It seems that Saving the Bees has turned into quite a nice little cottage industry. Although honey bees are more numerous today than any time in history, some people seem intent on telling other people that the honey bees are all dying and if you send them some money, beepocalypse can be avoided. I’ve kept bees for 40 years – both commercially and as a hobby – and I’ve written a book and dozens of magazine articles about bees. I’m committed to their health, welfare, and future prosperity. I like the way people have taken to bees lately and that’s often parlayed into an interest in farming, ecology, and environment. That’s all good.
But it bugs me that there are so many appeals for money to “reverse the decline of honey bees” – even if honey bees aren’t dying en masse. I keep worrying that the public will feel saturated by all the bee pleas. There will be a backlash when the hoax of the disappearing honey bee is exposed. Instead of a sympathetic public wanting to Save the Bees, we may end up with a cynical public telling us to forget about our stupid bees. All because they’ve heard one hyped pitch too many.
At our house, we get daily calls from the Heart, Lung, and Tongue people, the Friends of the Firemen, and Save the Whales (or Whalers) advocates. Most of the callers are paid shills who could just as passionately and persistently sell used cars. I’m not totally hard-hearted. We give to several charities. I’ve got motor neuron disease, so we know a lot about ALS and give support (plus we contribute to Breast Cancer and Heart-Stroke drives). These diseases are real, they affect families we know, and we vet charities before handing them our money. Save the Bees NGOs also need vetting.
This weekend, I heard about yet another bee-saving group. This one is climbing mountains here in my backyard (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) to raise awareness of bee plight. The organization is Eco Not Ego International. The collective (as it calls itself) seems to consist of two people – Spence and Josie. They are new beekeepers who guide Eco Not Ego with actionables that include: “Have Fun” and “Be Impeccable with your Word.” Their vision is to achieve “A world where humanity lives in harmony with nature and every individual is proactive with all aspects of their health.” One of their first awareness-raising campaigns involves climbing some mountains in my neighbourhood while wearing a bee costume and carrying a load of honey.
I became aware of Eco Not Ego because of this CBC news story: “Calgarians to climb mountain peaks to highlight plight of ‘stressed’ bees”
The news tale quotes one of the couple “quoting” Einstein:
“The day the last bee dies, humanity has about four years to live,” said Einstein never. The quote was created by some European beekeepers 40 years after Albert Einstein died. Roni Grosz, curator of Einstein’s papers at Jerusalem University, says he “could not remember even one reference to bees in Einstein’s writings.” You may also notice that the article, captured in the blue box above, says, “a horrible synergy for the bees [has] … made their populations take a nosedive.” It hasn’t. Maybe “Being Impeccable with your Word” is an aspiration, not a rule.
The Eco Not Ego money site begins with this sentence: “IN 2015, North America experienced a dramatic decline in honeybee population due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).” No, No, No! CCD has not been reported in five years, according to Dr Dennis vanEngelsdorp, who discovered it and conducts a survey twice a year searching for CCD. The number of honey bees in North America increased in 2015: Canada’s numbers grew from 697,000 colonies in 2014 to 722,000 in 2015; in the USA it was 2.69 million in 2014, 3.18 million in July, 2015. The honey bee population grew a lot – North America did not experience “a dramatic decline”.
Meanwhile, there’s a bizarre collection of organizations involved in the Eco Not Ego websites. I have not figured out the relationship between Eco Not Ego International, which has a gofundme.com fundraising page for the climb, Project Doublebee (which has a goal to double the world’s bee population), the Bee Aware AB campaign (mentioned in the CBC story) and yet another, Save the Bees Canmore Mod-Quad, – but it looks like all roads (and links) eventually lead to the same fundraising site.
The projected $2,000 to be collected from this bee-plight-awareness campaign would be used in two main ways: bringing bees into schools and showing the public real beehives. These are laudable plans, but people all over our community already do this, as volunteers, for free. In my case, I go (in my wheelchair) to the local elementary schools, take little squares of beeswax, colouring books, a big stuffy bee named Benny, a Powerpoint show, and I spend an hour with the kids. I wouldn’t want paid for this or the materials I give away – raising awareness and teaching kids about bees is payment enough. As far as letting the public meet and greet honey bees in a bee yard, we do that gratis, too, but the CBC News site says that the $2,000 raised by the Eco Not Ego mountaineers will be used for school programs and for “giving people the chance to interact with bees at [Spence] Madden’s apiaries.”
The pair running Eco Not Ego International, Project Doublebee, Bee Aware AB, and Save the Bees Canmore Mod-Quad are undoubtedly concerned about the environment. They have lofty goals. They are climbing four mountains in 24 hours – much better than sitting on bums, consuming non-renwable resources on exotic holidays, or chugging Moosehead.
But knowing more about biology and using less hyperbole would be helpful. In the Calgary Herald, one of them tells us, “If we don’t have bees, nothing lives.” Really? Nothing lives? The planet had life for 3 billion years before bees evolved. It will have life long after humans and bees are gone.
I’m concerned that misinformation will lead to a backlash. Our environment is a mess, wild bee populations are in danger, and society is going to hell. That’s all true. But we don’t need misspoken words confusing the public. We need verifiable fact or our credibility is bankrupt. We need impeccable words.
Already we see the negative result of overly dramatic appeals to urgently save the bees. The gofundme.com campaign for the mountain climbing publicity escapade has been open for two months. It has not reached its modest $2,000 goal. Not even half. Not even a quarter. As of 3 o’clock this afternoon, $355 appeared in the pledges, yet the mountaineering begins tonight.
Maybe the public’s saturation point has already been reached and the backlash has begun. Inundated with pleas to come Save the Bees, perhaps the public is starting to think go F*@k the Bees.
love your site. any thoughts on the RNAi stuff? thx garry
On Sun, Sep 4, 2016 at 6:11 PM, Bad Beekeeping Blog wrote:
> Ron Miksha posted: ” It seems that Saving the Bees has turned into quite a > nice little cottage industry. Although honey bees are more numerous today > than any time in history, some people seem intent on telling other people > that the honey bees are all dying and if you send t” >
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Thanks, Garry! I’m working on a piece in the works on how RNAi, its possible antiviral effects, and potential enviornmental risks. There’s a lot to think about. Hope I can make sense of the papers.
It does wind me up when people claim honey bees are endangered. They’re the least threatened bees on the planet.
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Thanks, Emily. It’s great that people are concerned about all the bees and it’s true that honey bee losses have sometimes been higher than normal, which would be really tough on the beekeepers making up losses. But honey bees aren’t going extinct. If honey prices are high, more splits are made and colony counts goes up. Now that honey prices have fallen, colony count will, in fact, drop. But it’s economics doing that.
One of my acquaintances has sent me a link to this article – https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4524.
It claims that “when the 2015 data came out in 2016 we found an enormous 12% loss” (of US honey bee colonies), whereas you say above that the number of honey bees in North America increased in 2015. I’m not familiar with how US statistics are collected and whom by – what’s the source of your data?
Hi Emily, I could be wrong. It’s happened before. I used the USDA’s statistics, and I used the results from the Canadian Association of Provincial Apiculturalists’ National Survey. I don’t know where the website Skeptoid got their data and I would also question their use of the expression “an enormous 12% loss” when 15% is a normal statistical loss in North America since the 1970s and probably long before. Nevertheless, thanks for sending that link – it looks like an interesting site.
Here’s the USDA information which I found.
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Meanwhile here in the UK, some people think bee decline is a bigger problem than climate change.
It worries me that here in the UK we had a huge number of new bee keepers and people just wanting hives in the bottom of theirs gardens. Many of these hives are now abandoned because, would you believe, bees need work and have stings that hurt! We could improve the world’s bee population by stopping cheap imports of inferior honey and improving field side habitats. Better for honey bees but also better for the other bees and insects who aren’t about money making.
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