A Legendary Environmentalist Says That This Species Is The Key To Human Survival
“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live." There is some controversy over who first made this foreboding declaration (some attribute it to Einstein), but whoever it was might have been spot on.
An estimated 30.7 percent of bee colonies across the United States disappeared last year, thanks to a mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Pesticide use, climate change, and large-scale industrial agriculture are all likely contributors to the bees' demise. We rely on these pollinators for nearly one in three bites of food—everything from blueberries to squash to almonds—and their death could spell disaster.
"If the honeybees were to disappear, it would be a measurable and very large loss to the whole agricultural industry," E.O. Wilson, the legendary biologist and father of biophilia, told mindbodygreen last week.
According to the White House, honeybees accounted for more than $15 billion of the U.S. economy as of 2009, and around the world growers are shelling out millions to "rent" honeybees to make sure their crops are pollinated every year. In addition to a monetary loss, the decline of the bees signals that our climate is changing for the worse.
Wilson, who is also the creator of The Half Earth Project, which aims to protect half of the world's natural habitat to ensure that Earth's species can continue to exist into the future, thinks that we can map our way to a brighter future for the honeybee.
"There are 6,000 species of bees, and we don't really know much about them," he explained from The Half Earth Project's annual summit that gathers industry leaders across the fields of science and technology. This year, it was held at the New York Museum of Natural History—a fitting backdrop for Wilson and his team to mobilize the next generation of explorers. "We're calling for the resuming of exploring the living world, species by species. What we need is far more experts able to go into the field."
The idea is that we can't protect what we don't know exists, so mapping the areas with the highest populations of honeybees will help conservationists decide how to most effectively save them. The Half Earth Project has already mapped thousands of species of vertebrates, but bees are its first foray into the insect world.
"Bees are perhaps one of the most important species because they are such connectors within the ecosystem, connectors across environments," added Paula Ehrlich, DVM, Ph.D., president and CEO of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.
For this ambitious project, The Half Earth Project has joined forces with a buzzworthy partner: Burt's Bees. Burt's will help fund the three-year mapping project and launch limited-edition products like Earth's Bees lip balm to help start a larger, more mainstream conversation around the cause.
"Earlier today, we heard that 'conservation is just conversation,' and unfortunately that can be true when you get so many scientists in a room together," Paula Alexander, the director of sustainable business at Burt's Bees, said from Half Earth Day. "I think the role of brands and businesses is we can actually activate people."
By using their brand's clout to shine light on this important scientific initiative, Burt's hopes to help people around the world locate their inner activists.
"When it comes to the bees, there are so many things people can be doing: Support your local beekeepers and buy organic and local fruits and produce when possible," Alexander said. "All of it is impacting biodiversity. If everyone took a small step and told this story, it would be amazing what we'd be able to do."