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Can We Learn from the Bees in Time to Save Them?

By Larissa Walker, Pollinator Campaign Director for Center for Food Safety

April 25, 2013
Center for Food Safety

This Earth Week we look to the honey bee, that perfect symbol of human dependency on nature, for our own health and well-being.  But how healthy are our honey bees?  Bees are an indicator species, meaning that their vibrancy on earth reflects certain environmental conditions and aids in gauging the health of ecosystems.  This time of year we are not only called upon to examine problems in our environment, but also prompted into action.  With that in mind, let’s get to know our intricate friends.

The life of a bee is truly one of nature’s greatest wonders. As William Shakespeare once wrote, “So work the honey-bees, creatures that by a rule in nature teach the art of order to a peopled kingdom.”  With up to 60,000 honey bees living in a single hive, each with their own specific, individual roles, there is much to be learned from the beautifully sophisticated, organized lives of bees. 

Shakespeare’s words suggest a sense of awareness we ought to be mindful of, arguably now more than ever – bees do possess a certain art of order that humanity can indeed benefit from following.  As our natural environment quickly approaches chaos and instability, it becomes ever more appropriate to not only look to the bees for assessing the health of the world around us, but perhaps to also reconsider our own roles, individually, and how we as colonies of people contribute to the Earth’s vitality.  

If we are to learn anything from the bees, though, we must act quickly. Over the past decade, we have witnessed alarming declines in honey bee hives around the world, and our native pollinating species are suffering enormous losses as well.  While our government agencies and even some scientists are dragging their feet, more and more studies are now pointing to a certain class of insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a primary culprit in what many are calling a pollinator crisis.  

Rachel Carson described her fears about the use of systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoids 50 years ago when she wrote Silent Spring. Now, we are witnessing first-hand as her alarms come to fruition across the world:

“The world of systemic insecticides is a weird world, surpassing the imaginings of the brothers Grimm… It is a world where the enchanted forest of the fairy tales has become the poisonous forest in which an insect that chews a leaf or sucks the sap of a plant is doomed. It is a world where a flea bites a dog, and dies because the dog’s blood has been made poisonous, where an insect may die from vapors emanating from a plant it has never touched, where a bee may carry poisonous nectar back to its hive and presently produce poisonous honey.” -Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Although it may have taken half a century, we are now seeing Carson’s frightful predications become reality.  Countries across the world are growing increasingly concerned with the plight of honey bees. Rightfully so – they are indicating quite clearly the deterioration of our ecosystems.  But here in the United States, while we patiently wait 5 more years for our government agencies to review the registrations of neonicotinoid chemicals, there are many things we can be doing now to help.

This Earth Week, join the fight to protect pollinators and encourage your families, communities, and campuses to take part, too. Center for Food Safety and Beyond Pesticides have recently launched the “BEE Protective Campaign,” a national public education effort calling for local action aimed at protecting honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides and contaminated landscapes. The campaign provides concerned citizens with numerous educational materials and advocacy tools to take action and effect positive change for pollinators.  BEE Protective will also be working with municipalities, campuses, and homeowners to adopt policies that protect pollinators from bee-toxic pesticides.

Some communities have already stepped up and taken similar initiatives of their own. Thurston County in Washington State is currently looking to develop restrictions on the purchase, sale, distribution and application of neonicotinoids for ornamental use. In the coming months, we look forward to working with many more communities and campuses eager to join the fight to protect pollinators. And what better a week than Earth week to emulate the bees, the definitive creatures of order, and organize our own efforts to protect colonies and communities from these harmful chemicals. Visit to join the campaign.

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