05/01/2007 09:19 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We Have 'Colony Collapse Disorder,' Too

We still don't understand what's behind the mysterious 'Colony Collapse Disorder' killing the planet's bees. Cellphones? Pesticides? A fungus or other infection? Drought, possibly brought on by global warming? Some combination of the above? Scientists don't know. Here's what we do know, and what Colony Collapse Disorder reminds us: We live in an interconnected ecology that is as beautiful and fragile as a dew-covered spiderweb in the morning sunlight. If we destroy it we destroy ourselves.

Our inability to solve the puzzle of Colony Collapse Disorder should be a humbling reminder of our vulnerability and our ignorance regarding this Earth, our one and only home. But it hasn't changed our behavior, even though we understand that the consequences may be fatal for us and all of humanity.

Interestingly, there is overwhelming consensus in the United States about what needs to be done. Here are the findings of a Harris poll conducted in 2005:

Three in four U.S. adults (74%) agree that "protecting the environment is so important that requirements and standards cannot be too high, and continuing environmental improvements must be made regardless of cost." In addition, a plurality of adults (47%) agree that "there is too little government regulation and involvement in the area of environmental protection." (emphases mine)

And we reached this consensus even before Al Gore's highly influential Inconvenient Truth was released.

Yet we fail to translate this consensus into political change even as the fragile planet "hangs in the balance," as the former Vice President famously put it. (Coincidentally, we ran into Mr. Gore - who we'd never met - at Mother's Restaurant in New Orleans last night.) We continue to produce 25% of the planet's carbon dioxide emissions, despite being only 4% of the population. America's failure to change places humanity at peril.

We're like Jack Benny in his old routine, when a thief sticks a gun in his ribs and says "Your money or your life." Like Mr. Benny, we're thinking ... we're thinking ...

Colony Collapse Disorder is characterized by a number of mysterious factors, including the as yet unexplainable absence of an experienced workforce within the hive. Politically, we seem to be suffering from the same mysterious absence or productive, experienced workers - despite the welcome efforts of leaders like Mr. Gore and Sen. John Kerry.

Given what we know, any politician who supports our government's current policies should not only be unelectable, but should be a pariah. Yet, despite the Congressional elections of 2006, that isn't the case. There should be broad consensus across both parties about the urgency of the problem, but there isn't. What needs to change?

Poet/environmentalist Gary Snyder believes we need "a sense of place" in order to act in the environment's best interest. Snyder feels we need a new language that grounds us in geography and time. But the opposite is happening. More and more people are spending large amounts of time in synthetic spaces like Second Life, while the physical environment around us continues to decline.

American politicians are creating virtual versions of themselves and campaigning in the artificial reality of Second Life. And now political dirty tricks and vandalism have started happening there, too, according to one report.

What better metaphor for our condition than that?

Threats to humanity's existence are real. The interconnectedness of life on this planet is not a New Age fantasy, but a concrete reality that threatens every one of us. Someday, hopefully soon, we'll solve the mystery of the bees. Our difficulty solving the puzzle should, however, remind us how little we know and how large the stakes are.

Will we find the will to change in time? Nobody knows. That's our Colony Collapse Disorder, and it's more challenging and mysterious than the one facing the bees.

A Night Light


The Sentinel Effect: Healthcare Blog

RJ Eskow at the Huffington Post