News / Bees
Give Bees a Chance: Go Organic!
There are many reasons to buy organic and a major one is to help save the.
Bees pollinate a significant majority of the world's food, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate.
How does going organic help?
The pesticides used in non-organic farming can be lethal to pollinating bees. In some cases they simply kill bees, but in other cases they can make bees slow and drowsy, hinder learning and cognitive function and even affect reproduction. This can eventually lead to the collapse of the entire colony.
Herbicides used to kill weeds in non-organic farming also remove food sources for the bees, further hindering their survival.
Organic farming, on the other hand, avoids the use of these pesticides and herbicides, as well as artificial fertilisers. This provides a rich environment for bees to thrive, with a wider variety of plant life, which further supports other wildlife such as birds and field mice.
The Soil Association claims that plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms!
Buying more organic produce supports organic farming – the more you buy, the less demand there is for non-organic products, which encourages more farmers to go organic!
You can help protect bees by choosing organic food, grown without these toxic insecticides, and planting bee friendly gardens.
By Tim McDonnel
Bees are having a really hard time right now. For about a decade, they've been dying off at an unprecedented rate—up to 30 percent per year, with a total loss of domesticated honeybee hives in the United States worth an estimated $2 billion.
At first, no one knew why. But as my colleague Tom Philpott has reported extensively, in the last few years scientists have accumulated a compelling pile of evidence pointing to a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. These chemicals are widely used in commercial agriculture but can have lethal effects on bees. Other pesticides are also adding to the toll. So are invasive parasites and a general decline in the quality of bees' diets.
Clearly, that combination of factors poses a pretty serious problem for anyone who likes to eat, since bees—both the domesticated kind and their wild bumblebee cousins, both of which are in decline—are the main pollinators of many major fruit and nut crops. The problem is so severe that this spring President Barack Obama unveiled the first-ever national strategy for improving the health of bees and other key pollinators.
Bees "are in serious and immediate risk from human-caused climate change."
Now, it appears that lurking in the background behind the ag-industry-related problems is an even more insidious threat: climate change. According to new research published in the journal Science, dozens of bumblebee species began losing habitat as early as the 1970s—well before neonicotinoids were as widespread as they are today. Since then, largely as a result of global warming, bees have lost nearly 200 miles off the southern end of their historic wild range in both the US and in Europe, a trend that is continuing at a rate of about five miles every year.
As temperatures increase (the US is about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer today, on average, than in 1900), many plant and animal species in the Northern Hemisphere are shifting their range north. But by analyzing a vast archive of bee distribution records reaching back more than a century, ecologists at the University of Ottawa showed that bees are not joining that trend. Instead of shifting north like many other species, the bees' range is only compressing in from the south, leaving less and less available habitat. That finding is illustrated in the chart below (and explained in more detail in the video at the bottom of this post, produced by Science).
Kerr et al, Science 2015
In a call with reporters, lead scientist Jeremy Kerr stressed that although pesticide use is a critical cause of bee mortality at local levels, it doesn't explain the continent-wide habitat shrinkage that stands out in the bee data. But temperature trends do.
"They are in serious and immediate risk from human-caused climate change," Kerr said. "The impacts are large and they are underway."
The question of why bees aren't pushing northward is a bit trickier, and it isn't resolved in this paper. But Kerr said he suspects the answer could be the relatively long time it takes for bees to reach a critical mass of population that can be sustained in new places.
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Tim McDonnell is Climate Desk's associate producer. For more of his stories, click here. Follow him on Twitter or send him an email at tmcdonnell [at] motherjones [dot] com.