This blog features interests, issues and the exploration of wellness. In particular, my inspirational field of aromatherapy and its applications for wellness, supportive self-healing, and beauty. The field is vast. It includes chemistry, botany, anatomy and physiology, psychology, ecology, and biology as a few examples. What is most profound about aromatherapy, to me, is how plant life serves as the backbone of human life. Aromatherapy has its foundation in plant life. It is the science of organic essences derived from plants and how, as essential oils i.e., the distilled end products of plants, beneficial results that support improved physical and emotional health can be obtained by its appropriate use.
We need plants. We depend upon them as our source of food, as molecular agents that provide the basis for medicine, and from my vantage point for beauty and to enliven our existence. I haven’t given due credit to a small creature that is so closely linked to the existence of plants that without this creature, the honeybee, we can expect that life, as we know it, will be irreparably changed.
Last week, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) provided an alert to the world that honey bee colonies are declining globally. Some may recall hearing about how honey bees, in particular, were disappearing in the mid-2000s. Most of that news was local. Honey bee farmers were being startled to find that their bees were gone! They didn’t have to smoke them out– it seems that they had just taken off. Gone without a trace. I, too, would have been alarmed!
The disappearance of honey bees is not local. It is a disturbing global issue with implications for severe consequences that too few know about. In some parts of the world the decline is almost 85%. The decline really dates back to the mid 1960s in the Northern Hemisphere i.e., North America and parts of Europe. The disappearance of honey bees has escalated significantly in the past decade. Honey bees are now declining in China and Japan and there are some first signs of disappearances occurring in Africa. We were worried not so long ago about predictions of “Killer Bees” from Africa that might spread to other parts of the world. The reality, now, may be that bees are instead being killed all around the world.
I associate bees with “stings.” Any bee doesn’t have to worry about me being around for long– I will quietly disappear as soon as possible! Honestly, bees make me nervous. What I have learned about honey bees since reading the United Nations report makes me want to say a prayer for every honey bee that I see from now on. Truth is, I don’t see many bees anymore. Think about it. Do you? Dependent upon where you live, the answers will vary I am sure.
Commercial bee keepers that produce delicious honey from all kinds of flowering plants via the work of honey bees are among those most profoundly impacted thus far. Honey, a powerfully healing liquid essence produced solely by honey bees would be a tremendous loss were it to disappear! Honey provides energy with its hoard of vitamins and minerals. Its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties make it an effective wound dressing. It is a nectar, a sweet gift straight from an industrious creature and a beautiful flower. How could it not be good for you?
Beekeepers know this issue of disappearing honey bees as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Bee hives that were once thriving decompensate to nothing as bees either die or take off without a trace. CCD was identified by a set of distinctive characteristics, including the absence of dead bees in or near the colony and the presence of abundant brood, honey, and pollen despite vastly reduced numbers of adult workers! The condition of the hive change drastically as a result. Sources verify that commercial honey bee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables! The honeybee that is “managed” as a pollinator in the US is the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, and contributes more than $14 billion to agriculture annually. Since 2006, the declines that have been attributed to CCD in the US have been huge.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America have studied this issue and stated that “pathogens and other environmental stresses, including pesticides, have been linked to CCD, but a causal relationship has not yet been demonstrated.” Yet, studies of the guts of bees have narrowed it down to genetic variables that have highlighted the existence of viruses and pesticides, without question. Interestingly, were you to read the article (the link* is provided below) the use of the term “expression” throughout it, be it described as “elevated” or as a “trend,” or the lack thereof, is where this study underscores its findings. A sentence from the study makes a particularly important point i.e. “Microarray analysis revealed unusual ribosomal RNA fragments that were conspicuously more abundant in the guts of CCD bees.” In terms more easily understood, RNA i.e., ribonucleic acid is one of the three major macromolecules (along with DNA and proteins) that are essential for all known forms of life. If there was something “unusual” about it, does that mean that it has been changed? If there is more of something changed than before, and the result is death, why isn’t there a definitive determination about the cause? Why isn’t this study’s results news and sufficient follow-up studies in progress?
The culprit involved in what is happening to honey bees, albeit there is not just one, involves a number of factors. Research (and reasoning) has indicated pesticides as mentioned earlier, air pollution, a lethal pinhead-sized parasite that only affects bee species in the northern hemisphere, mismanagement of the countryside, the loss of flowering plants and a decline in beekeepers in Europe. If there is anything I associate bees with besides stinging and honey, it is flowers. Flowers not only beautify our outdoor and indoor environments by their appearance, they also produce molecules containing scents that are an expression of the essential oils within their petals, leaves and more. These molecules and scents are essential for bees as vital “signals” that easily travel in the air. Pollutants from car exhaust, industrial operation facilities, trains, planes, etc., break apart and interfere with the open air availability of recognizable fragrance molecules. Pollutants destroy their smell and distort the flower’s signal that bees otherwise understand. Bees depend upon these signals to find flowers for food and to pollinate them. Speaking personally, I can not imagine a world without flowers and their aromatic signatures.
The use of pesticides in the US, and more so throughout the world has risen with the increase of multinational, mega-commerce in a global economy. Earlier this year, a leaked document revealed that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knowingly approved a bee-killing pesticide known as clothianidin in 1993. Pesticides, manufactured in many parts of the world yet owned by conglomerates with base operations in the US and Europe have been very successful in introducing their products around the globe. Further, pesticides travel in the air. The current UN report states the highly toxic chemicals in the insecticides, collectively known as neonicotinoids, can cause loss of the sense of direction and memory on which bees rely to find food. How is that happening? Seeds are being coated in systemic insecticides that spread throughout the plant, from the roots to the flowers and into the nectar and pollen. Scents that could travel more than 800m in the 1800s now reach less than 200m from a plant. Honey bees have been fighting a losing battle, as we now see evidenced in the alarming results, for almost two decades!
In the US, we have the additional existence of genetically modified plants. Do you think bees know the real thing from a manufactured plant product wherein its genetic composition has been changed? I do. Plants communicate who and what they are by their very unique essences! From the soil, via the rain and greeting the sun… a true plant is a plant is a plant. Change it genetically, through synthesis and such that deconstructs and converts the origin of a plant to a combination of organic and inorganic molecules that are not innate to that plant might fool the average human being but it appears that it does not fool honey bees. As concerned as I am about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in plants related to my practice of aromatherapy and also avoid them like the plague in food since research has not convinced me that my body will readily adapt to them without some future problem related to them, I can only wonder how confused or distraught honey bees are. GMOs are banned in Europe so my explanation may not hold for why honey bees are disappearing there, while I am sure that pesticides are used there.
It seems that we, human beings, aren’t thoroughly thinking through how some of the changes we attribute to advances in science pose such potential for dramatically negative consequences on the horizon. Sure, it all sounds great when announced with fanfare as bells clang to some fantastic gain on the stock market. It, and many of us by it, provide the capital for such technological or scientific so-called advances. In real-life terms, some of these are changes may end up being more horrific than scientific. When we hear about the billions being earned by large corporations that have developed designer seeds that only germinate once, have social scientist thought through the impact on a larger scale? If one were to ask a family member of someone, in India, who has committed suicide because he could not maintain his farm as a source of livelihood to support his family, about the impact of genetic seeds you would receive a very anguished answer. Some would argue that the calculations involved in the perpetuation of such creations and designs have concluded that the end i.e., earning the billions, “justifies” the means. Are we, thinking beings, not then intentionally contributing to our own destruction? It may be someone else in some distant land first, but eventually the problem, created with heads turned, will come home. I am convinced that actions that originate from negative intentions will result in negative outcomes. It si just a matter of time. While billions are being made, are we not wreaking havoc on the very food chain upon which the world’s populations survive? My little friends, as I truly think of them now– honeybees, are our designed by nature organic pollinators (for those with a spiritual resonance– by The Almighty and Highest Creator). Honey bees live a life of purpose. They pollinate plants that we, humans, and other animals, exist upon. The hive is organized and a study in cooperation. The Queen Bee is a magnificent leader! I don’t think it could ever be said that there were any dumb bees, who unlike humans, do not have the opportunity to look in a mirror.
Without honey bees, we have the prospect of future famine! Imagine that! As an aromatherapist and lover of all kinds of plants that we, humans, share a kinship and reliance upon, I am flabbergasted by the insensitivity of a media that refrains from making known, widely, through investigative journalism or some breaking news story, what is getting attention in other parts of the world (and discussed around some dinner tables). If such were to occur, perhaps people’s awareness will be elevated and perhaps we, cooperatively, collectively and individually can each make some effort to save the honey bees. Or, is it too far gone since even the scientists cannot figure it out … or they aren’t telling the whole truth?
Honey bees communicate with each other. Their act of disappearing is a communication to the world. Are we listening? Are we paying attention? Do you know that honey bees alert other honey bees about danger? That’s right! They transmit signals to one another to either not approach i.e., “STOP” from entering a dangerous area when foraging for food and pollinating, or to “follow me” as communicated by the scout bee. Any honey bee can communicate the STOP signal, naturally.
We should all learn something from the little honey bee. It will be a different world without them. I don’t think it will be pretty, whatever follows, if we don’t take heed to this United Nations alert. It appears to be a very urgent matter!
Source: UN report says world’s food stocks at risk as bee colonies dying out http://www.globaldialoguefoundation.org/files/ENV.COMM.2011-mar.unreportsays.pdf
Source: *Changes in transcript abundance relating to colony collapse disorder in honey bees (Apis mellifera) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2736458/
Source: Biologist Discovers ‘Stop’ Signal in Honey Bee Communication http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100211121800.htm