Sunday, September 14, 2008

Big Buzziness

Britain is facing an agricultural crisis this year as an unusually wet summer has contributed to a nearly catastrophic collapse of honeybee populations. The story was reported this morning on the program Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4. As the Guardian newspaper reported in August, the nearly 30% of all British hives have been lost in 2008, due in part to bad weather conditions and to increased susceptibility to disease caused by environmental stress. This means not only a shortage of honey in the market—according the the Guardian report, market shelves will be bare of honey by Christmas—but also a crisis for fruit and vegetable farmers who rely on bees to pollinate their crops.

In 2006, a similar collapse struck the United States, which lost a quarter of its hives to what was called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). A variety of culprits—from global warming to genetically modified crops to increased cellphone use—were blamed for the collapse. In 2007, honey prices in the United States increased by 14% because of the loss of hives, and farmers were left scrambling—and paying much higher prices—to rent bee hives to pollinate their crops. (For a digest of news items about CCD in the United States, click here.)

Pollination by bees is an important environmental "service" that goes unaccounted for in calculations of gross domestic product, but contributes significantly to the health of the economy. In the UK, the government estimates that pollination contributes £165 million annually to the economy. In the United States, it was estimated in 2000 that pollination by bees contributed $15 billion annually to the GDP (source). Back in 1997, Janet Abramovitz contributed a chapter to the World Watch Institute's State of the World report, pointing out that wild pollinators, such as wild honeybees, pollinate 80% of the world's crop species. Shouldn't that essential contribution to agricultural production be included in economic calculations?

As an alternative to GDP, Abramovitz discusses the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which, in her words, "counts the positive contributions of unpaid household and community work...[and] subtracts for depletion of natural habitat, pollution costs, income distribution, and crime." Abramovitz goes on to argue for including, in addition, the economic value of the ecosystem—the income generated by natural "services" such as pollination—in indices of national wealth such as the GDP or GPI.

1 comment:

Louise said...

Today I did my bit by saving a bee from the clutches of one of my cats.

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