THE BLOG
01/24/2013 03:44 pm ET Updated Mar 26, 2013

Neonictinoids and Climate Change - Lethal for Bees

In May 2009 my publisher (Don Gorman) asked me to write The Incomparable Honeybee. In October of that year it was in bookstores and I begun to write earnestly about Earth's dying bees.

Scientists believe there's as many as 40,000 species of bees yet we've only found about half of them. Bees pollinate the lion's share of 235,000 flowering plants on the globe. As we loose habitat we loose so many critters and plants that have yet to be discovered. Setting aside as much wild-lands as possible is of paramount importance - not just for Nature: rather for human survival in the 21st century.

Since the early 2000s field biologists (including myself) have observed massive honey-, stingless-, bumble- and solitary-bee die offs, globally. In particular, one species Apis mellifera or Italian honeybees were conscripted about 150 years ago to pollinate most of the food we eat, the cotton we wear, 2.2 billion pounds of honey we eat annually, 44 million pounds of beeswax we use annually and potent medicines that Apis therapy offers millions of humans pain-relief from rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and Multiple Sclerosis.

In the past 4 years alone a quarter of a trillion honeybees have died, prematurely. A number of factors have collided including mites, bacteria, fungus, bee husbandry, neonictinoids and climate change. The latter two are particular glaring; government regulatory bodies have the power to halt neonictinoids and take immediate corrective action against climate change.

Neonictinoids are a neuro-active insecticide fashioned after nicotine; they poison nerves and specifically prevent acetylcholine from enabling neurons to communicate with each other and with muscle tissue. Neonictinoids were targeted to kill leaf-sucking insects, but they also painfully kill bees. In humans for instance, the neonictinoid-chemicals would trigger symptoms mimicking Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

The Systemic Insecticides: A Disaster in the Making by Dr. Henk Tennekes has conclusively shown that neonictinoids persist in European soils and waterways for years. Neonictinoids are known to kill beneficial soil organisms like springtails, beetles and earthworms. Robbing the soil of beneficial fauna reduces its ability to decompose leaf litter and other organic matter - it alters the process of recycling nutrients, essentially impoverishing the soil.

This, in turn, reverberates throughout entire ecosystems. For instance, Western European populations of common grassland feeding birds rely on springtails, beetles and earthworms for their sustenance, they have dramatically declined. Populations of their avian predators like Eurasian goshawks and northern goshawks have likewise fallen, significantly. Neonictinoids are killing the web of life.

In 2012 British, French and American researchers corroborated Tennekes findings that neonictinoids impair honey- and bumble-bees from locating their hives instead they wind up destitute, shivering to death. A recent 2013 European study again has come to these startling conclusions.

Neonictinoids are a multi-billion dollar industry that accounts for 25 percent of the global insecticides applied each year; that is, 1.25 billion pounds of deleterious neonictinoids that humans are deliberately adding into the biosphere, annually.

By the way, the Xerces Society found that products approved for home and garden may be 120 times higher in neonictinoids than those approved for agricultural crops.

The European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) latest report found that neonictinoids pose a serious threat to worldwide bee populations -- compromising Earth's biosphere.

Clearly, it is time for the EPA to review all neonictinoids with an independent science team similarly to what Australia has embarked upon. It is incongruous to deliberately exterminate wild and domesticated bees when our burgeoning 7 billion population relies lock, stock, and barrel on their very existence.

Climate change is bringing vicious droughts to America, Australia and elsewhere around the globe. Drought has brought the mighty Mississippi River - a $180 billion super transportation 8-lane highway down to a one-lane dirt trail. At immediate risk are 8,000 jobs, $54 million in wages and benefits and 7.2 million tons of commodities worth $2.8 billion.

Drought has thrown the state of Victoria, Australia, into an epic honey crisis. It's the middle of summer, a peak time for honey production, and there's NO honey in hives. Instead, beekeepers are having to hand-feed bees to keep them alive. Intense and unimaginable drought has discombobulated plants. No flowers, no honey. It's easily the worst honey season in a half century.

Climate change is not just about drought. Record missing Arctic sea ice from the summer of 2012 disrupted the polar jet stream bringing it farther south than normal causing biblical flooding to the UK this past summer (2012). UK plants didn't flower, bees stayed in their hives, shivered and starved to death. The UK's honey production was down 72 percent from 2011. Flooding decimated home grown UK vegetables and fruit trees didn't bare fruits.

Climate disruption is just beginning to bite into global food security.

We have a very narrow window as a species to take corrective action. A ratified worldwide carbon tax is requisite by 2016 to reduce by 5 percent each year (until 2036) more than 85 million metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted daily. President Obama understands the alacrity of climate change and will provide global leadership to address this - the most pressing issue in the history of our species.

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist and co-author with Chris Maser on their forthcoming book Life, The Wonder of it All.