Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
Friday, September 13, 2013
For if one link in nature's chain might be lost, another and another might be lost, till this whole system of things should vanish by piece-meal.
- Thomas Jefferson
Wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you.
- Proverbs 24:14
It's been a year of lessons from the bees, and it stings a bit.
Of course, nature does teach with pain, if we can't heed her milder signs, as the Hebrew Proverbs noticed. Each time we humans ignore reality, lessons seem to get harder.
But if we can learn to connect the dots, that wisdom gives humans vital navigational skills. It also makes life sweeter.
That was the understanding of great educators like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington Carver, who thought Americans should learn to connect the dots of this universe - from soils to flowers to stars, ethics to human action, private-interest to common good.
How else could humankind navigate?
This sends us back to our bee school here.
In winter 2012, a third of the U.S. honeybee colonies vanished - a 42 percent increase over the previous winter.
This drastic plummet deepened a decade of honeybee declines, with worse declines likely among native bees and other pollinators - fireflies, butterflies, even hummingbirds.
Pesticide manufacturers pointed to the most direct culprits - mites, diseases, viruses. But why were bees succumbing so easily to these troubles now, versus previously?
Several peer-reviewed studies were implicating neurotoxic pesticides known as "neonicotinoids," or "neonics."
These chemicals - the most common pesticide now in the world - often encase commercial seeds and are applied to soil.
The neurotoxin is then taken up by growing plants, including blooms. It works by scrambling the brain wiring of insects.
Thus neonics disorder the navigational skills of bees.
Yet neonic use continued, as if no human brain had connected these dots. Why?
Chemical manufacturers like Bayer maintained the reports were inconclusive and the jury was still "out."
The jury has a pattern of remaining "out," it seems, whenever we humans want to evade a particular dot-connecting verdict. Our self-interest has a way of occluding any wider connections.
Back in 2010, for instance, a New York Times article heralded research implying that "a fungus tag-teaming with a virus" explained bee die-off. No pesticides were mentioned.
The study's lead author, Jerry Bromenshenk, didn't tell the Times he'd received a significant bee-research grant from Bayer - whose pesticides he'd implicated earlier.
Prior to the funding, Bromenshenk had in fact agreed to witness in a class action lawsuit brought against Bayer by North Dakota beekeepers, linking Bayer pesticides to massive bee decline.
After receiving the company's grant, Bromenshenk dropped out of the lawsuit, but said Bayer funding had not influenced his navigational turn-around.
Recently, connections between neonics and pollinator-decline have grown harder to ignore.
This past June, 50,000 dead bumblebees were seen plummeting into a Target parking lot, in Wilsonville, Ore .
Landscapers were spraying the neonic dinotefuran on linden trees the helpful insects were pollinating. A hailstorm of bees fell to the ground.
In July, 37 million honeybees were found dead around a farm in Ontario, killed by dust-drift from local plantings of neonic-slathered seed corn.
If this weren't enough to connect the dots between insect-poison and poisoned insects, an August report sent more depressing news home - with flowers.
The Pesticide Research Institute released results of a pilot study analyzing common retail landscaping plants - the bedding flowers, tomatoes and squash we buy from home-improvement centers like Home Depot and Lowe's, across the U.S.
Partnering with the nonprofit Friends of the Earth, PRI researchers found out of 13 samples (each composed of one to three plants) contained systemic neurotoxic pesticides at levels sufficient to poison bees.
The finding is especially chilling because retailers and customers want to help pollinators, not drive them to extinction.
"What we'd like, as home gardeners, is to have gardens be a place of refuge for bees, not another area that's poison for them," said Susan Kegley, the chemist (and current bee-keeper) who founded and directs PRI.
"We hope that gardeners, landscaping companies and others ... will take this information to their nursery suppliers and request systemic pesticide-free plants," she told me. "This is really a marketing opportunity for the nurseries and they should capitalize on it."
Kegley grew up in Wytheville, where her mother, Virginia historian Mary Kegley, tends a chemical-free landscape of colorful dots - flowers, butterflies and bees.
"Now that tests have been done, I think we all need to read more labels and avoid chemicals when we can," Mary told me, beside her festive landscape. Several pollinators floated over the flowers. "The bees are in trouble."
Upon reflection - and skilled at connecting dots between past, present and future - the historian added, "Our world is at risk."
The new PRI research can be found at www.foe.org.
Liza Field's column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
Weather JournalSo ... WHERE is this storm?