Why Are Bees Important To Our Environment?
Set aside childhood fears about getting stung: Few insects enjoy the unprecedented glow-up of bees. And it is well deserved. Bees hold the literal secrets to one of Earth’s most important jobs: pollination. And, truth bomb: we can't do it without them.
So, quick science: Pollination is plant sex, if we can call it that. Female plants grow flowers that attract the pollen that's emitted by male plants. Once pollen reaches the flower, the plant grows seeds to propagate itself for another generation. Without pollination, all plants would be one-offs reliant on a single batch of seeds, and since every species relies on plants in one way or another, that would be... bad news.
Why Are Bees So Damn Important?
Pollen reaches flowers by wind and water distribution, but bees are by far the most widespread pollinators. It’s estimated that without them, 90% of our planet's wild plants would die off, and the cost of performing pollination on crops we grow would be hundreds of billions of dollars (assuming we could even do it right. See below.)
Without bees, we couldn’t enjoy foods like:
It’s estimated that about 70% of the top 100 crops are dependent on bees for their survival. But there’s more at play than a bee’s desire to pollinate. Some plants require specialized pollinators, meaning the process doesn’t work with just any bee. It has to be the exact right match for that plant.
That means we can’t just breed a ton of honeybees. Instead, we have to protect and preserve wild bees as they are. And so far we’re not doing a great job of it.
How Our Agriculture Kills Bees
Each year, almost half of all fruits and vegetables grown worldwide end up going straight to the landfill, and there’s little to suggest that’ll change anytime soon. Worse, our ability to grow more food today comes at the cost of our ability to grow food in the future. It's like a payday loan where we keep skipping town to stay ahead of the loan sharks. It’s only a matter of time before debt comes calling.
Remember GMOs? Most of that controversy focused on eating genetically modified foods. But what was eerily absent was the effect GMOs would have on pollinators. By breeding crops to be herbicide-resistant, farmers can use glyphosate weed killers that have been shown to harm bee populations. In a weird twist of fate, making plants resistant to herbicides threatens the other crucial component to their growth.
How Do We Fix It?
Bees are susceptible to the same threats as other animals: habitat loss and chemical poisoning. Deforestation and urbanization have had drastic consequences to bee populations, but our reliance on synthetic chemicals (which are federally protected against damages lawsuits) is something we can and must change ASAP.
First, we need to return to organic agriculture. We need normal farms again, not 300 square-mile behemoths that grow just one or two crops. Monoculture farming hurts bees by pushing out the more niche pollinators in favor of those that serve a few different purposes. Would it lead to lower yields? Probably, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem (see above: half of all produce thrown out).
Organic farming also means getting rid of these outrageous pesticides. Syngenta, Bayer, Monsanto, and other chemical companies have made their fortunes selling poison to commercial farmers, and the consequences are something from a nightmare – entire herds of cows dead, human fatalities from even tiny ingestions, frog species plummeting from an inability to mate – the list goes on and on.
Finally, protect wild habitats. Pollinators work best in their native environs – not when being carted across state lines to do some contract work. Deforestation and urbanization need to take a break.
Most importantly, we need action now. Right now. Time is a luxury we don’t have, because if the bees die off, we won’t be far behind. So bee kind to our buzzy pals. If you see a thirsty one, gently give 'em some sugar water. You'll be saving more than just a creature – you'll be saving our way of life.