Honeybees are disappearing at a rapid pace, due to a number of different reasons. Habitat loss, nutrition, mites, and more. Two of the most prominent, and controversial, are the use pesticides and insecticides. After reading in Steinburg we can see that there have been a number of cases in which chemicals have been used to “improve the earth,” but typically have negative consequences. Rachel Carson warned the world in her novel Silent Spring of the dangers of pesticide. Although the use of DDT had been banned due to the discussion the novel created on the issue, the use of pesticides and insecticides is far from over.
Beekeepers have noticed declining numbers as early as the 1990’s, but it was the summer of 2013 when the number of dead bees skyrocketed. This was known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). According to research done at Harvard University, there is a direct link to declining honeybee numbers and insecticides.
Pesticides are the broad category of chemicals used with crops, and insecticides fall under it. Insecticides are chemicals used on crops to kill insects that may or may not eat the crop being grown. This is useful, especially in monoculture farming so large numbers of insects don’t destroy an entire crop. However, the insects that are not harming the crop are killed as well. Pesticides do not lead to immediate death of honeybees. In the Harvard University study, conducted on eighteen colonies in central Massachusetts, showed that pesticides could actually be impairing the neurological function of honeybees. In other words, these chemicals destroy a bees ability to find its way back to the colony, and it’s ability to find food.
Our dependence on pesticides for agriculture can first be found in California in the early 1900s. Steinburg observes the growing demand for more fruit throughout the nation and California’s ability to deliver what the people want. However, with all this farming, pests began showing up. Farmers tried oils, gases, and sprays, the first pesticides, to rid the state of the insect problem. However, these remedies did nothing. They even tried “biological control” and have bugs fight other bugs, but that only worked for a short amount of time. Chemicals, on the other hand, seemed to do the trick. Thus the American addiction to insecticide was born. Since the 1900s, the use of pesticides has increased dramatically. Now everyday people can use them in their gardens, not just large farms. This mass use of insecticides is one of the reasons why honeybees are disappearing.
Honeybees play an important role in ecology. Albert Einstein once wrote “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.” Bees play a critical role in agriculture, as they pollinate plants while they feed. Ironically, these pesticides are killing one of the most important parts of agriculture while they are being sprayed to protect crops. Bees aren’t just important for the environment, but they are important to humans as well.
In order to help honeybees, one of the key ways is stop using chemicals to ward of pests. Other ways include becoming a beekeeper, buying local honey, and plant bee friendly plants. These plants include daisy’s, sunflowers, and lime trees. These will keep bees coming back to your garden.
It is hard to say if honeybee numbers will rise again because the decline in this species is so complex. It is certain to say that if our addiction to pesticides does not change, then honeybees will continue to die off.