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 general public has a negative view on bees and i think that this opinion will be hard to change anytime soon. By educating children at a young age about the importance of bees and bee keeping we can encourage communities to create bee gardens or make artificial bee hives. Recycling really took off after it was introduced in classrooms and kids were encouraged to participate, children educate there parents.

    I thought that this was a cool article and project that is being worked on. That brings up the question should we be focused on saving the bees or on technology to replace bees? Researchers at Harvard University have created a robotic bee, called the RoboBee. The machines design was inspired by the biology of a fly, with two wafer-tin wings that flap 120 times per second and is no bigger then a penny. This robot can fly using piezoelectric actuators. The “insect” is pre programed with a flight pattern so that it knows where to fly. While these robots have extremely small parts the researchers have found away to produce the parts in mass quality. The researchers hope that one day the RoboBee will be able to easily pollinate crop fields and conduct search and rescues missions.

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      May 22 2013: I agreed with you we need more education about bees and their behaviors to youth. I did not get any education about bees as a child. I still have phobia towards bees and not really sure about putting honeybee hives into urban areas because of the fear of general public (include myself). I think we need more research do be done about the causes of CCD. Find out the real problems then we will have more correct solutions to target the problems. As many post and comments mention before, the majority concerned is food and fruit production because some fruit only got pollinated by bees or specific kind of bees.

      The article you found on Sciencedaily is so interesting!! If we scale up the RoboBee maybe we could use it as temporary at massive fruit farms that are suffering from CCD meanwhile do more research about the cause of CCD.
      One interesting idea came up in my mind is that we could design a bee hives with solar panels and put them on building green roof. More on-site energy in urban and created a habitat for biodiversity in urban area also.
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      May 22 2013: I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of a "RoboBee". While it sounds like a really cool gadget, it could have some negative effects for actual bees. For example, if farmers start using them and they end up being a huge success, then bees will be out of a job and will simply be a nuisance for the workers, making the workers more inclined to kill them.
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        May 22 2013: I had the same misgivings about the possibilities of mass-utilization of robotic bees, but they are a cool invention. I doubt they would be cost effective to use as a substitute for biological bees in the near future, though.

        I also completely agree about education being the key to changing societies' view of bees, especially in children, but it would be necessary for adults as well if urban beehives are going to become a reality. Many peoples' fear of bees seems to be the biggest roadblock in that plan, and since it may help a population already stressed by CCD, letting people of all ages know the benefits of bees and the danger they (bees) could be in would be crucial.

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