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 definitely think its possible for the US to have an urban beekeeping industry but we have some work to do before it will be globally successful. As a biology student, I have the understanding and knowledge to appreciate how important bees are for pollination, the environment, and biodiversity. But do a majority of people also have this understanding? From personal experience, I highly doubt the value of bees is well understood. I think the best way to get this project rolling on a global level is to educate people. Social media and mass media could play a major role in the transformation of people's ideas about bees. This may be ignorant but most people are afraid of bees because they could get stung or they are allergic. If the state governments offered an income property tax discount for those that install bee hives in the environment, more people may be inclined to have one of these urban beehives.
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      Eun Min

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      May 21 2013: I agree with you that many people do not know the value of the bees. Without honey bees, we do not have food! some people would not even care as you said.
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      May 21 2013: Thats a great idea. Economic incentives to those that are willing to have the beehives is a great way to get people to want to install them into their homes. Over all education to the general public about bees is lacking I agree, and I also think that targeting social media outlets to educate the public the importance of bees is probably the best way to get people to learn. More people use facebook and twitter everyday to get their news updates so if they saw something about the bees as an update or a tweet I think it would be a great way to target mass audience. As far as bee allergies are concerned, how are people treated for this? Is it an Epi-pen? I think reaching out to the people who have bee allergies is going to be the hardest people to convince about the importance of the urban bee farms.
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        May 22 2013: I agree, good post. The economic incentives seem like a great idea to get the ball rolling in changing the public's perception of bees, it will seem like a smart idea to keep bees around. Additionally, yes, viral marketing via social media about bees could convert people over to the "bee" side even faster than we might think!

        Yes, people allergic to bees typically carry epi-pens if they think they're at risk, or at least they're supposed to- according to webMD at least. However, webMD also said that half of the people who die from bee stings did not know they were allergic! That could be a problem, so perhaps if urban beehives become widespread, the public should be encouraged to test themselves for bee allergies, carry an epi-pen if needed, taught how to avoid stings, and just how to behave around bees in general.

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