Colony Collapse Disorder

I was alarmed to learn that honeybees are disappearing. The phenomenon has been labeled Colony Collapse Disorder. It started late last year with beekeepers finding hives without adult bees. It seems to have spread throughout North America and is now being seen in Europe.

Organic beekeepers aren’t experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder, leading many to think that exposure to pesticides and GMO crops have disrupted bee metabolism. Another line of thought is that cell phone antennas and similar sources of microwave radiation are disrupting bee navigation. A research team at Penn State is looking into these and other possible causes.

More than the supply of honey is affected. As pollinators, honeybees affect a wide range of plants, some commercial, some not.

I was also alarmed to read that songbird populations have been on the decline for the last four decades, their numbers cut by half. Climate change, habitat destruction, and pesticides are implicated here as well. As pollinators and seed carriers, songbirds have a significant effect of biodiversity.

A recent New York Times article on the one hundred year anniversary of Rachel Carson’s birth complained about her work and the movement it is credited with spawning. The title of the article was “Fateful Voice of a Generation Still Drowns Out Real Science.” The gist of the article is that Rachel Carson’s work and the subsequent work it inspired have blown way out of proportion the impact of chemicals manufactured and used by humans. This is a familiar voice, one that says, “We have science, while you thwart us with unscientific ideology.” This is a very narrow conception of science. It’s a kind of psychological projection in which an ideology of science insulates its believers from contrary evidence.

Public health officials tell us that we’re in the clutches of an obesity and diabetes epidemic. An ideology has developed around this issue, too, that focuses on bad diets and lack of exercise, framed as lifestyle choices or less charitably as gluttony and sloth. However, a recent study points to exposure to persistent organic pollutants, such pesticides, as substantially increasing the risk of insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes. Hardly a lifestyle choice.

We have joined the honeybees and the songbirds. Of course, we’ve never really been separated, as Rachel Carson taught us and as we continue to be reminded by scientists and citizens who pay attention to the evidence, people more concerned with our capacity to thrive than with devotion to an ideology of science.