A Spring Without Bees

February 7, 2012 non-fiction, Science 9

This weekend, I finally finished A Spring Without Bees.  This was definitely not a book which took a while because I wasn’t into it, but because I was busy.  Plus I had to restrain myself from stopping every few sentences to write down interesting facts about bees!  Did you know, bees travel approximately 7 million miles per gallon of honey they produce?  All I can say is that if people did that much work for a gallon of honey, it would probably be worth its weight in gold.

In addition to fun facts about bees, the book focused on a discussion of possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon where most bees in a hive fly away and never return, leaving the few remaining bees to die.  CCD is also distinguishable from many bee illnesses and parasites by the way other insects avoid the abandoned hives.  This intriguing premise gave the book a little of the feel of a mystery novel and I liked the way the author systematically eliminated possible causes.  It was, however, immediately clear that the author had an anti-pesticide agenda and sure enough the conclusion was that the most likely culprit was the insecticide, IMD.  Initially the book also seemed very over-dramatic (“Are the bees trying to tell us something? Could CCD be the warning sign of a much larger crisis looming directly ahead?  Might humankind someday suffer from “Civilization Collapse Disorder?”) but it was also interesting right from the beginning, starting with the fun fact that the Haagen-Dazs ice-cream company claims 40% of their flavors depend on bees.

As I got further into the book, it turned out to be less melodramatic than I thought at first, given that 1/3 of agricultural crops depend on bees (although the author does usually invoke drought and/or other national disasters  in conjunction with bees in his more “we’re all gonna die without bees!” moments).  In fact, I found myself increasingly horrified by the evidence against IMD ignored first by French politicians and then by the EPA in the US, who ignored not only the evidence but the previous identical experience in France!  The EPA even continued to give IMD “temporary emergency” permits, allowing it to bypass many safety tests, and had employee whistle-blowing not have prevented it, the EPA was ready to fund testing of these pesticides on children, which I found pretty terrifying.

Some research into the current status of IMD indicated that it is still in use in the US, although as far as I can tell it is now allowed through more regular channels.  The EPA website even has a link the national pesticide information center and their page on IMD includes its’ suspected link to CCD.  Although they do downplay the connection, they also link to sources on both sides of the issue, including the American Beekeeping Federation.  Additionally, the EPA website now promotes the integrated pest management program recommended by the author, in which consumers, bee-keepers, and landscapers are urged to use natural predators in place of pesticides when possible.

I should emphasize that I am convinced that IMD causes CCD based on the evidence presented here, which may not be a representative sample.  The author only rarely acknowledges that IMD may not be the cause and even more rarely cites any scientist who disagrees with his theory if he can’t dismiss them as biased by associations with chemical companies.  Despite some reservations due to the author’s perceptible bias, I am completely convinced that he is right about the taking prudent precautions due to “The Law of Unintended Consequences” (his caps).  There is certainly sufficient evidence that IMD could be the cause of CCD and the consequences would be serious enough that it makes sense to switch to alternative pest controls.  These alternatives could include the many helpful suggestions the author gives for controlling bee-killing pests organically, in addition to his helpful advice for home owners on organic lawn care.

Summary

A Spring Without Bees – 5 stars – Informative, well-written, engrossing, and includes actionable steps for avoiding dangerous pesticides in your day-to-day life.

9 Responses to “A Spring Without Bees”

  1. Jen K

    Your review makes me want to go out and read this book. I really like the data you pull from the book, and share in your review. Good review!

  2. Val Wilson

    I really enjoyed this book as well – though I agree that at times it was a little melodramatic! But it does seem that these pesticides are in some way linked to CCD, probably by leaving the bees more susceptible to existing diseases like nosema, or parasites like the varroa mite. And the fact that the authorities seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it IS a national scandal. Hopefully more publicity about CCD and these pesticides, through books like “A Spring Without Bees”, will mean that eventually something will be done to help save the honey bee.

    • DoingDewey

      I noticed a lot of the websites associated with the book seem to have become inactive, so I was really hoping something had been done about IMD already. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any evidence that it had been, so as you said – hopefully in the future! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. socrmom78

    So cool! I had to take an entomology class for my biology degree years ago and it turned out to be one of the best classes I took for my major. Insects are so fascinating! The Civilization Collapse disorder is very interesting. I had not heard about that before.

    • DoingDewey

      I’ve never had a problem with bugs, but before this book, I never would have guessed they were so interesting! If I ever got the chance, I think taking an entomology class would be a lot of fun.