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 beekeeping is such an amazing skill to have, and I also tend to think of it as a difficult skill to have. This may be because I have never been stung by a bee and have been trying to avoid bees for fear that I may be allergic to them. However, the more I've learned about bees the more I think of beekeeping as any other acquired skill; you've got to learn the ins and outs of how to do it just like anything else. So with that said I really like the idea of urban beekeeping. I don't know if I would personally do it, but there are a lot of people out there who may really like bees but never thought it was possible to beekeep in urban areas. If it can be beneficial for pollination rates and increasing certain food sources, then it may be able to remove some of the negative stigma that surrounds bees.
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      May 21 2013: This is exactly the kind of change in our cultural view that we need. There seems to be a lot of people in the world that are afraid of bees, and this is because of a lack of understanding what they do for us. If we could change this view it would be a huge first step to accepting beehives in urban areas.
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        May 22 2013: There's a lack of understanding what they do for us and also people are afraid of wasps and hornets.When the conversation of bees comes up those are the first ones that come to mind. I think that once people start to understand that honey bees are docile creatures unlike their relatives than they'll lessen their fear of them. It all starts with education.
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          May 22 2013: I think most people have a little background knowledge in the sense that they know bees pollinate flowers. I don't think people know what a huge importance this is because pollen is also associated with allergies, which people also hate. I agree with both of you that some kind of further awareness of just how important pollination by bees is needed. We are using up practically every square inch of usable land for population development. Bees no longer pollinate mostly in woodlands away from the general public, they pollinate right in our backyards. Education is key!

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