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?

http://www.ted.com/talks/noah_wilson_rich_every_city_needs_healthy_honey_bees.html
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/318/5848/283.full

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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 22 2013: I love the idea of urban beehives and green roofs and gardens. However, I feel that for the urban beehive idea to work the rooftop garden idea would need to be become more common. I just unsure if the bees would be able to survive in the densely populated urban areas due to the lack of plants.
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      May 22 2013: I don't believe the proposal is for rooftop gardens. I would think that rooftops would be too small and too isolated to support healthy bee populations. Instead, I believe it would be more effective to place these colonies in parks and the like, somewhere where the bees can thrive, and where plants are abundant.
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        Jon Cox

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        May 22 2013: I think the idea behind rooftop beehives is that it keeps them a little more protected and out of the way. Putting them on skyscrapers wouldn't be a good plan, of course, but on small buildings near an ample food supply it makes great sense. Having the hive up and out of sight would reduce the chances of vandalism to the hive and potential injury to humans. Honeybees naturally nest way up in trees because it is safer up there and they happily fly down to find nectar. Rooftop gardens alone probably couldn't sustain them but they are free to fly around and search out additional food.
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      May 22 2013: Not that rooftop gardens are needed to sustain urban beekeeping - but did you see this TED Conversation led by UO students last year on rooftop gardening? http://www.ted.com/conversations/11577/if_green_roofs_were_mandatory.html
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        May 22 2013: Wow mandatory green roofs! Never heard of that. Apparently reduces summer heating costs by about 75%. Pretty cool! Way to go Toronto and Copenhagen. Hopefully we see some awesome results.

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