Reports of a strange phenomenon started to filter into the mainstream press back in 2006. Bees were disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate and scientists were unable to provide answers. In fact, the trend had been gaining speed for four decades and in March of this year the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) sounded the alarm about the possible damage to food crops worldwide.
According to UNEP’s Executive director Achim Steiner, the way humanity manages nature-based assets, including pollinators, will help to define the future of the 21st century. “The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees,” he says. The report showed honey bee declines have reached 30 percent in the United States, 10 to 30 percent in Europe and up to 85 percent in the Middle East. South America, Africa and Australia showed no significant losses.
There are over a dozen potential factors contributing to the bee’s demise according to the UN report entitled Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators, including virulent fungal pathogens that migrate in shipments; a 70 percent drop in wildflowers; air pollution; parasites and pests.
One of the biggest threats to the bee’s demise is insecticides and fungicides. Some environmentalists believe that Clothianidin, produced by the agrichemical company Bayer AG, has been widely used on corn in the U.S. since 2003 and is very harmful to honey bees. It is also used on soy, sugar beets, sunflowers, canola and wheat.
A new documentary entitled Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us? will be shown at the Music Box Theatre starting April 29th. Featuring author Michael Pollan, physicist Vandana Shiva and biodynamic beekeeper and farmer Gunther Hauk, the movie features beekeepers, scientists, farmers and philosophers around the world and looks at how the historic and sacred relationship with bees has been lost due to highly mechanized industrial practices. It is an inquiry into a prediction made in 1923 by the scientist/philosopher Rudolph Steiner that, in 80 to 100 years honeybees would collapse. He gave a series of eight lectures about the unconscious wisdom of the beehive and how it relates to our experience of culture, health and the cosmos.
The film’s director Taggart Siegel says, “Queen of the Sun is for me, a deeply important, crucial and timely film. I first had the idea to make a film on the honeybee crisis, when I read a quote, attributed to Albert Einstein (now in dispute) who said that, ‘If bees disappear from the earth, then man will only have four years of life left.’ This quote appeared on the back of every major publication about the bee crisis in early 2006, and it profoundly affected my view of the future, for both myself, but more importantly, for my daughter.”
Not only do bees hold together the food chain, they may give us the answer to reversing the brain’s aging process. A Norwegian researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Norway, Professor Gro Amdam, found that bee problems are similar to people; short-term memory and the ability to learn decline with age. By giving bees new tasks, half of them improved their memory and learning abilities. Several proteins also found in humans were involved in the growth and repair of brain cells in bees. She hopes to take the research further.