I was looking for something new to watch on Netflix this weekend, and I stumbled upon Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I think that Gore’s message, though 10 years old now, is no less relevant or salient in 2016 than it was in 2006.
Humans and the modern industrialized society we have created for ourselves have had tremendous impacts on our world, from the extinction of thousands of species to global climate change. I think that it’s very easy to care and very easy to find something within the modern environmental movement that resonates with us. But I also think that it’s very easy to forget about things that aren’t well publicized, like colony collapse disorder and the plight of the bees.
Honeybees are a common and recognizable example of a bee. However, in North America alone, there are more than 4,000 species of bees, and all of them are in danger. It made headlines in October when seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees made the endangered species list. But this is only the first time any bee species had been added to the list despite growing concern over dramatic population declines in all bee species. Biologists have attributed these losses to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, parasites, disease and pesticide use. Parasites and disease have always been a threat to bees, but it’s the effects human activities have on bee populations that are particularly troubling — and specifically our pesticide and agrochemical use.
In particular, neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of chemically related insecticides that inhibit bee neurotransmitter activity, are especially deadly to bees. Compared with DDT, another well-publicized pesticide used during the 1960s, 70s and 80s that affected fish, birds and mammal species, neonicotinoids are up to 10,000 times as deadly to bees.
Neonicotinoids are so problematic that the European Union placed a moratorium on the use of three of the deadliest neonicotinoids (thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid) in 2013, and Minnesota governor Mark Dayton mandated earlier this year that farmers may only use neonicotinoids if they can show that their use is necessary to control certain pathogens like wire worm. But Minnesota is only one state. Neonicotinoid pesticide use is widespread throughout the rest of the United States, especially as seed coatings for corn and soybean and continues to represent a threat to all bee species, and especially native bee species.
Humans have never before had the level of potential to control or harm the environment that we do today. Conservation efforts have made progress in protecting species that we deem important, though more work has to be done. However, as in the case of the bee, we have to be focusing not only on species we find economically important, but also species that have key functions in an ecosystem. Honeybees are prolific and their importance is well understood. But other bee species deserve protection too, if only for protection’s sake. I think that a world without bumblebees or other threatened bees and insects would be a very poor world indeed.
Alexander Hajek, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at AHajek17@wooster.edu.