Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Impassioned Plea Of A Bitter Bee*

It's Earth Day tomorrow, April 22nd, and word has it that Mother Earth has registered her wish list at every grocery store, gas station, and recycling center in the nation. What would she like from us, the human residents who seem hell-bent on partying long and hard in her beautiful home and then leaving the place a mess?

At the top of the list is a request that we start considering some of our smallest critter-neighbors, the bees. Albert Einstein either did or didn't have this to say about bees:

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

And while some bloggers are busy devoting time and bandwidth to proving or disproving that it was indeed Einstein who made that dire prediction, I'd like to point out that regardless of who said it, bees are in trouble.

And so, therefore, are we.

In a potent closing monologue last night, comedian and political pundit Bill Maher had a lot to say about bees, and birds and humans, too:

Well, guess what? The bees are disappearing. In massive numbers. All around the world. And if you think I'm being alarmist and that, "Oh, they'll figure out some way to pollinate the plants..." No, they've tried. For a lot of what we eat, only bees work. And they're not working. They're gone. It's called Colony Collapse Disorder.


But I think we're the ones suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder. Because although nobody really knows for sure what's killing the bees, it's not al-Qaeda, and it's not God doing some of his Old Testament shtick, and it's not Winnie the Pooh. It's us. It could be from pesticides, or genetically modified food, or global warming, or the high-fructose corn syrup we started to feed them. Recently it was discovered that bees won't fly near cell phones -- the electromagnetic signals they emit might screw up the bees navigation system, knocking them out of the sky. So thanks guy in line at Starbucks, you just killed us. It's nature's way of saying, "Can you hear me now?"


Maybe you don't need to talk on your cell phone all the time. Maybe you don't' need a bag when you buy a keychain. Americans throw out 100 billion plastic bags a year, and they all take a thousand years to decompose. Your children's children's children's children will never know you but they'll know you once bought batteries at the 99 cent store because the bag will still be caught in the tree. Except there won't be trees. Sunday is Earth Day. Please educate someone about the birds and the bees, because without bees, humans become the canary in the coal mine, and we make bad canaries because we're already such sheep.

Global warming, overflowing landfills, rainforest destruction, and an imperiled food supply are not inventions of the oft-derided Left. Neither are they alarmist soundbites set forth to pave the way for the Great Socialist Takeover Of All That Is Capitalist And Wonderful, which is to say, used the way other alarmist soundbites--Saddam has nukes! Gotta fight 'em there so we don't have to fight 'em here! Hair gel and Evian water can bring down planes!--were employed to achieve all manner of political objectives, from instilling fear and compliance in a population to offering a flimsy, plastic justification for pouring the nation's blood and treasure into the voracious war machine.

No, the threats to our environment are not only non-partisan, they're very real. The ice caps don't give a rat's bottom if you're red, blue, or green--they're melting anyway. The disrupted and destroyed ecosystems have no political affiliation, either. And as man and his machines intrude on heretofore untouched rainforests, and tropical viruses once contained deep within begin their outward creep--first to rodents and primates living at the perimeter, then to humans--the microbes will fell us all.

Which is, by the way, how I believe the world as we know it will end: not with a bang, but a whimper. Not with a meteor collision, not with a bomb, but rather, with the word-wide deathblow of a tiny organism, one that rises to power when humans, via their ongoing destruction of Earth's complex ecosystems and precarious balance, finally remove every possible obstacle that might have protected us. Those who survive the floods, famine, and disease wrought by global warming will then have to contend with unprecedented outbreaks of tropically-bred hemorrhagic fevers like sabia and ebola, to name just two lethal viruses, as well as yet-unnamed and undiscovered ones. In true virus fashion, they will take an opportunistic view of our devastated populace.

And that will be that.

Regardless of your politics, I hope you'll think about the bees this weekend, as well as the many ecosystems--all interdependent, all quite fragile and easy to disrupt--that keep our planet and our species grooving along.

*My first name, Deborah, is Hebrew for bee; my second name, Mary, means bitter.

Also at Ezra's place.

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