Monday, April 14, 2008
Honey Bees and the Principle of Imminent Collapse
Bees all over the Earth have been buzzing around doing what they do for thousands of years. So what is it that they do? They build a hive. They make and tend their Queen. She produces all the eggs. The workers fly out into the sunlight and collect pollen on their legs. This pollen is converted into food for the hive members, the queen and all the larva that will continue the population of the hive. This food is quite tasty and sweet and we love it as Honey. The bees make lots of it. We collect it and they make more.
Bees have developed a symbiotic relationship with the plants that produce the pollen that bees take home for dinner. The plants which are rooted in one place for life cannot go out and about looking for genetic diversity to propagate their species. To overcome this handicap (not to be confused with a disability) the plants have developed some ingenious tactics in order to transmit their DNA from plant to plant across vast distances.
Some plants shed their pollen to the wind in hopes that it will land on a suitably receptive female plant organ. Other plants make sticky pollen that is carried around by ants, the hairs of mammals, butterflies and moths, birds and even the industrious bee. The plants secrete chemicals that attract the insect or other transporter and they give food to them in exchange for their services as a DNA messenger.
In the case of the bees, they are highly mobile, highly efficient transporters. Consider that every kernel of corn on a cob has a silk tube that extends out of the husk into the sunlight and in order for it to grow, a bee must deposit a bit of corn pollen on the tip. This pollination process is repeated every year across the agricultural belt of North America and the other continents of the globe. Truly a global enterprise.
Other crops: wheat, barley, clover, and dozens more all need the services of the pollinators. The crops thrive and the bees thrive. They are locked in a relationship that neither side dislikes. The equilibrium has been maintained for these thousands of years.
But what happens when that balance is lost? The bees have performed the practice of biodiversity that has made certain crops stronger and resistant to disease, climate variables, and the plants’ own tendencies toward narrower breeding conditions. The same cannot be said of the bees themselves. They are extremely narrow in their own reproductive practices. There is no DNA exchange between hives. Only the DNA of the Queen is used and she is provided male DNA from a select few hive-produced males who have not been very diverse in their own DNA.
The result of this practice is like the Domino Model mentioned in another section. Too little variation is present in the DNA of the entire hive and from hive to hive they are all sisters. When a disease or other environmental impact comes along, all the bees in all the hives are susceptible to that change. The bees will probably not become extinct over some disease, chemical agent, climatic change or and combination of them. The reduction in bee populations will probably reach a new equilibrium and they will go on for thousands of years more. From the bee point of view, that is natural and perfectly acceptable. It has happened over and over many times in the lineage of bees. What is not acceptable is the level of pollination that results from a large-scale loss of bee populations.
Humans have staked their lives on the lowly honeybee. We have grown our population on the supposition that crop pollination would continue uninterrupted, unabated as we continued to produce yet another billion of our numbers. We forged ahead without regard to sustainability (a future topic) of our civilizations.
In the USA we borrow money indiscriminately without regard to our ability to pay back our debts. We sprawl our urban areas without regard to fueling our personal automobiles. Our population continues to grow older without preparations for how we will afford to pay for food, shelter, fuel, transportation, taxes, medical services and our debt. And we are not alone in this shortsightedness.
China continues to grow its population in Quarter Billion Person Annual Increments. They must build 4 NYC-Equivalent Cities every year just to keep up with their population growth. They must also fuel and feed that growth PLUS the increased expectations of the existing Billion-Plus population that is also growing older just as we are. At least we have a semblance of a retirement financial system, i.e. Social Security, while they do not.
India. See the previous paragraph.
The Principle of Imminent Collapse states that everything is on the verge of collapse and it only takes a nudge to make it fail. What is the Nudge that will cascade through the global markets and lead to either extinction or a new equilibrium? What about bee population die-offs? What about one too many summers of draught? What about one too many mild winters where the snow pack is too light to make the Rocky Mountain rivers run full all year? What about 1 degree of average global temperature?
A “New Equilibrium” is a pleasant euphemism, is it not? It may sound rosy, warm and fuzzy, but it means millions of dead humans. It means mass starvation. It means Resource Wars where no one is exempt. And most of all it means that we did it to ourselves. Not that we can control the weather or even positively impact the climate, but we can plan for what we will do when the nudge happens.
The bees are already dying. Some beekeepers have lost all their colonies. Others, just most of them. The cause is yet unknown. The cost in Dollars, estimable. But the cost in food reduction and future losses of bees and food production is not. Is the bee colony die-off just a short term anomaly or is it a foreshadowing of the Nudge? What are we doing to make the bee population loss have a minimal impact on our food supply and food prices?
Most of all, do we have the intelligence to find an alternative or are we mere beasts that are allowed to live at the pleasure of nature? Relax. Everything is well in hand. We have plenty of time to solve this problem. If collapse comes it will not be for many decades. Go shopping.
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