This sudden, mysterious disappearance of honeybees is an unnerving reminder that, despite all our scientific and technological know-how, we can still be vastly ignorant of how the world around us works.
From the Express-News today:
Beekeepers in 24 states have reported similar mysterious losses in a national affliction that could dramatically reduce fruit and vegetable crops and decimate honey production across the nation.
"This is what we lost last winter," Park said as he drove past stacks of empty brown pallets on his 25-acre ranch in Moore. "Each of these once held a hive. These should be 1,200 hives."
"The bees are not coming back to the hives," said Randy Johnson, a Paris-area beekeeper who also has lost half his hives. "They are just dwindling away to nothing. We don't know where they are at or what is happening to them."
Beekeepers don't even know how widespread the problem is. A hastily assembled coalition of scientists and industry representatives is scrambling now to gather basic information from a small industry of about 2,000 beekeepers around the U.S.
The coalition has given the syndrome a label — colony collapse disorder — but barely has begun to study what's wrong.
That we not only could not anticipate this, but have no idea why it is happening well into the phenomenon exposes our ignorance of so much of the vast complications of natural systems. It is this ignorance that troubles me most about our species' impact on this planet.
For instance, our knowledge is good enough to tell that we are messing with Earth's climate system in a way that will inevitably lead to significantly more heat being retained. And we have good ideas of some general impacts, such as rising sea level, disrupted weather patterns, and more. But we have little clue what the detailed impacts will be, and thus little ability to head off the worst effects by planning for them.
Apparently we humans have trouble even anticipating relatively simple, small-scale effects of our impact on the land. Blasting and bulldozing vast amounts of land, piling the rotting remnants of the trees into huge piles on top of land that feeds a critical aquifer -- the Helotes mulch fire was an accident waiting to happen. Yet we couldn't even prevent that.
We need to get smarter in a hurry.