Have you heard the news? In just the last ten years or so, the world’s honeybee population has taken a huge dive-and nobody seems to know why. I found this out myself recently by reading an article called “Bees Feel the Sting: The buzz on the worldwide decline in honeybee populations,” which appeared as the lead story in the September/October 2011 issue of Science Illustrated. According to this article, a group of French biologists is attaching tiny microchips to honeybees to track their daily behavior patterns in an effort to learn what’s killing them. Suspected causes of the unprecedented global honeybee dieoff include pests, predators, disease, pesticide sprays, climate change, and mobile phones. One single factor can be enough to do the bees in, as researcher Cedric Alaux of the Laboratoire Biologie et Protection de l’abeille admitted to Science Illustrated: “We cannot rule out that there is one single factor behind it all that influences the bees in a negative way.”
To identify that factor, the key question we should ask is: What on earth has changed so drastically in the last ten years that would cause billions of honeybees to perish? There has been no drastic change in nature or the global environment that can adequately explain this occurrence. Honeybee pests and predators have been around for centuries, and although their numbers have fluctuated, their populations have not exploded recently as far as I know. Diseases have similarly come and gone. Our climate has been changing recently, but not so drastically or in such a short time period as to explain the mass disappearance of a single insect species.
Thus we can reasonably rule out any natural causes for the world’s honeybee population plunge, and it makes sense to look for the culprit among possible artificial (i.e. manmade) causes. Although pesticide sprays have been in use for decades, their worldwide use has not increased dramatically in recent years; if anything, it has declined as the popularity of organic farming continues to grow.
The only other suspected manmade cause of the honeybees’ death is mobile phones (i.e. cell phones)-or, more precisely, the radio waves emitted by cell phones. Here we’re on to something, because in the last ten years the world’s use of cellular telephones has exploded dramatically, and an ever-growing global network of transmitter towers established to meet this demand now continuously fills much of the Earth’s air with a thick invisible web of electromagnetic radiation. Moreover, the negative effects of this artificial radiation on living organisms are already well known and documented by scientists. (Take, for example, the well-established link between increased cell phone use and increased rates of human brain cancer.) Furthermore, the steepest declines in honeybee populations have been observed in the United States and Europe-where use of mobile phones is greater than anywhere else in the world.
Nothing matches the worldwide decline in honeybee population like the worldwide increase in cellular telephone transmissions during the same time frame. Thus, it is reasonable to draw a link between the two and theorize that the former is the main cause of the latter.
But, some might say, the basis for this supposed theory is rather circumstantial. Is there any real, convincing evidence for it? Yes, there is. In a study conducted last year, researchers at Panjab University in Chandigarh, India fitted cell phones to a beehive and activated them twice a day for 15 minutes each. Within three months, honey production had ceased, the queen laid half as many eggs, and the hive population had fallen significantly.
But the effect of mobile phone towers on bees is even more drastic than that of individual phones. Barbara Hughes, a columnist for the Catholic Virginian who has been visiting the Franciscan monastery at Mission San Luis Rey in California, recently visited a Benedictine abbey near the mission. She related the following in the August 22, 2011 edition of the paper:
One of the monks, who has been a bee keeper at the Abbey for 40 years, explained how until numerous cell phone towers were constructed on the back of their property, he had been collecting 100 gallons of honey a week.
But as the use of cell phones expanded, all of his bees died within a few weeks until he discovered a small area near the base of the hill where he could not get cell phone service. Once he moved his hives to that particular area, the bees once again began to thrive and reproduce.
This anecdote is a graphic example of the danger that mobile phone radiation poses to honeybees. The radiation may be interfering with the bees’ built-in navigational systems, disorienting them and preventing them from finding their way back to their hives, as many researchers think. Or it may be killing them in a more direct fashion. However it works, it’s clear that radio waves from cell phones are lethal to bees. Additional future studies will continue to confirm and bear this out.
The typical cell phone transmitter tower is a veritable beehive of electromagnetic activity. At any given moment it can be sending and receiving the radio transmissions of 10 to 25 different phone calls. A whole row of transmitter towers can process thousands of calls simultaneously. Try to imagine what all the radio waves from all the towers just in your local area would look like, filling the air all around you. If we had the capability to see radio waves, we would be blown away. Thus cell phone towers pose a much more serious threat to living organisms than individual phones because they emit much more concentrated doses of radiation. When we consider that the radiation of a single mobile phone can cause brain cancer in a human being at an early age, it’s not difficult to imagine the deadly effect that thousands of times that radiation would have on a much smaller living creature.
In fact, the gradual, slight decline in world honeybee populations observed over the course of the twentieth century (which preceded the current precipitous decline) was probably due to the gradual establishment of radio stations and transmitters all over the world. Moreover, it is possible that radio waves crisscrossing our atmosphere from Earth-orbiting communications satellites as well as from more recently developed GPS satellites, satellite radio systems, and especially wireless Internet systems, all play minor contributing roles in the current honeybee population crisis. The lesson to be learned from this is that radio waves kill bees–and the world’s more than five billion mobile telephones combined generate more artificial radio emissions by far than all other currently operating high-tech inventions on Earth put together. See “List of countries by number of cell phones in use,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_number_of_mobile_phones_in_use
The typical modern handheld cell phone is a staple of globalized twenty-first century life-and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s a technological wonder, a marvel of electronic miniaturization and digital engineering, and a powerful tool of communication and entertainment whose convenience can’t be beat. With it we can not only send and receive calls but also text messages and emails; we can take pictures, make audio recordings, store textual information, listen to music, access the Internet (and all that that entails), watch videos, read e-books, play games-the capabilities are endless. Cell phones allow us to stay connected like nothing else. Who ever thought this nifty little multi-purpose gadget would pose a threat to the environment?
It’s unfortunate, but true: Within just the last ten years, the increasingly widespread and heavy global use of these handy devices has placed the world’s honeybee population at risk. We are literally buzzing the bees out of existence. Meanwhile, the global pace of construction of new mobile phone towers continues unabated, and worldwide cell phone transmissions continue increasing by the day, filling the Earth’s atmosphere with more and more artificial radio waves. If this trend continues into the next few years, we can expect further drastic reductions in the global honeybee population.
What would happen if honeybees became extinct? We would lose a lot more than just good-tasting natural honey. Honeybees play a critical role in the world’s food chain: they pollinate 75 percent of all the crops consumed by humans, many of which are also consumed by animals. Thus the extinction of honeybees would precipitate a global food crisis of almost unthinkable proportions. I don’t think any of us want to see that happen! Human survival is dependent on the survival of honeybees.
Given the enormity of the stakes involved, it is imperative that we take decisive measures soon to protect the endangered honeybees. This is not like trying to save the Pyrenean Ibex, the Golden Toad, the Javan Tiger, or the Alaotra Grebe (a bird of Madagascar that was officially declared extinct last year). All of these animal species have become extinct since the conservation movement began, but due to their isolated habitats and limited distribution, their extinction had little if any impact on the overall global food chain. The extinction of the honeybee would be an entirely different matter. Because of its worldwide distribution and the key role this little insect plays in crop growth, its demise would be catastrophic for a large percentage of life on earth.
So what can we do to save the honeybees? Here are a few ideas:
1) Spread the word. Tell everyone you know about what you’ve learned in this article. The more people who know about it, the better.
2) Use your cell phone less. Keep it turned off most of the time if you can. Note that you don’t have to make a call to send destructive radiation through the air-just turning the unit on will do that.
3) Buy land phones, which don’t emit harmful radio waves, for your home and office, and use your mobile phone for calls only when away from those places. A cordless land phone offers the best of both worlds-it allows more mobility than a traditional corded land telephone but emits less harmful radiation than a cell phone.
4) At the local level, cities, counties and states could pass ordinances and laws preventing the construction of additional cell phone towers in certain areas (as long as this does not conflict with federal law).
5) Since honeybees continue to flourish in areas without mobile phone service, it would make common sense for the governments of individual countries (especially in the United States and Europe) to review their existing communications policies and enact stricter nationwide regulations for cell phone transmissions.
6) Since more than 9 in 10 Americans now own mobile phones See “List of countries by number of cell phones in use,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_number_of_mobile_phones_in_use, a permanent nationwide moratorium on the construction of new cell phone towers should be seriously considered.
7) Our federal government could build on the model of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area straddling the Virginia-West Virginia border that was set aside in 1958 to protect the National Radio Astronomy Observatory from unwanted manmade radio interference. Within this zone, artificial radio transmissions, including cell phone services, are limited but not entirely eliminated. Similar protected zones could be established in America’s sprawling, thinly-populated agricultural regions (such as in the middle states and parts of California) where cell phone services are less in demand and where honeybees are especially needed to pollinate the crops that feed much of the world.
Such efforts to curtail cellular phone transmissions, for the good of honeybees and for our own good, will likely be met with powerful opposition from the big mobile phone companies like AT&T and Verizon. These huge businesses make a killing on cell phones, netting hundreds of billions of dollars annually, so their multibillionaire kings will not take kindly the least threat to the continued expansion of their global empire. They don’t really care what happens to the bees (or to us) as long as they can keep their annual profits swelling. Thus they’ll conveniently deny any connection between cell phone use and declining bee rates (just as they denied that there was any connection between cell phone use and brain cancer). But such opposition shouldn’t discourage us–because denying an inconvenient truth doesn’t make it go away.