Posted by Rojas @ 11:01 am on April 15th 2007

Bee afraid

Some of the most hilarious congressional testimony of the past thirty years has come from the lobbying organizations associated with American beekeepers. If the quinennial farm bill is the Olympics of Pork, then these boys are the gold medal winners. Every five years, we get to hear how the honey subsidy is the only thing preventing the complete die-off of all agriculture in America, as the domesticated bee population is responsible for most crop pollination, and gosh darn it, the lil’ buggers can’t make it on their own. I’m not exaggerating; the bee lobby’s rhetoric, particularly in the mid-1980s, really has included apocalyptic claims of this sort. The University of Kansas debate team achieved significant competitive success during that time period using positions built around the wilder claims of honey-subsidy enthusiasts.

As it turned out, when Congress abolished the honey subsidy in the mid-1990s, we managed somehow to avert the threat of continental famine. Nonetheless, the program somehow found its way back into the agricultural budget in 2002, and growers’ hives have been the domain of “welfare queens” ever since. This has, inevitably, sparked innumerable articles in the conservative press featuring colorful metaphors about “stinging” the taxpayers.

America has been abuzz over bee-related threats for the better part of the last fifty years. In the 1970s, the crisis du jour was the prospect of a hostile takeover by Africanized “killer bees” swarming up over the Mexican border, stinging toddlers and stealing jobs from hardworking American bees. As it turned out, the infestation has moved a great deal more slowly than the fearmongers predicted, and has yet to penetrate the US to any substantial degree. Nonetheless, the threat of the insect hordes was significant enough in the public consciousness to spark both a bestselling novel and several really horrendous made-for-TV movies. I dimly recall that one of them featured a swarming attack on a nuclear power plant that resulted somehow in an atomic explosion–the perfect storm of 1970s hysteria.

I understand, at a personal level, the public’s obsession with the black-and-yellow peril. After having been stung repeatedly as a young child, I developed an obsessive fear of the little bastards that is still with me to some degree today. My younger brother, by contrast, went through a strange phase where he felt compelled to walk up to honeybees and pet them on their backs. No, there’s no punchline coming; he actually made a conscious decision to engage in this course of behavior. To this day I have yet to hear a sane explanation.

Today, however, we have another catastrophe upon the wind–the inexplicable die-off of bees and other crop pollinators, in huge numbers, for no clearly discernible reason. Naturally, beekeepers themselves are especially concerned about this epidemic of “colony collapse disorder”, wherein bees apparently just leave the hive, get lost, and wander off and die somewhere.

One of the possible causes identified by environmentalists is, of course, global warming, because global warming causes everything from my aunt’s gout to the performance of the Kansas City Royals. Other hypothetical triggers might include sunspots; in continental Europe, they naturally perceive a link to genetic modification of crops, as this is their standby excuse for everything bad that can’t be rationally blamed on either global warming or George Bush.

There’s a lot of conflicting data. The only thing that we can be sure of is that we’re all going to die, and that bees are to blame. This is the way the world ends; neither with a bang nor with a whimper, but with a fading buzz.

EDIT: Andrew Sullivan and I seem to be thinking alike this morning…but he’s a full four minutes behind me in putting up his post, so I WIN. In any case, The Independent of London suggests that maybe we should blame cell phones.

* The graphic and many of the links in this post, are stolen from a discussion board that Adam, Brad and I frequent. This is not plagiarism, somehow.


  1. Great stuff.

    I hope the gmail server can cope with the horde of angry honey-loving internets we are doubtless going to receive.

    PS: Your aunt’s gout is caused by her record-breaking port consumption. But Global Warming made her do it.

    Comment by Adam — 4/15/2007 @ 12:29 pm

  2. There is an article linked by way of the Huffington Post and located at the International Herald Tribune. The article puts the blame on cell phone radiation.

    Comment by Elderta — 4/15/2007 @ 1:28 pm

  3. We are facing a future without apple and blueberry almond crunch.

    Comment by Adam — 4/15/2007 @ 3:50 pm

  4. I will never understand subsidies.

    Comment by weltschmerz — 5/21/2007 @ 4:05 pm

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