Tag: Conservation

Can we Survive a World Without Bees? Part 2

By Noah LaVie | United States

Noah Berlatsky, in his book “Are Mass Extinctions Inevitable?” interviews melittologists and when asked what happens if the bees go extinct they say, “checkmate” (Berlatsky 2012). The simple fact remains that bees are a keystone family of insects that now supports over half the population capacity of the Earth. They accomplished this through millions of years of evolutionary growth alongside the rebirth of plant-life after the K-T Extinction Event.

Our worlds’ ecology depends on these buzzing bodies for so much and truly humanity has never lived without their assistance. Now, for the first time perhaps ever, the bee is endangered. This danger may be beyond something they can come back from. To say that only our “dinners” will suffer from such an event is such an understatement as to be laughable (Palmer 2016).

If they go, the Earth will have exceeded its capacity for human life as that capacity drops from twelve to six billion people. The first signs a citizen may notice is the rising cost of multitudes of produce and other products that depend on bees. Then industries (ie. the almond industry, and honey industry) will begin to quarantine bees and seek to use them in greater amounts and in concentrated areas to allow the industry to solve their production cost issues.

Not long after, that overcrowding and concentration will result in greater die-offs and speed the death of the bee family ever onward (Bowers 2012). The bees’ greatest ally will become its worst enemy as corporate desires for their protection becomes self-serving and conservation efforts fail to see the whole picture and the source-sink dynamic of the wild bee will spread to the honeybee and its dwindling numbers will fall further (Franzén 2013). Based on the evidence hereto put forward, the bee population will then be likely to hit eighty percent population loss. Barring a successful cloning or an ecological miracle, the bee will go extinct in the wild at this point.

…The bee will go extinct in the wild at this point.

Without the wild bee, the general population will notice that certain products have permanently disappeared. Nationwide efforts will begin in nations with the capacity to effect change to save the bee, the bees population losses will only fall further. At their core bees are a hive species. If a colony loses too many bees the hive dies. “Population losses below [18.7%] are sustainable; lose any more, though, and the colony is heading toward zero,” (Palmer 2016).

A removal of bees from hives to study them will simply result in the death of more bees. Studying bees in colonies will result in them being cut off from the world outside and will cause their slow demise. Markus Franzén, the lead on a project to study wild bees in Sweeden, found only one population of bees that was able to persist out of “the sixty-one” surveyed when studied and isolated (Franzén 2013). That success rate is low enough to kill large swaths of populations in the study effort to prevent extinction alone.

After the bees are extinct, populations of humans in already food-challenged areas will collapse entirely. Unless wind-pollinated plants are at this point optimized enough, populations in advanced civilizations will suffer dramatically. Our dinners will certainly get a lot less interesting as people die from lack of nutrition and the diversity of plant life is reduced two-thirds (Palmer 2016). The world will at that point be able to only sustain six billion populace, the billion and a half that has grown over that amount will either starve or be killed. Rationing will be the least a government may do, population control and execution at the most.

The world gets ugly when resources get scarce…

The world gets ugly when resources get scarce and while this report does not seek to discuss the intersectionality of war, food scarcity, nuclear proliferation, climate change, human’s impact on species, the dependence of other animal species on bees, the diplomacy of the world without bees, ect., it does seek to answer the question of whether bees’ extinction will mean our own.

Bees operate as a lynchpin (Berlatsky 2012). While the direct effect of the extinction on the world may not result in our extinction, their extinction will indirectly result in tensions between nations, scared communities, and hungry people becoming irrational. Irrational people, leading scared communities, into a tense global world will not end well. The Doomsday Clock is only two minutes to midnight, and that is without the starvation that a bee extinction would cause.

Whether the extinction of the bee results in the extinction of man is not an easy question. It is true that bees are vital to the ecology of our planet. It is true that bees are going extinct. Humans have never existed in a world without bees. If the bees go extinct the world will be overpopulated by a billion and a half humans. Yet even then, our survival depends on so many human variables as to make it impossible to answer the question.

The only sure answer is that it will then be up to the human race on how to continue, to fight or coexist. If one were to look at our past history one might say there is no evidence that coexistence is achievable. If that is the case, then humanity is already on the way to extinction. Humanity is a big branch. It rest on a very big tree. If the trunk dies, so do all the branches. It takes “respect for the whole tree” to have anything but extinction (Boulter 2002).


Sources:

Berlatsky, Noah. Are Mass Extinctions Inevitable? Greenhaven Press, 2012.

Boulter, Michael Charles. Extinction : Evolution and the End of Man. Columbia University Press, 2002.

Bowers, Michael A. “Bumble Bee Colonization, Extinction, and Reproduction in Subalpine Meadows in Northeastern Utah : Ecological Archives E066-001.” Ecology, vol. 66, no. 3, 1985, pp. 914–927.

Colla, S. R, et al. “Documenting Persistence of Most Eastern North American Bee Species (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) to 1990–2009.” Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, vol. 85, no. 1, 2012, pp. 14–22.

Franzén, Markus, and Nilsson, Sven G. “High Population Variability and Source-Sink Dynamics in a Solitary Bee Species.” Ecology, vol. 94, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1400–1408.

Meeus, Ivan, et al. “Effects of Invasive Parasites on Bumble Bee Declines.” Conservation Biology, vol. 25, no. 4, 2011, pp. 662–671.

Palmer, Brian. “Would a World Without Bees Be a World Without Us?” NRDC, National Resource Defense Council, 15 Dec. 2016, www.nrdc.org/onearth/would-world-without-bees-be-world-without-us.

Rehan, Sandra, et al. “First Evidence for a Massive Extinction Event Affecting Bees Close to the K-T Boundary.” Plos One, vol. 8, no. 10, 2013, p. 76683.

United States, Congress, National Agricultural Statistics Service. “Honey.” Honey, National Agricultural Statistical Service, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 2018.

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Can we Survive a World Without Bees? Part 1

By Noah LaVie | United States

Bees have been with humans as long as the dog, longer than wheat, and far beyond the wheel. In tandem, the human and the bee have created a cohabitation that benefits both species worldwide. Bees pollinate; humans protect and harvest. Bees have become such an important pollinator and spread to so many corners of the globe that any great depletion in numbers has been hypothesized to be catastrophic to the point of an extinction level event for humanity. That possibility begs the question, what happens if all the bees disappear? Will humanity really suffer?

The question itself isn’t conjecture. Bees are disappearing at rates alarming not just to melittologists but to the general public (Palmer 2016). Recent USDA NASS surveys suggest that the epidemic has reached critical mass, with bee losses in summer time surpassing that of bee losses in the winter for the first time (USDA 2018). This is caused by beehives being invaded by parasites (Meeus 2011), the proliferation of Colony Collapse Disorder (Bowers 1985), and the failure of Utah and Swedish teams to solve the mystery of continuing dropping numbers (Franzén 2013).

No method currently exists to estimate the total bee population, outside of domestication. However, scientists have recorded dramatic losses upwards of seventy percent of their population (Colla 2012). Clearly, the bee population is under threat and little can be done to stop it. What remains to be seen is what will happen to the human population.

Bees are disappearing at rates alarming not just to melittologists but to the general public.

What do bees do that makes then so vital? Bees pollinate. They are such good pollinators that they have evolved in tandem with many of the commercial food bearing plants such as apples, onions, and avocados. Their origins are so closely tied to the plants they pollinate that these plants reproduce solely through this process of pollination (Rehan 2013). By some estimates, two-thirds of food bearing plants depend primarily on bees for pollination (Palmer 2016).

Scientists have approximated the human capacity of the Earth to be about twelve billion. This number, however, is dependent on the diversity of plant life, the ability of the Earth to replenish resources, and modernization of agriculture. The bee is a key component to the diversity of plant life and Earth’s resource replenishment. Yet, it hasn’t yet been replaced by any modern technique (Berlatsky 2012). 

The likelihood of extinction is indisputable and the amount we depend on the bee is insurmountable. The question then becomes, have humans ever survived without the supplement of the bee? The answer is no. Bees’ relationship with humanity stretches further back than domestication (Bowers 1985), past humanity’s evolution into Homo Sapiens, and into the Late Cretaceous Period (Rehan 2013). This period of time features the breakup of the first Pangaea, the rise of mammals, and the K-T Extinction Event. This event is also known as the moment the dinosaurs went extinct and thousands of other species with them.

Bees’ origins are closer to that of the Tyrannosaurus Rex than the Human. It was here that plant life received a reboot in evolutionary terms. Based on the evidence received from an investigation into the origins of bees, led by famed melittologist Sandra Rehan and funded by the Australian Parliament, this plant life reboot happened while the Earth moved on from Pangaea, before the asteroid struck, and at the right time when bees also were evolving into a pollinating species (Rehan 2013). This took place over seventy million years ago.

For context, the first modern humans likely appeared on the scene only three hundred thousand years ago and the Homo Genus only came to be about two and a half million years ago. After humanity began to understand itself, around the same time that humanity domesticated the dog, they domesticated the bee about twenty thousand years ago. This came before the agricultural revolution when humans were still operating on a hunter-gatherer basis. The bee had spread across the entire globe and proliferated itself as the main pollinator to such an extent that even primitive man realized the importance of these small, but busy, bees.

Humans have never survived on this planet without the assistance of bees.

If the extinction of bees is likely, if humans depend on bees, and humanity has never existed without the bee, what happens when bees disappear? Bees are currently estimated to be down forty percent in population since just last year. This trend has been going on since 2006 when the die-offs first began (Colla 2012). Since 2006 over fifty-five percent of the bee population has irrevocably been eliminated through the various causes discussed.

At fifty-five percent of the bee population down, we’ve already begun to see symptoms of their demise. Onion prices have skyrocketed, reaching selling prices previously not imagined as bee populations die off in their production areas. This same trend is visible in watermelon, cucumber, squash, carrot, clover, and many other plants.

This is different from inflation, where the price rises due to consumer’s value of all products and the value of the dollar. It is directly caused by the rise in bee deaths and the slow, painful extinction of them across the globe (Palmer 2016). These plants simply aren’t reproducing as much, bearing fruit as much, or producing as much food as they would with the bee population down. A reasonable observer may posit that high prices and scarcity are nothing to be feared. A more careful examination, however, would produce a different result. This is with the bee population only at fifty-five percent. Even estimating what losses at seventy percent would be is eye-opening.

Again, this report is not observing the loss of honeybees (Apis mellifera), a subspecies of the Anthophila family, but the loss of all bee species in totality. What each species brings to the palate of the human race however cannot be underestimated. Once Honeybees reach seventy percent extinction, their total extinction is inevitable. All one-hundred and eighty-three plant species that depend on the honeybee will be doomed to go extinct (Palmer 2016). The effect on the world’s population carrying capacity is estimated to be about a net loss of six billion in hold capacity. If the world’s carrying capacity was twelve billion before, the loss of the bee drops it to six billion. That puts humanity over the top at seven and a half billion.

The world would no longer be able to feed the average citizen (Boulter 2002). 

Once Bumblebee population losses have reached seventy percent lost since 2006 there will be no reversing the trend of loss. The average world citizen will say goodbye to the Tomato, the Eggplant, the Lima Bean, the Soybean, the Green Bean, and the Potato (Meeus 2011). The plants will be either too expensive or extinct at this point.

Once Solitary Bees, also known as wild bees, reach seventy percent lost they will be unrecoverable. Avocado, Beet, Papaya, and Mango will be bound for extinction at this point. These plants depend solely on this bee for pollination and barring some ecological miracle are already bound for this destination as their prices and yield have reached critical mass. After the proliferation of the Honeybee in North America, Solitary Bees have been driven to near extinction already and are estimated to have reached critical percentages of seventy-five percent population loss since the days of Columbus (Franzén 2013).

This loss of population is not the wild bees’ fault, honeybees possess nothing wild bees do not. Instead, wild bees possess better pollination skills and are found to suffer much less from colony collapse disorder. One would expect they would fare better and in an equal world, they would. Honeybees, however, have one thing wild bees by definition can never possess: human cultivation.

Honeybees are a foreign body anywhere outside the Philippines, their origin, and were once considered an invasive species in North America and Europe (Colla 2012). This invasiveness has led to a high degree of variability in native wild bee populations and has caused a source-sink dynamic to result. High-quality wild bee populations are forced to be on the move while low-quality wild bee populations absorb their higher quality peers into their own populations. This results in the future of the wild bee changing from population growth to decline as greater portions of the wild bee populace move to the “sink” which then becomes the source and causes the population to drain.

An article written by journalist Brian Palmer for the National Resource Defense Council in 2016 on the topic of the bees’ extinction claims that their disappearance “would make [some] foods scarce.” He states that “humanity would survive—but our dinners would get a lot less interesting.” On the claim that our dinners would get “less interesting,” he is certainly not mistaken. However, when he claims that humanity would survive he is talking about just honeybees’ extinction (Palmer 2016). This failure to extend his premise to the greatest sufferers, wild bees and bumblebees, results in a false summation: humans will survive. The fact is this: humans will die in this agonizing process of bee extinction.

The fact is this: humans will die in this agonizing process of bee extinction.


Sources:

Berlatsky, Noah. Are Mass Extinctions Inevitable? Greenhaven Press, 2012.

Boulter, Michael Charles. Extinction : Evolution and the End of Man. Columbia University Press, 2002.

Bowers, Michael A. “Bumble Bee Colonization, Extinction, and Reproduction in Subalpine Meadows in Northeastern Utah : Ecological Archives E066-001.” Ecology, vol. 66, no. 3, 1985, pp. 914–927.

Colla, S. R, et al. “Documenting Persistence of Most Eastern North American Bee Species (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) to 1990–2009.” Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, vol. 85, no. 1, 2012, pp. 14–22.

Franzén, Markus, and Nilsson, Sven G. “High Population Variability and Source-Sink Dynamics in a Solitary Bee Species.” Ecology, vol. 94, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1400–1408.

Meeus, Ivan, et al. “Effects of Invasive Parasites on Bumble Bee Declines.” Conservation Biology, vol. 25, no. 4, 2011, pp. 662–671.

Palmer, Brian. “Would a World Without Bees Be a World Without Us?” NRDC, National Resource Defense Council, 15 Dec. 2016, www.nrdc.org/onearth/would-world-without-bees-be-world-without-us.

Rehan, Sandra, et al. “First Evidence for a Massive Extinction Event Affecting Bees Close to the K-T Boundary.” Plos One, vol. 8, no. 10, 2013, p. 76683.

United States, Congress, National Agricultural Statistics Service. “Honey.” Honey, National Agricultural Statistical Service, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 2018.

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Government Conservation Leads To Black Markets

By Isaiah Minter | United States

As animal rights activists across the country mourn the death of Sudan, formerly the world’s last male northern white rhino, environmentalists continue to demonize the rhino horn trade. WildAid CEO Peter Knights said: 

We can only hope that the world learns from the sad loss of Sudan and takes every measure to end all trade in rhino horn. While prices of rhino horn are falling in China and Vietnam, poaching for horn still threatens all rhino species.

Knight’s take on the issue, while certainly well-intentioned, is misguided. The simple exchange of rhino horns in the market is not a threat to all rhino species:  horns can be removed without actually killing the rhino, and if done right, the horn will grow back. Rather, the current system of horn trade that is managed by the government is a threat to all rhino species, as rhinos are deliberately being killed just for their horns. In other words, while government action has only exacerbated the effects of horn trade on rhino populations, it does not have to be this way.

Instead of approaching rhino conservation with more government force and control, we should pursue free markets and property rights. Of course, none of this is pure ideology speaking, the southern white rhino is a testament to the wonders of this approach. However, before I address the role of the market in saving the southern white rhino, it is necessary to understand the situation rhino populations face, along with the government’s role in the said situation.

The Current Situation

To quote award-winning zoologist journalist Fiona Macdonald:

Right now, there are only 29,000 rhinos left on the planet, most of which are in South Africa. It’s an incredible drop from the 500,000 that roamed Earth at the start of the 1900s, and sadly, the majority have been killed as a result of poaching, which increased 9,000 percent (yes, you read that right) between 2007 and 2014.

That means more than 1,000 rhinos are now killed illegally each year for their horns. Most of these end up in Asia, where they can reach up to US$100,000 per kilogram on the black market. Those prices are driven by the fact that many countries see rhino horn as a status symbol, and in Vietnam it’s believed (with no evidence whatsoever) to cure cancer.

When rhino horns are more expensive than gold, the rapid rate at which rhino populations are declining should not come as a surprise to anyone. However, it may come as a surprise to many that government prohibition, not the vague notion of human greed, is to blame for the devastation inflicted on rhino populations.

The plain fact is, government banning a commodity does nothing to reduce the demand for it. In Asia, where horns are used for traditional medicines, the black market is alive and well. Black markets form in response to government prohibition: after the prohibition of drugs and prostitution, one would’ve hoped we had learned our lesson. Clearly, we have not, leaving yet another animal species to pay the price for our foolishness.

In banning the trade of rhino horns, the government has not only artificially inflated the price of the commodity but has also prevented the owners of rhinos to sell their horns on the open market. Thus, in order to meet the high demand of horns and capitalize on the high-profit opportunity, poachers routinely kill wild rhinos in wildlife reserves.

However well-intentioned politicians and animal rights activists may be, they ignore the question of incentives. Governments cannot abolish greed, we must not kid ourselves into believing that political actors are selfless and omniscient individuals. However, there is a crucial distinction to be made between public and private action:  the market harnesses greed and internalizes costs while government amplifies the destruction of greed and socializes costs.

The careers of politicians do not depend on the welfare of rhinos, therefore they have little incentive to preserve them. But private owners, who do depend on the welfare of their rhinos and vice versa, have every incentive to preserve them.

The government approach is the very source of the waste, mismanagement, and destruction that exists in the modern horn trade industry, the market approach the cure for the outlined ails. As an example, let us look to South Africa.

Yes to Property Rights

In 1900, the southern white rhino was the most endangered of the world’s rhinoceros species. Hunted to the brink of extinction by English and Dutch Settlers, swift action was taken in the mid-20th century to preserve the species. Courtesy of state-owned parks and a successful breeding program, the white rhino population was 840 in 1960. But, wildlife market institutions were still failing, as private ranchers had little incentive to breed rhinos.

Prior to 1991, all wildlife in South Africa was un-owned property, thus in order to benefit off any wild animal, it had to be captured, domesticated, or even killed. This condition was reversed following the Theft of Game Act of 1991, which allowed for private ownership of any animal provided that it could be identified according to specific criteria.

By securing property rights and allowing market prices to operate, this policy changed the entire incentive mechanism of private ranchers: they were now encouraged to breed and care for their rhinos, ensuring a continuous stream of cash, as opposed to the destructive past manner of shooting them on the spot. By privatizing ownership of animals, decision-makers directly bore the cost of their actions. In the decades since this policy, white rhino populations have flourished.

Market incentives and secure property rights are the most reasonable and proven model for African rhino conversation. In order to promote and preserve this model of free-market environmentalism, there must be government oversight, thus there is a role for government to play. But it is a limited role that creates a framework under which private ownership and voluntary exchange can flourish, not an active role that creates a framework under which corruption can flourish.

Nevertheless, governments across the globe have endorsed the latter model, which in turn has devastated the five species of rhinos. I hope I speak for all environmentalists when I say it is imperative that we put our governments back on the former model: not just for the sake of white rhinos, but for endangered species across the globe.


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Conservation Offers Reasons For Conditional Optimism, But We Seem To Prefer Feeling Glum

Craig Axford | United States

It’s become fashionable to depict our species as a greedy, stupid, and unprincipled killing machine. Unquestioning acceptance of the idea that everywhere we go we leave nothing but death and destruction in our wake has become almost compulsory in many circles.

This one-sided view of humanity is dispiriting to say the least. In addition to failing to consider the big picture or take the long view, it’s a narrative that tends to undermine the very values those proclaiming it claim to hold dear.

Consider the “obituary” published for the Great Barrier Reef in the October 11, 2016 issue of Outside Magazine.This unfortunate commentary will hopefully go down in history as one of the greatest premature pronouncements in history.

The obit for the largest coral reef ecosystem on the planet declared that after 25 million years in existence that included numerous environmental changes, at least a few of which were pretty stressful even relative to current events, Homo sapiens proved to be too much for the reef to handle. According to the article “The Great Barrier Reef was predeceased by the South Pacific’s Coral Triangle, the Florida Reef off the Florida Keys, and most other coral reefs on earth.” In the final sentence the author asks mourners to send donations to the Ocean Ark Alliance “in lieu of flowers”.

But why would anyone bother with a donation to a conservation organization dedicated to saving ecosystems that have just been declared dead? Even if this piece of hyperbole was intended to scare people into action, as presumably it was, the only reasonable emotional response to this sort of rhetoric is a paralyzing mortification.

Coral reefs are, of course, vital ocean ecosystems that are facing increasing stress from climate change, pollution, and other impacts associated with human activity. That we need to do more to protect these and other areas isn’t in dispute. However, urging people to act by falsely advertising the moment to save a particular ecosystem has passed is like including a solicitation for funds to facilitate grandma’s recovery with a premature announcement of her memorial service.

Humans have been having a profound impact upon the environment for quite some time. For example, a major extinction event on the continent of Australia has been strongly linked to the arrival of people there roughly 45,000 years ago. That the first humans to arrive in North America may have pushed much of the megafauna there over the edge has also long been the subject of considerable speculation. It’s widely understood that before European settlers arrived indigenous peoples in the Americas engaged in intensive agriculture.

However, it’s important that past interactions with the environment be considered in context. The state of human knowledge at the time is relevant to any judgment we might care to make regarding past human activities. To say that concepts like population biology and ecology were merely foreign to our ancestors is to risk underestimating the degree of human ignorance relative to our own throughout most of human history. They lacked the information needed to even speculate about the possibility of many of the theories that we take for granted today. Just 200 years ago the idea that humans might actually be able to engage in agricultural and industrial activity on a scale that would change the global climate would have been extremely difficult to imagine and impossible to demonstrate using the available data.

The good news is that as our understanding of the natural world has grown, our desire to protect it has generally increased as well. Just in the United States alone the Endangered Species ActWilderness ActNational Environmental Policy ActClean Air ActClean Water Act, Antiquities Act, and the creation of the National Park Service all serve as prominent examples of legislation that reflect changes in values that can be directly linked to increases in our knowledge.

Globally efforts to protect habitat and conserve resources have also seen dramatic advances. According to the World Bank, between 1990 and 2016 the amount of land under some form of protected status rose from 8.2% to 14.4%. Terrestrial and marine areas combined receiving some form of protection increased from 6.2% to 12.8% between 1990 and 2014.

Though greater optimism is justified, it shouldn’t be unconditional or uninformed. Realistic evaluations of the challenges we face and accurate assessments of both our progress and our failures are necessary to building and maintaining any momentum we might achieve. However, we have fallen into the habit of focusing almost exclusively upon our failures while minimizing, ignoring, or even denying our progress. The environmental movement, in particular, seems to have turned cheerleading for pessimism into a kind of dystopian art.

This toxic atmosphere of continually pending disaster has left people increasingly convinced that government is a failure and other institutions are utterly unresponsive to growth in human knowledge or evolving social values. To see the cost of this distrust and cynicism one need look no further than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Humanity has, to be sure, failed at times. Like its individual members, our species makes mistakes. Sometimes we need to make them a number of times before the lesson of those mistakes begins to sink in. Positive change doesn’t occur everywhere at once or at the same pace everywhere it is happening. But celebrating our successes is as essential to persuading others to join us as data. Happy warriors are much better at recruiting new soldiers than those urging people to join a lost cause. The world could use a few more happy warriors at the moment.

Photo by Michael LaRosa on Unsplash

Other recent articles by Craig include: Winter Is Pub Season, But The Rest Of The Year Belongs To Nature & Equality: The Yeast That Makes Liberty Rise

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him at Medium.com