Bees are dying. Here is why and what we need to do to save them by Connor Medland

Honeybees (wild and domestic) account for 80% of all pollination around the globe. Whilst grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, fruits, nuts, and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top one hundred human food crops are pollinated by bees. That constitutes 90% of the world’s nourishment and translates into one of every three bites of food you eat [i]. These immense statistics are matched by an immense economic impact. Managed honeybees are “the most economically important pollinator, contributing $19 billion annually to the U.S. economy.”[ii]

The phenomenon currently decimating bee populations is known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), first reported by a Pennsylvanian commercial bee farmer in the fall of 2006. Simply put, the majority of worker bees leave their colony to pollinate and never return. This leaves the colony with a small number of remaining nurse bees to take care of the queen and immature bees[iii]. The EPA and USDA have not discovered the cause behind CCD, but some studies showed that pesticide poisoning disoriented bees, so it seems possible that there could be a link between the two issues[iv]. Since CCD was recognized in 2006, commercial beekeepers in the U.S. have reported average annual losses of 29 to 45 percent per year, “more than double what is considered normal.”[v] Additionally, there has been a 90% decline of working bee colonies per hectare, a vital metric for crop health.[vi]

This population decline is extremely worrisome, as although pollination biologists “do not foresee imminent food system collapse without honeybees, we do know that agriculture would quickly become unrecognizable — and much more limited.”[vii] Furthermore, it puts more strain on an already overtaxed agriculture and food supply system, specifically on farmers. “For example, the cost of almond pollination has nearly tripled since colonies began collapsing in 2004, costing that industry over $83 million per year.”[viii]

CCD is not the only cause of this population decrease, although it may be linked to the other factors, these being: “Pesticides, habitat destruction, drought, nutrition deficit, air pollution, climate change, and pathogen loads.”[ix] The two most devastating factors are pesticide exposure and habitat loss.

Studies completed over the past several years have discovered that neonicotinoid pesticides are the “key catalysts behind this disturbing phenomenon, both because of their direct toxicity to bees and their indirect cascading effects.”[x] Furthermore, as stated by University of California apiculturist, Eric Mussen, biologists have identified a lethal “pesticide cocktail” in bee pollen, formed by 150 different chemical residues. These bees can be gravely poisoned whilst simply flying through “pesticide-contaminated planted dust in a recently planted corn field,” however, more ordinarily they consume contaminated pollen, nectar, and water at sublethal levels, which over time induces chronic poisoning and severe sickness. This sickness can lead to: “Compromised immune response, shortened adult life cycle, impaired memory and learning, reduced social communication (reduces foraging efficacy), disorientation, delayed larval development, disrupted brood cycle, and “Gut” microbe disruption leading to malnutrition.”[xi]

In the last four years, the chemical industry has spent $11.2 million on public relations in an attempt to divert blame from, fighting to prevent any change in pesticide policy. Chemical companies such as Bayer, Syngeta, BASF, Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto claim not to recognize the harm they are causing, even sponsoring studies that have been proven biased, as the business has been and continued to be extremely lucrative (Schwartz).

Honeybees population decrease can also be attributed to the destruction of their habitats, “as industrial agribusiness converts grasslands and forest into mono-culture farms, which are then contaminated with pesticides,” (Schwartz). This issue is far more complex, as it will require gradually adapting our currently broken agriculture system to see improvement.

The problem is exacerbated because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to permit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, despite unbiased studies proving the damage being done to bees by these chemicals. Additionally, the “U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed a report warning about the dangers of the bee colony collapse due to the use of these pesticides and insecticides, still no change has been made. The U.S. government, specifically the EPA needs to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, as well as preserving vital wild habitats and gradually restoring healthy agriculture[xii].

There are some things that you can do to help the bees, in addition to voting for officials who are likely to back environmental protection and management legislation. When planting your own garden, avoid using pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides and try to plant native and bee friendly plants. Furthermore, if you purchase plants make sure they have not been pre-treated with neonic pesticides[xiii]. Next, avoid planting laws (or at least make them smaller) as they do not include plants that are beneficial to bees and attempt to limit weeding as they are a nutrient source for bees, especially dandelions and clover[xiv]. Bees get most of their nectar from trees, so planting and taking care of trees in your garden provides a massive benefit for them. You can also help the bees by creating a bee bath using a small water container on a balcony so that they have something to drink in the summer heat. If you do so, make sure to put some stones and floating cork on the water so the bees don’t drown. Finally, buy local and raw honey from nearby beekeepers if at all possible[xv].

[i] “Save the Bees – Greenpeace USA,” accessed June 15, 2020,

[ii] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network,” accessed June 15, 2020,

[iii] “Colony Collapse Disorder | Biology | Britannica,” accessed June 15, 2020,

[iv] OCSPP US EPA, “Colony Collapse Disorder,” Overviews and Factsheets, US EPA, August 29, 2013,

[v] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”

[vi] “Save the Bees – Greenpeace USA.”

[vii] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”

[viii] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”

[ix] “Save the Bees – Greenpeace USA.”

[x] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”

[xi] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”

[xii] “Save the Bees – Greenpeace USA.”

[xiii] “10 Ways You Can Help Save the Bees,” New York Bee Sanctuary, accessed June 15, 2020,

[xiv] “How to Save the Bees – Easy Ways to Help the Bees Today,” The Honeybee Conservancy (blog), accessed June 15, 2020,

[xv] “Saving the Bees Is Good for Everyone!,” Heifer International, accessed June 15, 2020,

5 thoughts on “Bees are dying. Here is why and what we need to do to save them by Connor Medland

  1. Well explained Connor! I knew that bees were in trouble and that their losses would significantly impact current agriculture, but I had no idea how extensive it would be. I really liked your “one in three bites” example. It was really frustrating to learn that the USDA isn’t doing anything to ban pesticides or mitigate colony collapse disorder. I would definitely be interested in researching if there were current measures being taken by individual farmers, corporations, the government, or even a non-profit to try and combat these species losses. It’s really upsetting to read about how big agricultural companies can wave away the concerns of the public and continue to use and abuse neonicotinoid pesticides. I can’t believe they are still lying that it is harmless and rigging studies to distract from the actual problem.

    As I read your section about little actions individuals can take to help bees, I was reminded of a podcast I heard talking about “honey DNA.” Corporate, (in some cases) city, and residential beekeepers can purchase a kit to test their honey. The kit examines and identifies the sources of the honey, including the specific plants that they used. The kit is extremely good for taking measures to increase bee health and find out which flowers are receiving the most attention. Just wanted to that information out there! Here’s one of the manufacturing websites:

  2. I really enjoyed this post! It can be easy to forget about the role bees play in our daily lives, affecting “one of every three bites”, and simply regard them as being a nuisance, but they are critical to our agricultural system. I remember seeing a picture go around Twitter a couple years ago of what a typical supermarket would look like if we didn’t have bees as pollinators. Nearly all of the fresh produce was taken off the shelves and all that was left were canned foods and generally just items that lacked color and nutritional value. It’s sad to think that we could lose some of the diversity and freedom in food choices we currently have because of pesticide use and habitat exposure- two things we can control and mitigate. The current administration has only exacerbated this issue, but it’s critical that the EPA works in favor of environmental health and the public rather than in the interest of chemical companies seeking profit. If neonicotinoid pesticides are severely harming bees and resulting in all of the health issues listed in the blog, I can’t imagine they’re having positive effects on the rest of the environment and even humans who may come in contact with them. All this said, I really appreciated the mention of individual actions we can take to protect the bees. It can often be disheartening to learn about issues like these, but it’s important to remember that we can all choose small actions that collectively add up to greater effects.

  3. This post instantly stood out to me, as I have always heard about bees “disappearing” growing up, but there has never been much concrete evidence or explanation behind this phenomenon, let alone enough public awareness/media coverage. Connor, you successfully provided an explanation in significant detail and with research backing, which I personally needed to be aware of. Thank you for taking the time to focus on what is clearly a worrying and worsening issue.

    Your initial monetary valuation of the economic losses associated with ever-decreasing bee populations were shocking to say the least. If you were to show these stats (with the appropriate research backing), I am sure most anyone would realize the value of ensuring the protection of bees. However, it is clear that this problem exemplifies humans’ limited ability to envision the future and act accordingly while there is still time to prevent potentially disastrous outcomes. For me, this is reminiscent of the climate change situation. Both of these issues are considered “wicked” problems, with many influencing factors which limit the capacity to solve them by making it far harder to devise a solution. Crucially, more research should be done in to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) to discover its root causes. Your suggestions on how to make your garden bee-friendly were interesting, but I am curious as to what policy moves could be implemented to restore bee populations. Could designated wilderness areas in the USA be subject to bee colony restoration programs? Or would this lead to pockets of high and low bee population density across the country? I am unsure if this would be a huge issue, as long as populations are maintained and improved on.

    I found it pertinent the way that you describe how pesticide companies have reacted to the research on bee population disappearance. Their reaction mirrors that of oil companies when faced with climate change research. Do big companies like these truly have no regard for the damage that they quite possibly are doing? At what point is profit no longer worth it for these people?

  4. This was a really informative post to read, particularly the part on how the chemical industry has spent so much money to prevent changes in pesticide policy. It’s kind of ridiculous that so many companies would expend such a large portion of their resources to avoid dealing with the consequences of their actions. I really enjoyed how you emphasized the value that bees as pollinators hold for people because we tend to forget the economic value that they have for us. While there’s also a clear moral reasoning behind why humans should protect bees, there’s also a clear economic benefit that comes from protecting them as well because they support the agricultural industry so heavily. Learning about the multiple benefits that bees provide us are essential in convincing a wide range of people on the importance of bees.

    I find it ironic that money-driven policy makers and especially this administration are so quick to turn a blind eye to this issue when there is clear evidence that exploiting pesticides and endangering bees only hurts our economy. This is frustrating to hear so I definitely appreciated your input at the end explaining what individuals can do to help save bees. I think people have a misconception that environmentally-friendly action is always costly, but if you look at the steps you can take to protect bees, you would find that limiting weeding and putting out a bee bath are virtually costless actions that make a difference.

  5. Thanks so much for this interesting blog post Connor. The loss of bees and the impact of the loss of bees is something that feels so consistently mentioned today. At the same time, the issue of mitigation of this loss has been a daunting and confusing thought; it feels as though the issue has been described as an unexplainable and unfixable reality, presenting a depressing future.

    That being said, I can’t help but think of the potential for breeding bees to aid in agricultural production. The issue with agriculture today and with human population growth is this idea that as our populations continue to grow around the world, the need for easily accessible, fast growing, and quality produce is going to increase. This means increases in GMO’s, increases in innovative technologies for agricultural production, and potential increases in pesticides and protective measures for the growth of quality foods. In other words, I don’t necessarily see pesticides decreasing as agricultural needs increase. Although this wouldn’t be ideal, I could possibly see a future where bees are bred and housed specifically for pollination of farms. Bee farms already exist for the extraction of honey, why can’t people raise bees to act as pollinators? This could keep the species alive and ensure cropland is maintained and pollinated “naturally”.

    Overall, I really appreciate the advice you provide on how to keep bee populations going. I’ve been working with my family to plan plants that attract pollinators like bees (although we’ve gotten quite a few wasps). I definitely intend to create a bee bath in my back yard. I am curious if similar techniques could be used to maintain bee populations near or on agricultural lands and if the implementation of these sorts attractant techniques could promote bee populations in former bee habitat lost replaced by agricultural lands (habitat loss). None of my suggestions or thoughts get at the pesticide issue, but hope to circumvent this issue under the assumption that pesticides will be a crucial part of future agribusiness for a while to come.

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