evidence shows there is no "bee-pocalypse,” but alarmists allege new pesticide
"Baby boomers” will remember Gila Radner’s Saturday Night Live character from the ‘70s – Emily Litella, who would
launch into hilarious rants against perceived problems, only to discover that
she had completely misconstrued what she was fuming about.
"What’s all this fuss about endangered feces?” she
asked in one. "How can you possibly run out of such a thing?” Then, after Jane
Curtain interrupted to tell her "It’s endangered species,” she meekly
responded with what became the iconic denouement of the era: "Ohhhh. Never
The Sierra Club and "invertebrate-protecting” Xerces
Society recently had their own Emily Litella moment, over an issue they both
have been hyperventilating about for years: endangered bees. For over half a
decade, both organizations have been raising alarms about the imminent extinction of honeybees and, more recently, wild bees
– allegedly due to the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides.
These are advanced-technology crop protection
compounds, originally developed and registered as "reduced-risk” pesticides.
Applied mostly as seed treatments, neonicotinoids get taken up into the tissue of crop plants,
where they control pests that feed on and destroy the crops, while
minimizing insecticide exposure to animals, humans and beneficial species like
But not according to the Sierra Club! It campaigned
incessantly for years on the claim that neonicotinoids would drive honeybees
into extinction. For instance, in March 2015 the Sierra Club of Canada launched
a nationwide "Protect the Pollinators Tour,” as part of its #SaveTheBees project.
"Ironically, the justification for this chemical madness is the same desire to produce enough food to feed everyone,” it
said. "The chemical industry wants us to believe we have no choice; it’s their
way or the highway. But the science tells us otherwise – that farmers don’t need
these chemicals at all! The science also tells us we’re not just killing bees
and pollinators, but other insects too. And we’re also killing birds and aquatic
life. The scientists tell us we could be creating a Second Silent Spring. It’s madness.”
A year later, the Maryland Sierra Club did its own
fulminating, urging the state’s legislature to pass a "Pollinator Protection
Act. "Help STOP Pollinator Deaths from Neonic Pesticides!” it exhorted.
"Toxic Neonic pesticides kill and harm bees and other
pollinators, like butterflies and birds. Continued, unchecked use poses a
serious threat to our food supply, public health and environment. Ask lawmakers to help keep Maryland pollinators safe and healthy
– by curbing consumer use of toxic pesticides.”
In December 2016, the Sierra Club
was out raising more money by sounding phony alarms about Trump appointees
"denying the science” that supposedly links neonic pesticides to alleged bee
"Bees had a devastating year. 44% of colonies killed.…
And Bayer and Syngenta are still flooding our land with bee-killing toxic
‘neonic’ pesticides – now among the most widely used crop sprays in the country.
Now, Myron Ebell – Donald Trump’s pick to lead the EPA transition team – denies
the science that links neonics and bee death….”
Why would they make such false
claims? Well, as Sierra Club officer Bruce Hamilton once admitted: "It’s what
works. It builds the Sierra Club. The fate of the Earth depends on whether
people open that envelope and send in that check” (or click on the ever-present
online Donate Now button).
However, a few weeks ago, a Sierra Club blog post started singing a different tune:
"‘Save the bees’ is a rallying cry
we’ve been hearing for years now…. But honeybees are at no risk of dying off.
While diseases, parasites and other threats are certainly real problems for
beekeepers, the total number of managed honeybees worldwide has risen 45% over
the last half century. ‘Honeybees are not going to go extinct,’ says Scott
Black, executive director of the Xerces Society. ‘We have more honeybee hives
than we’ve ever had, and that’s simply because we manage honeybees. Conserving
honeybees to save pollinators is like conserving chickens to save birds …
[since] honeybees are not all that different from livestock.”
So, Never mind. Finally, after all
these years, the Sierra Club (and Xerces Society) admit that honeybees are not
going extinct. It would appear as well that neonic pesticides can’t be causing a
honeybee apocalypse – because there isn’t one!
But in the eco-alarmism world,
every silver cloud has a dark lining! This time, it’s wild bees, also called "native” bees, whose allegedly looming
demise is the imminent ecological cataclysm du jour.
Honeybees are not native to North
America; they were first brought here by colonists in 1622. Now – according to
the Sierra Club anyway – these non-native bees pose a threat to wild bees and
other native pollinators. New research, it says, "shows managed honeybees can
negatively impact native bees.”
Varroa mites, deformed wing virus
and other problems from commercial hives (the real causes of honeybee declines
in recent years) "can be transferred to wild species when populations feed from
the same flowers.” In fact, the rusty patched bumblebee, "which was listed as endangered in
early 2017 after declining more than 90 percent over the last decade, may owe
that disappearance to diseases spread by commercial bees.” And the RPB is not
the only threatened or endangered wild bee species.
Many native bees – of which there
are over 20,000 species globally, in various sizes, shapes and colors – "are
experiencing incredible losses,” says a Sierra Club blog. "Of the nearly 4,000
native bee species in the United States alone, four native bumblebee species
have declined 96 percent in the last 20 years, and three others are believed to
have gone extinct. In the last 100 years, 50 percent of Midwestern native bee
species disappeared from their historic ranges.”
Now the blog doesn’t claim all
these supposed wild bee declines are due to neonic exposure. At least it doesn’t
say so just yet, leaving that inference to your imagination. However, the Sierra
Club is likely just as wrong about wild bee species being in trouble, as it was
during its previous years of railing about the causes and reality of honeybees
First, the overwhelming majority of
wild bee species, at least in North America, never get any exposure to
neonicotinoid pesticides, because they are desert species – with habitats
typically tens or hundreds of miles away from croplands.
Second, the overwhelming majority
of those wild bee species are specialists. They feed exclusively on the
pollen and/or nectar of one or a very few plant species – and their life-cycles
are tied inextricably to the flowering cycle of the (mainly desert) plants they
They typically emerge from the
ground prompted by the same natural signals (rains) that awaken the cacti and
other plants. They then live just long enough to produce larvae and stock the
larval nests with food (pollen and/or nectar) from the plants they pollinate
before they die. This cycle is completed in days – and pesticide exposure is
virtually impossible given the environments where it takes
All this is not to say that wild
bees don’t play any role in crop pollination. Some do.
However, 59 scientists published a three-year
study in Nature, concluding that only 2% of wild bee species provide
80% of the wild bee crop pollination.” They also found that "the species
currently contributing most to pollination service delivery are generally
regionally common species, whereas threatened species contribute little,
particularly in the most agriculturally productive areas.”
other words, the handful of wild bee species that contribute the lion’s share of
wild bee crop pollination – and thus are most exposed to neonic and other
pesticides – are abundant and not threatened or at risk, certainly not
from pesticide exposure.
jibes with the observations by Sam
Droege, the U.S.
Geologic Survey’s wild bee expert whose surveys indicate that most wild bee
species are doing just fine.
encouraging that the Sierra Club and Xerces Society have finally acknowledged
that the "honeybee apocalypse” – which they used for years to demonize neonic
manufacturers and raise millions of dollars – was pure fiction. Eventually,
perhaps, we hope (fat chance) they’ll admit their exaggerated claims and
half-truths about wild bees are equally phony and misleading.
a real pity that so much public hysteria – and pressure on politicians and
regulators to combat fictitious bee problems – was generated in the process.
That was especially true in Europe, where regulators gave in to agitator
pressure and misrepresentations, and banned neonics this year. Now farmers will
have to spray crops with pesticides that really are harmful to bees, or will
lose more to voracious insects.
activists always claim to be pushing for better public policies, to "Save the
Earth.” Misdiagnosing and misrepresenting non-existent ecological crises is
precisely the road to the hell of bad public policy. And it’s not always
paved with good intentions.
least when it comes to claims about another "bee-pocalypse,” it’s time to say, Never mind.
Paul Driessen is the author
of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death and other books and articles on
energy, climate change and environmental activism.