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Scientists have been trying hard to figure out why the honeybee is dying out, as its survival may be necessary for all of our futures. The insect is vital for pollination, and is a major part of our ecosystem, but colony-collapse disorder (CCD) has been reported as being responsible for the collapse of millions of bees. This paper will investigate the devastating results that could be eminent if we don’t figure out what to do about the diminishing bee population. It will also cover the various theories that scientists have developed about why the bees are dying. While scientists remain uncertain about why so many bees are dying out, several theories have been brought to light. It is important that this mystery is solved so that mass crop losses don’t persist – after all, one-third of the food people eat is produced by bees.
The collapse of the bee population was first brought to international attention in 2006, and as the years have gone by, the dire consequences of the dwindling bee population have become more obvious. Bees might not seem like much, but the crops that they pollinate are worth about $200 billion a year, according to Bryan Walsh, in his article “Beepocalypse Redux: Honeybees Are Still Dying – and We Still Don’t Know Why,” (Walsh 1). Commercial beekeepers started noticing that the drones (worker bees) were fleeing the hive without warning. This would result in them showing up dead in various locations, and that resulted in the entire colony dying. “On normal years, commercial beekeepers might expect to lose 10% to 15% of their colony, but over the past five years, mortality rates for commercial operations in the U.S. have ranged from 28% to 33%” (Walsh 2). In another study, 31% of colonies died in 2012, which indicates the problem is getting worse, (Goldenberg, 1). The increase in deaths have resulted in about $2 billion in losses for beekeepers, as around 10 million beehives valued at around $200 each have fallen victim to whatever is plaguing the bees. Despite the growing world population and increasing demand on food supply, the current rate of beehives is less than half of what was present in the United States 60 years ago. In fact, there are currently 2.5 million honeybee colonies in the U.S., compared to 6 million 60 years ago (Walsh 2).
There are varied approaches being taken to try to solve the mystery about why the bees are dying out. In Europe, the European Commission is enacting a two-year ban on a pesticide class expected to harm bee populations throughout the world. However, scientists aren’t certain that the pesticide’s use is the reason why bees are dying out, and many doubt that the pesticide has any effect on bees at all. As time goes by, though, scientists are gradually starting to agree with each other. “Experts say nobody knows. But Mr. Adee, who said he had long scorned environmentalists’ hand-wringing about such issues, said he was starting to wonder whether they had a point” (Wines 33). Those who agree that pesticide use is the cause of the deaths say the chemicals disrupt the bees’ ability to collect pollen and then return to the hives to reproduce. In the U.S., however, regulators aren’t doing much, though the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency did make a general statement, saying “stressors” and “pathogens” are likely contributing to CCD. But the report was not specific, as other causes could be multiple virus species, a bacterial disease, poor nutrition, and acute effects from pesticides, (Plumer 13). The varied strategies could bode well for the discovery of what is plaguing the bees. After all, if scientists notice an increase in the bee population around the test site, then that could mean the experiment works. One thing is likely for sure: it will take many tests before scientists discover the right remedy for the deaths.
Whatever is killing the bees, it is certain that we depend on the insect for survival. With a growing global population, along with a massive increase in demand on an already scarce supply of food, the dying bee population could be the lead-up to the apocalypse. However, before the situation gets to be that serious, there is still time to figure out what is killing the six-legged friends. But with every day that passes, the situation becomes worse. All people can do is wait patiently to see if one of the scientific strategies designed to ensure bee survival results in an increase in population. However, patience is difficult given the serious nature of this problem.
While several theories are in circulation, many scientists are on the fence about why exactly the bees are dying, and they don’t want to stake claim to any single theory without certainty. Government agencies often have reservations about stating their opinion about why the bees are disappearing. “The USDA report mostly withholds judgement on neonicotinoids, citing the need for more research, and the Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a very slow review of the evidence” (Walsh 6). That comes as bad news to those who have consistently said that the issue is urgent, and a static government could mean the demise of food throughout the world. But while the U.S. appears to have its foot in the mud, the European Union is taking action and has initiated its two-year ban on neonicotinoids (Walsh 6).
With bees existing for about 50 million years, the massive number of deaths in the last five year or so is major cause for concern. According to Marla Spivak, bee specialist, there are four interrelated reasons why the bees are dying out. All of the reasons are closely related to the changes in farming practices after the Second World War. “While there’s been a 300% increase in production of crops that require bee pollination since WWII, we’ve started using much more synthetic fertilizer, and created crep monocultures, systematically eliminating the flowering plants that bees need for survival” (Torgovnick 5). During this same period, farmers started using pesticides, which worsens the problem because each batch of pollen that is collected by a honeybee has a minimum of six traces of pesticides contained within it, and this includes neonicotinoids, which as I have noted was banned for two years by the European Union.
The neonicotinoids are harmful because they move into the plant tissue and when bees come into contact with the chemical, they become disoriented and intoxicated – and when it is taken in high concentration, it results in death. Often the bee becomes so intoxicated that it loses its orientation home. Spivak goes on to say that there is a solution to the dying bee problem. Each person is able to contribute to the solution by planting bee-friendly flowers without using pesticides. Furthermore, people can campaign to government so there is a wide variety of flowers planted in communities throughout the world. Each person just needs to worry about their own community, and if everyone does their part, then the world will have enough flowers to facilitate the reproduction of the bee population. Furthermore, there could also be flower borders that are planted around farms, (Torgovnick 6). This information was provided by Spivak, but the author failed to cite Spivak’s credentials. As it appears, she is a bee expert who presented to a large audience about the dangers of the decline of the bee population, as well as the possible reasons for the bee population’s regression.
Perhaps the most difficult component of the situation is the difficulty seeing what a big deal such a tiny insect is to the survival of mankind. Without lobby groups and the general population pressuring government to take action in testing theories about why the bees are dying, there is little motivation by the government to act. It is the structural fallacy of the government that could allow the problem of the dwindling bee population to persist. After all, current governments are often interested in one thing, addressing the concerns of the population so that the current political party will be voted back into power during the next election. But with an issue that is much larger than it appears, the “beepocalypse” goes under the radar of what the general population is concerned about right now. Without their pressure, there is no motivation to act, even though avoiding the issue could be the end of mankind.
Goldenberg, Suzanne. “US honeybees threatened as 31% of colonies died out in 2012, report
shows.” The Guardian. (2013): 1-4. Web. 22. July 2013
Plumer, Brad. “Why are bees dying? The U.S. and Europe have different theories.” The
Washington Post. (2013): 1-4. Web. 17. July 2013.
Torgovnick, Kate. “The big bee bummer: Marla Spivak at TEDGlobal 2013.” TED. (2013): 1-6.
Web. 17. July 2013.
Walsh, Brian. “Beepocalypse Redux: Honeybees Are Still Dying – and We Still Don’t Know
Why.” Time Science & Space. (2013): 1-6. Web. 16 July. 2013.
Wines, Michael. “Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms.” The New
York Times. (2013): 33. Web 22. July 2013.