Imagining life without honeybees
If you’re not a beekeeper, you probably don’t think about honeybees all that much. They might be annoying when you’re out in the garden, but that’s about it. But, whether you keep bees or not, honeybees actually have a huge impact on the food you eat, the clothes you wear, and the world you live in. And they’re facing the threat of extinction right now.
Honeybee populations have been in decline for decades. Although research into possible causes continues, it’s clear that pesticides, parasites, habitat destruction, and climate change are all factors. If we fail to solve these problems, and if bee populations continue to decline and eventually disappear, humans will face a world that looks very different to the one we live in now.
The end of honey
The most obvious result of bees disappearing is the loss of honey and honey related products. Honey is already expensive – almost a luxury – but if bee populations decline or disappear, it could vanish from our supermarket shelves altogether.
Products that use honey – like cosmetics, medicines, and skin products – would also go. And honey producers, from large companies to individual beekeepers, would be forced to look for work elsewhere.
Losing your favourite foods
While we could probably cope without honey itself, the loss of food products pollinated by honeybees would have a huge impact on our diets. Around a third to half of all fruit, vegetables and nuts rely on pollination from honeybees. If bee populations decline, there won’t be enough bees to pollinate plants, and crops will fail.
Imagine a diet without apples, avocados, blueberries, almonds, cashews, cucumbers, eggplants, grapes, kiwifruit, mangoes, pears, peppers, strawberries, watermelons, many vegetable oils – even coffee. These are just a few of the crops that would be affected – many other fruit and veggie species also rely on bee pollination. Although they’re not a food product, flowers would largely disappear as well.
Not only would our diet be affected, but the farmers, pickers, and sellers of these foods would also be out of jobs – which could have a huge impact on the economy.
The cost of a cheeseburger
One unexpected result of bee loss is the impact on cattle – and our dairy and meat industries. Cows’ diets are heavy in bee-pollinated crops like alfalfa and clover. Without these food sources, farmers would either have to reduce their herds, find alternate feed, or shut down operations altogether.
For the consumer, this would mean that dairy and meat products would become much rarer and more expensive. Cheap milk, cheese and beef would be a thing of the past, which is likely to cause a huge change in the way many people eat.
Bees and your jeans
The clothing industry is also likely to suffer if bees disappear. Cotton plants rely on bee pollination, and without it, they will be more difficult to maintain.
No cotton means no jeans, cotton shirts, cotton sheets or bedding. Cotton is also used to make a number of other products, including paper and thread. Its loss would have a huge impact on the fashion industry – and on the way you dress.
Bread, pork, and changing diets
Some crops would not suffer from bee loss. Most grains are pollinated by wind rather than bees, so bread products would likely be unaffected. Because pigs are generally fed grains, they would also stick around. Similarly, chickens are often fed high-grain diets, so chicken and eggs are likely to stay on our shelves.
This means a diet heavy in breads, grains, pork, chicken, and eggs – not awful, but not the healthiest selection.
Save bees, save the world
There is undeniable evidence that suggests over-commercialisation of crops has contributed to the decline in bee populations.
As an individual, you may not be able to make sweeping policy changes, but you can help keep bees around. The best way is to replace some of that lost habitat in your garden – plant flowers and other bee-friendly plants, and never use pesticides. You can also do your bit to reduce your emissions – drive less, walk more, buy fewer plastic products. Finally, you can educate others, get the message out there, and even lobby the government to implement bee-friendly policies.
A world without bees isn’t a world anyone would want to live in, but many people have no idea how important they really are.