Silent Spring: Honeybees

Honeybee on mint flowerI first read Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” when it had been around for over three decades: I’d heard a lot about it, but had not invested the time until I was at Penn State in my classes in geography and environmentalism. It was an excellent book, in particular for its time (which has now passed over five decades). She died two years after the book’s publication, and saw only its immediate effect. In spite of what detractors have said about her, she never called for a ban on the use of pesticides (Slate. 2012); she recognized their proper use and benefit, but also understood what their mis-use and over-use could mean for the environment.

Over the last 50 years, pesticides (Carson hated that word: because poisons can’t discriminate between “pests” and “beneficial animals”) have become huge business, and their use has expanded exponentially. It is now common to find pesticides in arctic animals (Nunatsiaq Online, 2014) and the depths of the ocean (Ocean’s Alert, date unknown). We don’t care any more about their effect on the environment… as long as we don’t have “spots on my apples” (Joni Mitchell, 1970). And this time we’re not losing the birds… but we are losing the bees. Since 2006, beekeepers have noticed an increasing occurrence of “Colony Collapse Disorder” (US Dept. Of Agriculture, 2013; The Toronto Star, 2012). I first became aware of it some years ago when I did a presentation on using GIS to track wild honeybees to monitor their activity.

It’s ironic that the reason this problem is reaching attention is that the one economic activity (selling pesticides to keep our foods pristine) is impacting the production of another (the production of honey). Most non-human inhabitants of our planet don’t have an economic “value”, so the effect is not so apparent to the capitalist perspective. We need to learn from this example what we’re doing to our world. The result might not be a “Silent Spring”, but it is definitely a future that is not as sweet.

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