TED Conversations

Carly Otis

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Can urban beehives increase food production?

It has been estimated that somewhere between fifty and ninety percent of the colonies of bees in US beekeeping operations have collapsed from a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This disorder is characterized by the disappearance of bees from a colony, but a lack of dead bodies to explain where they went. Some scientists believe that the culprit is a virus known as the Israeli acute paralysis virus (Cox-Foster et al, 2007). CCD is causing the collapse of bee colonies all over the world, reducing pollination rates, and causing essential food sources to become more scarce and more expensive. Noah Wilson-Rich, a scientist who studies bee diseases, has suggested an easy solution to the problem: urban beekeeping. In his Ted Talk “Every City Needs Healthy Honey Bees”, Wilson-Rich shares that bees are actually surviving better in urban environments than rural ones. He suggests that increasing the number of urban beehives, along with introducing green roofs and urban gardens, will allow food production to begin to increase (while also reducing the prices of many crops). In many cities in the United States it is illegal to have a beehive because people are allergic and/or afraid of bees, but in some countries urban beekeeping is thriving (Paris, France is a great example!). 

Do you think it is possible for the United States to develop an urban beekeeping industry? Would it have enough of a positive outcome to outweigh the downsides of urban beehives?



Closing Statement from Carly Otis

After much conversation, I think it is safe to say that most people think that urban beehives will have a positive influence on honey bee populations and biological diversity in urban environments. However, many people pointed out that this will not solve the issue of colony collapse disorder that is facing bees. Much more research needs to be done to determine what the true culprit of this phenomenon is (possibilities are neonicotinoid pesticides, varroa mites, Israeli acute paralysis virus, etc), but in the meanwhile urban beehives can help to maintain populations. It was mentioned a few times throughout the conversation that many people will be opposed to the introduction of urban beehives due to the rather large portion of our society that is afraid of and/or allergic to bees. To get around this, many people suggested that schools implement some sort of program to teach the public that honey bees are actually nothing to be afraid of, and that they will only harm you if you harm them. In addition, keeping beehives in places that are out of public view will help to alleviate some issues relating to neighborly disputes and accidental stings. One good technique is to place hives on rooftops, which will force bees to fly at a higher elevation and reduce the amount of bee-human interactions. Another issue with urban beekeeping is that there are much fewer food resources for bees in urban environments than rural ones, so it was decided that an urban beekeeping industry will only be successful in places where urban gardens and/or green roofs are also successful. Overall, it sounds like urban beekeeping has a good chance in the U.S., as long as we begin to educate people about honey bees and how critical they are for food production.

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    May 21 2013: I think that development of bee hives in urban environments is a great idea. However, I think it isn't the first goal we ought to be taking. I feel that it is more of an attempt at alleviate the symptoms of the problem rather than cure it. (Kind of like medicine amirite?)

    The problem is the alarming rate at which bee populations are declining. Obviously, this isn't due to some voodoo curse put upon the bees by an Aztec shaman. There is a real reason behind this occurrence and it is likely a man-made substance or product.

    The E.U. has moved forward on its ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonicotinoids "are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine." They have been used in the last decade as a potent insecticide that were selected due to their diminished toxicity in mammals.

    Still as with many chemicals, there a many side effects that were down-played by the companies pushing their production and sale. Recent studies have revealed that these pesticides pose a significant risk to honey bee populations and are likely the culprit behind the rapidly declining populations. The bee genus is cosmopolitan and bees play a HUGE role in pollinating plants worldwide. The loss of bees means a decreased ability for plants to cross pollinating, ultimately resulting in a decrease in biodiversity.

    What we need is for US departments that are in charge of pesticide regulation to implement strategies that are effective at minimizing risks to bees. The US EPA has declared a "reregistration" of these pesticides in the US. Essentially, they announced that pending a huge amount of paperwork and insufferable bureaucracy, something might happen. This is ultimately a futile strategy. The US government needs to ban the pesticides NOW and then reintroduce the ones that are deemed safe. We don't have any time to waste; the clock is ticking.

    I would imagine that the urban beekeeing operations might help but they do not eliminate the source of the problem.

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