Disappearing Bees, Dying Bats, and Endangered Polar Bears
There are several stories of science and nature that have been featured in the national news over the last few months. For scientists, an explanation for disappearing bees and dying bats still remains elusive. The risk to the polar bear is a function of continued global warming with the potential for its extinction still over a century away. However, each of these stories has vast potential economic ramifications for the United States and the energy and agricultural industries of the future.
It is now estimated that the honey bee population continued to decrease in the United States in early 2008. The first survey of bee health after the last winter season revealed a dismal picture. In fact, it appears that about 36 percent of the nation’s commercially managed bee hives have collapsed. This represents a 13.5 percent increase over 2007. (The Apiary Inspectors of America survey included 327 operators, or 19 percent of the country’s approximately 2.44 million commercially managed bee hives.)
In total, there is now a more than a 30% decrease in the honey bee population in the last several years in the United States. The cause of the bee deaths is still a mystery, though scientists are looking at pesticides, parasites, and a virus not previously seen in the country. In many cases, entire hives have collapsed as bees never return and just disappear (Colony Collapse Disorder) .
Indeed, the diminishing honey bee pollination could have a dramatic economic impact on the country’s future. It is estimated that billion in U.S. crops are dependent on bee pollination. Also, consider a study funded by the National Honey Board that shows that about 1/3 of Americans’ diet is dependent on bees’ pollination.
The recent discovery of dying bats is another new national scientific mystery to consider. Consider that bats in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Vermont are dying off by the thousands. The bats often have a white ring of fungus around their noses, called “White Nose Syndrome”, and scientists in hazmat suits can now be seen crawling around in bat caves to find out why.
It is not clear if the fungus around the bats’ noses is a cause or a symptom of the problem. The fungus could be caused by bacteria or a virus or the bats could be reacting to some toxin or other environmental factor. Whatever it is, sick bats are burning through their winter stores of fat before hibernation ends in the spring, and appear to be starving to death. Some biologists fear that 250,000 bats could die from the problem during this year alone.
Many researchers are calling it the gravest threat in memory to bats in the United States. Bats feed on insects that can damage dozens of crops, including wheat and apples. Therefore, a significant decrease in the bat population would certainly have negative ramifications for United States agriculture. Bats also feed on mosquitoes and a drop in the bat population would lead to an increase the mosquito population which could well result in more cases of West Nile Virus in humans.
While the beekeeping and agricultural industries are in the middle of a crisis concerning disappearing bees and dying bats, a crisis that may soon threaten the United States food supply, the U.S. Department of the Interior was taking a much more proactive approach to the potential future problems of the polar bear. In fact, the Department of the Interior has just added the polar bear to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. To preserve the habitat of the polar bear as an endangered species will make it even more difficult to explore for oil and gas in the state of Alaska in the future.
The Interior Department concluded that the past and projected future melting of sea ice in the Arctic poses an immediate threat to the polar bear’s habitat. It pointed to greenhouse-gas-induced climate change as a primary cause for the recession of the sea ice. Although the species is not currently endangered, its future may be at risk. If global warming were to continue unabated, scientists believe that polar bears may disappear in the next century due to melting Arctic sea ice.
Of course, concern over the future of the polar bear may well prove premature. Last winter was the coldest winter seen in the Arctic in many years with temperatures averaging well below normal. In addition, the earth has dramatically cooled during the last year and now many scientists are predicting at least an interruption in the trend of global warming for the next several years.
There are many different theories for the problems of the bees, bats, and polar bears. Some speculate that all of the problems may be linked together by the recent warming of the planet. Conspiracy theorists say that the disappearing honey bee may really be a sophisticated terrorist attack or out of control government experiment. Some blogs on the Internet suggest that the bees are really being called home to God and that the end of the world may be near.
However, the ramifications of all these problems of nature seem very clear. Consumers should be ready to pay more money for food and gas in the years just ahead. There will be a price to pay in the supermarket due to the lack of pollination of the disappearing bee and the reduction of natural insect control due to dying bats. There will also be a price to pay at the gas pump since an attempt at U.S. energy independence could be compromised because of the future endangered habitat of the Arctic polar bear.
James William Smith has worked in Senior management positions for some of the largest Financial Services firms in the United States for the last twenty five years. He has also provided business consulting support for insurance organizations and start up businesses. Visit his website at