It is time to stop being afraid of killer bees. Bees have gone from hunters to hunted, and we, with our radioactive cell phones, are the killers now. Sweeping the Internet last week, reported by Matt Drudge and papers on both sides of the Atlantic, is news that millions of bees are leaving their hives to die.
Falling back on medical science metaphors, the last thin reed of public faith, insightful geniuses have teamed up to label the phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. The Independent explains that CCD occurs "when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes."
Scientists have theorized that the cause of CCD is mobile phone radiation, the real reason this story has gone multinational. Dealing with the massive die-off of one of the world's major species is one thing. Dealing with the potential follow-on die-off of one of the world's most competitive and ubiquitous industries is quite another.
One side issue is that the majority of world crops rely on commercial bee pollination. The numbers are not promising. Over half of all west coast bees are missing, presumed dead. The east coast has lost nearly three quarters of its apiary population. Half of all U.S. states are now in a single state of bee deprivation. CCD has hopped the pond, striking Western Europe. Rumors of cascade effects in Britain, brought on by the announcement of one of London's main bee men that over half of his hives are ghost towns, have been briskly denied by the Department of the Environment's Food and Rural Affairs branch.
Alas, it's too late for denials in America. A month ago The High Country News profiled the anxious dread of western beekeepers who understood that the California almond crop could plummet from 2,400 pounds per acre to 40, a fall of 600%. Not even luxury foods are safe. Jack Handey warned that "Just as bees will swarm about to protect their nest, so will I 'swarm about' to protect my nest of chocolate eggs." But what consumer of snack and dessert goods will ward a sundae without nut crumbles, or an empty bowl of maraschino cherries? Though speaking from the sidelines, from the unrelated field of theoretical physics, Albert Einstein once suggested that in a world without bees "man would have only four years of life left."
But if medical science is the last best hope of mankind,
then perhaps experts better qualified than Albert Einstein can save us with skepticism. Bobbie Johnson, Guardian Technology Correspondent, has tried to debunk the despair, noting that the afflicted bees have not actually been made "unwell" but simply have had "their navigational abilities thrown out of line. That, in turn, can lead to death because they are insects."
Yet he concedes the "implications are serious" indeed. So what happens now? Text-message sabotage? Wireless luddism? I don't believe I can persuade you to throw your blackberry into the sea on the theory that its harmless radiation waves are causing a whole race of insects to self-destruct. I don't believe I can persuade myself to do so. But isn't that the damnation of it all? I found myself in Chicago last week, glaring at a subway ad featuring Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade goggling down at his D-Wade edition Sidekick 3. I found myself thinking, "Murderer." I haven't invented, or even customized, a popular wireless communications product lately, so perhaps that at least entitles me to suggest that we curb our fetish for lifestyle peripherals as a first step toward a necessary understanding. It may not be best as a rule to seek globe-straddling technological solutions to globe-straddling problems that just so happen to be caused by technology.
The therapeutic habit of present-day America, where there is no cure for progress and coping is the only way to feel happy, leaves us convinced that when something all goes horribly wrong the proper response is to do something -- turning our lonely eyes inevitably to The Experts -- rather than to take the incredible step of not doing something. What if, instead of desperately seeking solutions to our myriad crises, we simply stopped doing what set them off? Robert Green Ingersoll said that "hope is the only bee that makes honey without flowers." I hope we recover the wisdom of inactivism.
But the hyperactivity of crisis is big business. The fever of transactions driving private capital and public appetite makes conservation itself sound like a failure to innovate. Our social-management reflex for the worship of problem solving in a world of perpetual change conceals just how pointless and counterproductive so many of those changes are, a lesson not lost on the sad little platoons of the dazed and confused, the survivor bees of Earth's empty hives.