to provide for all life to coexist on this wondrous sphere we call planet Earth.


Author: Thayne Ulschmid

Image: Instagram

Editor: Sara Kärpänen


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