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: The views of our society have this negative notion that bees are dangerous, and that they are out to get us. Many people are scared to get stung by bees because they might be allergic. I wonder how many people actually are, or if they are just scared of the hype. Urban beekeeping gets a large amount of persecution due to these fears. I think that we need to take big steps in changing society's views about bees before we can make real progress with an urban beekeeping industry.

    I think that this needs to be emphasized in the coming years, because of their amazing benefits to urban farming and plant life in urban communities. The bees are the best pollinators we have, and if we use them appropriately they can help make cities much more self-sustainable. A program or better learning in schools can help raise awareness and lessen the negative impacts of bees.
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      May 21 2013: I completely agree. There is a prevalent social stigma that if you get too close to a bee it will will sting you. Many people forget that this in only true in the case of the African killer bee populations. Others might think of a wasp or hornet as an equal to a bee, but in reality are quite different with different functions and attitudes. Honey bees are docile and non-aggressive.
      When I took biology in high school we never even addressed pollination biology. At least not beyond the parts of a model flower. I think we should include a section in all general biology classes that teaches about pollinators. Bees, moths, beetles, butterflies, hummingbirds, etc.
      I also think it would be a great idea to push for popularization of rooftop gardens. Imagine if every building in Manhattan had a rooftop garden that used the principles of urban farming. The agriculture business could really be changed by this on multiple levels.
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        May 22 2013: I like the idea of requiring schools to include pollination in their curricula! I think a lot of schools actually do this already, but who's to say how much they emphasize it's crucial role in our day-to-day lives. I would like to see schools implementing a program that teaches their students about where all of their food comes from and how the food industry works. I think that it's truly important to know and understand how we get our food, otherwise it can seem more like a commodity rather than a necessity and a basic human right.
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      May 22 2013: HI Patrick,

      Did you do any digging around to see if there has been research done on public fear associated with bees and beekeeping? My bet is that someone has studied this.

      I did a 5 minute search and came up with this: http://www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(08)00086-X/abstract

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