Is the bee-pocalypse coming, when the bees die and our crops fail?

Summary: Stories about a crisis reveal much about more than the specific threat. They demonstrate our ability to clearly see the world, assess relative risks, separate political advocacy from real dangers, and take action.

A Western Bumble Bee
Our partner in farming

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Contents

  1. More journalists than news
  2. Alarmist hype about the bees
  3. Scientists address the problem
  4. How this happens: churnalism
  5. For More Information

(1)  We have more journalists than news

The news media has many problems, but perhaps they add up to too many journalists with too much space to fill and too little time to do journalism. As a result they’ve become suckers for every pc activist group with a scary story. The actual science usually gets misrepresented or ignored, which puts pressure on scientists to help push the narrative (they have families and careers, like the rest of us).

Any easy solution: manufacturing  into a crisis normal events which occur rarely in one lifetime. We see this today in weather, with normal large events call “monster”, “super”, and even (falsely) “unprecedented”. We see this today with terrorism — a recurring problem in western civilization treated as a unique event (e.g. see the longer and more severe attacks by anarchists).

Today we look at another example.  Our food supply faces a horrific threat: the bees are dying.

(2)  Alarmist hype about the bees

Read these and fear the future!

(a) Better Planet: Beepocalypse. Can we save honey bees from Colony Collapse Disorder?“, Josie Glausiusz, Discover, July 2007 — Seven years later alarmists still warn of the End.

(b) Beepocalypse Redux: Honeybees Are Still Dying — and We Still Don’t Know Why“, TIME, 7 May 2013 — “More than 5 years after it was first reported, colony-collapse disorder is still killing honeybees around the world. If scientists can’t pinpoint the cause, the economic and environmental damage could be immense”

(c) The New Silent Spring: America is one bad winter away from a food disaster, thanks to dying bees“, Todd Woody, Quartz, 7 May 2013

(d)  Politically useful but over-confident articles about causes of the beepocalypse:

  1. Death of the Bees. Genetically Modified Crops and the Decline of Bee Colonies in North America“, Brit Amos, Global Research, March 2008.
  2. It’s Time to Ban Dangerous Neonicotinoid Pesticides“, Mother Earth News, August/September 2012 — “Research shows that potent neonicotinoid pesticides, used on many crops in the United States, pose serious threats to bees and potentially to humans.”

(3)  Scientists address the problem

As usual, science is complex and fits poorly in the politically-useful alarmist narrative.  Fortunately the ancient saying applies: “the dogs bark but the caravan moves on”.  Scientists do their thing in the background while journalists chatter on.

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Grumble Bee
Fear the coming bee revenge!

(a) Colony Collapse Disorder in context“, Geoffrey R Williams et al, Bioessays, October 2010.

Although most of humanity relies upon foods that do not require animal pollination, production of 39 of the world’s 57 most important monoculture crops still benefits from this ecosystem service. Western honey bees (Apis mellifera) are undoubtedly the single-most valuable animal pollinators to agriculture because they can be easily maintained and transported to pollinator-dependent crops.

… This has led to great uncertainty surrounding the recent large-scale die-offs of honey bees around the world, and has sparked enormous interest from both scientists and the general public.

Although sharp regional declines in honey bee populations have occurred in the past, such as the so-called unexplainable “Isle of Wight” disease in the early 1900s, the magnitude and velocity of these recent declines are likely unprecedented. … these losses are inappropriately equated with “Colony Collapse Disorder” or CCD …

(b) An Environmental Journalist’s Lament”, Hannah Nordhaus (journalist; author of The Beekeeper’s Lament; bio page), Breakthrough Journal, Summer 2011 — Conclusion:

Dying bees have become symbols of environmental sin, of faceless corporations out to ransack nature. Such is the story environmental journalism tells all too often. But it’s not always the story that best helps us understand how we live in this world of nearly seven billion hungry people, or how we might square our ecological concerns and commitments with that reality. By engaging in simplistic and sometimes misleading environmental narratives — by exaggerating the stakes and brushing over the inconvenient facts that stand in the way of foregone conclusions­­ — we do our field, and our subjects, a disservice.

(c) Colony Collapse Disorder: The Market Response to Bee Disease“, Randal Rucker and Walter Thurman, Property & Environment Research Center (PERC), 14 January 2012 —  Conclusion:

Colony Collapse Disorder has been portrayed as an environmental disaster that is decimating honey bee populations in the United States and elsewhere. While the difficulties faced by commercial beekeepers are considerable, our analysis of colony numbers, input (queen and packaged bee) prices, honey production, and pollination fees provides only slim evidence of a small economic impact.

(d) Everyone calm down, there is no ‘bee-pocalypse’”, Shawn Regan (Property & Environment Research Center), Quartz, 10 July 2013 — Shows this graph using data from the Honey Report, USDA, 21 March 2014:

Quartz: honeybee colonies
Honey Report, USDA, 21 March 2014

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(e) Survey Reports Fewer Winter Honey Bee Losses“, press release from US Dept of Agriculture, 15 May 2014.

Total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent nationwide for the 2013-2014 winter, according to the annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

This represents a noticeable drop in mortality compared to the 30.5% loss reported for the winter of 2012-2013 and compared to an eight-year average of winter losses of 29.6%. … This year, almost two-thirds of the beekeepers responding to the survey reported losses greater than the 18.9% level that beekeepers say is acceptable.

… “Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee heath has become, with factors such as viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and even sublethal effects of pesticides combining to weaken and kill bee colonies,” said Jeff Pettis, co-author of the survey and research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

There currently is no way to tell why the bees did better this year, according to both Pettis and Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland assistant professor who is the leader of the survey and director of the Bee Informed Partnership.

… There is growing consensus among researchers that one of the largest contributors to poor colony health and colony losses is the varroa mite, an Asian bee parasite first found in the United States in 1987.

“What is clear from all of our efforts is that varroa is a persistent and often unexpected problem,” said vanEngelsdorp. “Every beekeeper needs to have an aggressive varroa management plan in place. Without one, they should not be surprised if they suffer large losses every other year or so. Unfortunately, many small-scale beekeepers are not treating and are losing many colonies. Even beekeepers who do treat for mites often don’t treat frequently enough or at the right time. If all beekeepers were to aggressively control mites, we would have many fewer losses.”

… The abstract of the analysis is at {here}.

(f) Colony Collapse Disorder: Have we seen this Before?“, Robyn M. Underwood and Dennis van Engelsdorp, Bee Culture, 2007 — Excerpt:

Large-scale losses are not new to the beekeeping industry (Table 1). Many of the symptoms similar to those expressed by CCD-affected colonies have been described before. Like today, in the past, the cause for the colony collapse has not been ascertained with certainty, although speculations as to the cause(s) are plentiful. In this paper we briefly review the past history of colony collapses that are reminiscent of the present situation.

Underwood-Engelsdorp: Bee death events
Robyn M. Underwood and Dennis van Engelsdorp, Bee Culture, 2007

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(g) Study on honey bee colony mortality“, EU Commission, 2 April 2014.

Preliminary conclusions of the study:

  1. Situation of colony mortalities appears to be better than previously expected.
  2. The honey bee colony mortality is higher than normal in certain countries, with significant regional (and possibly temporal) differences.

Details:

Winter colony mortality rates ranged from 3.5 % to 33.6 % with a south-north geographical pattern.

It should be remembered that the 2012-2013 winter has been particularly long and cold in many areas of Europe. Several biological and environmental factors acting alone or in combination have the potential to cause premature colony mortality. The ongoing follow-up of the surveillance on a European scale in 2013-2014 will allow to monitor the evolution of the mortality rates with trends and clusters, disease prevalence and further balance the role of contextual (such as weather conditions) and other risk factors.

EU Bee Colony Mortality by nation
EU Bee Colony study, April 2014

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(h)  Articles debunking the beepocalypse.

  1. What’s killing the bees? Bee-pocalypse not“, Paul Driessen, The Daily Caller, 3 September 2013
  2. There is no ‘bee armageddon’: Misguided neonics ban threatens honeybees and farming“, Jon Entine, Genetic Literacy Project — originally published as a op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 6 June 2014. Summary of the above information.
  3. Do markets work for bees“, Timothy Taylor (economist), Conversable Economist, 10 July 2014

(4) How this happens: churnalism

The growth of the science PR industry has resulted in an overly exaggerated presentation of research findings“, Alasdair Taylor (PhD Chemistry, Fellow at U Nottingham), London School of Economics blog, 3 June 2014 — Excerpt from opening:

Anyone who has read Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News will be aware that mainstream journalism is in a crisis. Newsroom cuts have seen journalists forced to produce more copy in shorter time with less resources. “Churnalism”, the phenomenon of reporting press releases or wire copy ad verbatim as news stories, has grown over recent years. Science journalism is not immune to these woes, as illustrated by keynote speaker Dr. Andrew Williams, a lecturer in Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. Williams, who investigates the news coverage of science, quoted one anonymous science journalist who complained they were now only able to dedicate an hour for a story, whereas once it would have been an afternoon or more.

As the field of science journalism has contracted, the science PR industry has grown to fill the vacuum.  Consequently, churnalism is now common in science reporting too.  Its not just the private, profit-driven media that’s effected. Another speaker, Dr. Felicity Mellor of Imperial College, reported that even in the BBC up to 75% of science stories were sourced directly from press releases.

Bee Warning
They’re trying to tell us something

(5)  For More Information

(a)  About bees:

  1. US Dept of Agriculture reference page about Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder.
  2. European Food Safety Authority reference page about “Bee Health“.

(b)  Other posts about these things:

  1. About the warnings of a monster super El Nino coming to you this year.
  2. Posts about journalism and the new media.
  3. The history of fears about the climate.

(c)  Posts about alarmism and doomsters:

  1. Spreading the news: the end is nigh! , 8 May 2008.
  2. Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off , 8 May 2008.
  3. Poor peak oil research, more evidence of a serious problem with America’s vision, 5 May 2009.
  4. Propaganda: the eco-fable of Easter Island, 4 February 2010.
  5. If humanity is unprepared for Peak Oil, here are some of the guilty people, 11 May 2010.
  6. Today’s conservative doomster warning (ludicrous but fun), 1 August 2010.
  7. Exaggerations and false predictions are good; truth is bad – about peak oil research, 10 August 2010.
  8. The IPCC rebukes the climate doomsters. Will we listen?, 15 October 2013.
  9. This is what defeat looks like for the Left, and perhaps also for environmentalists, 17 March 2014.
  10. A warning about the end of the world (doomster scenario #137), 23 March 2014.

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16 thoughts on “Is the bee-pocalypse coming, when the bees die and our crops fail?

    1. onmologos,

      That is a great question. One of the big questions, imo.

      After answering 33 thousand comments, mostly with leftist and right-wingers, imo a defining characteristic of both is that no information or expert analysis changes their minds. Hence both are, in their current forms, dead-weight. America will have to progress dragging them along, accompanied by their inchoate howls.

      This is generalization, a probabilistic statement. As such it does not reliably apply to individuals.

  1. Spot-on and informative, as usual.
    My wife and I have a hive and are surrounded, literally, by farming – some organic (like our rather large gardens) and some which use neonics and other sprays. No issues, at all, regionally – or at home. Granted, this is Yuma and we don’t know what ‘winter’ means…and maybe that’s a factor…but, otherwise, CCD has yet to arise around here.
    While we’re proponents of varied, organic, local production for most our (and friends’) needs – brought about by old-fashioned hard work and daily tending – the commercial sector, generally, is informed, responsible, and really tries to maximize production with a minimum of chemicals.
    Just an observation.

    1. As a guy from Europe I hear the “beenocalypse” the first time. :-)

      However, to assume that neonics are NOT a problem is from a scientific point of view not longer defendable. The WSJ article linked by FM is a nice piece of well crafted propaganda and should IMHO replaced with better articles.

      As the CCD is only a phenomenon that in different regions is probably caused by different factors, a useful discussion should be based on a appropriate “spatial” resolution of data. To lump together data that are the result of different, in worst case not correlated causes creates IMHO a useless smoke screen, see the WSJ article.

      In 2009 there were high lossses in southern Germany which were explained by neonics and led to the ban of these compounds. In the following years in vitro and, very important, good in vivo data, which were published in Science in 2012 by Henry et al. (Science, 2012, 335, p348) showed that these compounds can decimate worker populations of bee hives at sub lethal concentrations. (“homing failure in honeybees”)

      As some of my friends and colleagues work in this field and I do some analytical work for them these aspects – usually in European context- have been for me high quality coffeebreak discussions for the last 5 years.

      Disclaimer: I do not claim that we see a apacalyptic developement in case of bees but support the partial ban of neonics in central Europe, my critique is only that the current layout of the ban does not provide useful scientific data, i.e. is a missed scientific opportunity.

    2. Ulenspiegel,

      (1) “The WSJ article linked by FM is a nice piece of well crafted propaganda and should IMHO replaced with better articles.”

      Your blinders are of the finest quality. Few people could read an 1800 words article citing so many experts yet focus on a general media article cited at the very end. No new knowledge will get to you!

      (2) “at neonics are NOT a problem is from a scientific point of view not longer defendable.”

      How nice of your to share your definitive expert opinion. Why did I bother citing so many experts when the world has you!

      Perhaps, just for fun, you could tell us in what way and why the experts cited are wrong.

  2. Can I assume you did not read this Harvard University Research Paper?

    Sublethal exposure to neonicotinoids impaired honey bees winterization before proceeding to colony collapse disorder“, Bulletin of Insectology, June 2014 — Abstract:

    Honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) colony collapse disorder (CCD) that appeared in 2005/2006 still lingers in many parts of the world. Here we show that sub-lethal exposure of neonicotinoids, imidacloprid or clothianidin, affected the winterization of healthy colonies that subsequently leads to CCD. We found honey bees in both control and neonicotinoid-treated groups progressed almost identically through the summer and fall seasons and observed no acute morbidity or mortality in either group until the end of winter. Bees from six of the twelve neonicotinoid-treated colonies had abandoned their hives, and were eventually dead with symptoms resembling CCD. However, we observed a complete opposite phenomenon in the control colonies in which instead of abandonment, they were re-populated quickly with new emerging bees. Only one of the six control colonies was lost due to Nosemalike infection. The observations from this study may help to elucidate the mechanisms by which sub-lethal neonicotinoids exposure caused honey bees to vanish from their hives.

    1. SleepNoMore,

      What is your point? This is broadly consistent with the conclusions of the experts cited here. It describes the effects of neonicotinoids on hives, the purpose of the study, but does not describe the relative effect of CCD vs other problems affecting bees.

      Also, this is one study. Lay discussions of science quickly collapse into cacophony as people cite individual studies as TRUTH. That’s not how science works. There are scores, perhaps by now hundreds, of expert studies of bees. It’s a process, slowly working towards firm conclusions.

      Note: I added the title and abstract of the study to your comment, so that it is useful to readers.

  3. Yes, but with climactic changes, we are experiencing multiple disasters at once: bat white nose disease + bee colony collapse disorder + bird die-off. We are also facing super viruses! World-wide pandemics are a real possibility.

    1. Jeff,

      (1). There is no evidence that the incidence of “disasters” — such as the biological events you list — is increasing. They are a commonplace of history.

      (2). We are not facing “super-viruses”. Just regular old viruses.

      (3). Pandemics are and always have been a possibility.

      Calm down. The only interesting thing going on is our disinterest in preparing for the past while we wet our pants in fear of future nightmares. Fun but futile.

  4. To the editor, have you been living under a rock somewhere? Or are you part of the out right lies and disinfomation propaganda campaign meant to confuse and distract people from whats really going on in our world? The non stop geoengineering of our skies and the raining down of the toxic heavy metals and chemicals, thats not only effecting human health but destroying the entire eco system and threatening all life on this planet.

    Weather control, GMOs, off the charts UV levels, massive fish die offs, up to 200 species going extinct a day, all while the so called scientists, corporate controlled media and goverments go to great lengths to distract, confuse, hide, lie and cover up the truth from everyone and looks like to me, thats the motive of you and this site as well.

    It saddens one’s heart to know the injustices being done to our world and all living things upon it and I cant understand how the ones responsible can sleep at night knowing what they do, its nothing less then true evil.

    Time is running out for our planet and every living thing upon it and if something isn’t done soon to stop this out right genocide, its going to be game over for planet earth and us all.

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