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The Plight of the Honey Bee – Part 1

December 8, 2009

Photo credit: Mommamia via Flickr

Each day, millions of Americans leave their homes to go to work. They kiss their husband and kids on the way out the door, perhaps they accidentally spill some coffee as they look for their house keys, and take off – in their car, on a commuter train, or a cab ride to the airport to be jetted off to some far away city. For us humans, it’s all about doing our jobs to bring home what our family needs: food, safety, knowledge, and maybe a vacation here or there to keep life interesting?

What would happen if one year one out of three of us didn’t come back? What if our society’s population declined by half over the past 30 years? There are currently over 100 million households in the United States. What if over the next three decades that declined to only 50 million? What if every time a wife or a husband left their home, her children didn’t know if she was coming back?

It’s a bit of an over-dramatic example, but that is what life is like if you’re a honey bee.  In 2007, about 20 billion bees disappeared. Yes, 20 billion. Usually when bees die of any number of known diseases, you can find their bodies immediately outside the hive or near the entrance. But since 2007, a widespread plague has hit bees – causing them to behave in usual ways and simply abandon their hives and die.

It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and because of the extreme importance of bee pollination to agribusiness, CitizenPolity is going to devote the entire week to publicizing this phenomena and some of the people & businesses working on this issue.

The worst part about CCD is that it is a mystery. No one truly knows what causes it although everyone has a theory – some of them good, some of them not so much.  Everything from cell phone use, to pesticides use, from a “bee AIDS” to bee Alzheimer’s, from poor diet to killer mites. Everything has been explored by the leading experts in apiary. But the bees are dying and so could agriculture as we know it.

Since bees pollinate over 130 crops in the US, their service to agribusiness cannot be understated. More than just producing honey, bees are worth about $15 billion a year to American agriculture. Despite this importance, since 1980 the number of hives in the United States has plummeted:

  • 1980: 4.5 million bee colonies in the US
  • 1990: 3 million
  • 2000: 2.8 million
  • 2005: 2.4 million

Make no mistake; the continued death of bees will prevent or hinder our society from enjoying many of the foods we enjoy – nuts and fruits – and the cotton clothes we wear.

If the current rate of decline continues, the American bee population will be zero by the year 2035.

So check back each day this week as we dance with one of the most important environmental sustainability issues of our time.

What’s coming?:

  • Part 1 – Overview
  • Part 2 – An interview with Rowan Jacobsen – author of Fruitless Fall
  • Part 3 – An interview with Diane McIntrye of Dryer’s Haagen Dazs on how they’re bringing attention and funds to study the issue


The writer is the editor of —  You can contact him at JamesERatcitizenpolitydotcom or follow him on Twitter:

Copyright 2009 – CitizenPolity & James Epstein-Reeves – Not to be used without the written permission of CitizenPolity or the author.

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