The Buzz About Bees

Remember that story a few years back about the mysterious honeybee affliction known as Colony Collapse Disorder? It didn’t remain in the headlines for long but it should have: Honeybees pollinate up to 1/3 of the world’s crops. Lose them and we lose a great deal of human civilization to malnutrition.

I was reminded of this sad phenomena over the holidays when, from city to city, county to county, I kept stepping over dead and dying honeybees. Not just one, but several. Not merely one week, but several weeks in a row. Three years earlier — and what first brought CCD to my attention when I came online in search of an explanation — I took a walk in a local park and saw hundreds of bees dying on the ground. It was all I could do to keep my dog from stepping on them, a number of them still trying, fruitlessly so, to fly. A few weeks later at another park, I saw the same phenomena. The carnage became so commonplace that year that I eventually lost count.

Now here comes a late-breaking 2009 headline nearly lost amidst end-of-year festivities:

Bayer ‘Disappointed’ in Ruling on Chemical That May Harm Bees | Bloomberg.com

Bayer’s newest chemical wonder, Spirotetramat, was not on the market when CCD surfaced, but what is alarming about this story is that the EPA apparently approved it, critics allege, knowing that it could heighten or accelerate the harm to a critical link in the food chain.

Our food chain.

This story begs the question: How many scientists, executives and EPA administrators over the years have let “just one” pass, downplaying the cumulative harm to animal and human immune systems alike? It also is a reminder that our collective attention span is painfully short. In 2006 the EPA urged DuPont, maker of the ubiquitous nonstick coating Teflon®, among others, to enter a voluntary agreement to phase out the controversial chemical ingredients known as PFOA/PFOS. Here we are in 2010 — the date when 95 percent of this “likely carcinogen” was supposed to be eliminated from factory emissions, and eventually our food packaging, bathroom cleaners, stain repellents, cookware, electronics and personal care products — and no dice. Conveniently, the “real” phase-out date is 2015.

Do we really need to ask why there is a cancer epidemic? An autism epidemic? More people suffering from degenerative diseases despite better nutrition in the modern era? Increased autoimmune illnesses, among them an epidemic of childhood asthma? Or do we need only look in the mirror?

This isn’t a pitch toward “radical environmentalism” and it isn’t a slam on Big Corporate Enterprise. This is about self interest. No one will watch our backs if we ourselves won’t. As consumers, what we buy dominates the market. What we refuse to purchase will fall by the wayside for lack of consumer demand. True, it sounds far-fetched to think that we wield that kind of power. But big trends start with little people — ordinary folks who have the foresight to lead the way.

Our vote is our pocketbook.

Above and beyond any political or ideological position, those who hope and pray for a happy, healthy life for their children and grandchildren have cause to care. The emerging science of epigenetics suggests that undesirable genetic traits, when awakened by environmental triggers such as stress, obesity, malnutrition and toxins in our environment, may alter the expression of DNA inherited by our children and their children. No longer is the biblical metaphor that holds that the “‘sins’ of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons” merely figurative. If an disaster of apocalyptic proportions is afoot — as some have asserted — it is manmade, not God-made.

Speculation as to the cause of CCD abounds, but this much science makes increasingly clear as we plow deeper into the 21st Century: There is no such thing as a zero impact. Even seemingly inconsequential actions undergo a magnifier effect in the real world, not unlike an expanding ripple on a pond. This sets in motion repercussions for bees and people alike. But that realization, as dire as it sounds, is also key to our success: Assuming we created the problem, we can fix it.

Our greatest challenge is to simply acknowledge that there is a problem.

Fortunately for us, we’re not living in 1965 or even 1985. It has never been easier to jot down a product name and research its profile with minimal time, effort and expense on the Internet. Just a few minutes a week or month may literally mean the difference between those companies who profit at our expense vs. those who are forced to evolve their products to meet the expectations and needs of smarter consumers.

It’s a new year and a new decade. The future is in our hands.

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Resources

Secret Life of Bees | Whittier Daily News

Use of Potentially Harmful Chemicals Kept Secret Under Law | Washington Post

DuPont’s PFOA May Face New Rules | DelawareOnline

National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals | CDC

Unusual Suspects: Pollution May be Making You Fat | Popular Science

National Toxicology Program | Department of Health and Human Services

Pesticide Action Network North America | PAN Pesticide Database

Everyday Pollution Solutions | The Environmental Working Group

Harvard Professor Plays the Race Card

Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. cried foul when a neighbor’s call to the police resulted in his arrest at the door to his own home, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Refusing, allegedly, to identify himself to a responding Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer didn’t help law enforcement appreciate that the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research was the rightful owner of the home — a far cry from the intruder his neighbor feared.

Professor Gates Jr. may not have intended to bait the officer into arresting him, but that’s the effect his apparent refusal to cooperate had.

“Is this what it means to be a black man in America?”, the professor rhetorically opined.

If “what it means” refers to negative racial assumptions applied to oneself — ascribing to the color of one’s skin the power to draw negative and unfair treatment — then yes. But in very real way, who or what is proposing the racism — the past or the present? Someone else — or the professor himself?

Psychologists call the phenomena of blurring the lines between the motivations of self and others “transference“. It’s no secret that sometimes we project our own assumptions on others, in this case an officer caught between a nosy neighbor and a prejudicially-minded professor.

To view this situation through a racial lens is tempting, but to anyone without skin color on which to blame such a snafu, far less personal explanations would undoubtedly occur: A) Install a motion-sensor light so that neighbors can appreciate that the shadowy figure attempting to enter the house is, in fact, the homeowner vs. an intruder; B) Note to self that it is time to actually get to know one’s neighbors so that they know I belong here and vise versa; and C) Attend and/or organize a Neighborhood Watch meeting. After all, how can we look out for each other’s personal property when we don’t even recognize each other?

Had the professor been someone whose livelihood was not so enmeshed with the burdens of history, perhaps a more telling question would have emerged from his experience: Is this what community breakdown looks like in America?

What’s wrong with society when we don’t recognize our neighbors? When we don’t bother to introduce ourselves? When we are too busy to have a life that connects in any way, shape or form with those who live, in many instances, a few feet away?

The professor’s statement is troubling at a number of levels. True, one can ascribe troubles in life to history, economic background or just about any perceived barrier. And yes, such conclusions may even be justified. But when we interpret life through this perceptual filter, who suffers for those determinations: the people or circumstances that shouldn’t be the way they are — or ourselves?

When we blame skin color, looks, family, kids, spouse — what we are really doing is giving away our personal power. We are acknowledging, essentially, that “something” or “someone” controls us. If we want race, gender, creed, age or any number of other factors to wield that level of influence, we will find ample evidence suggesting that it can and does.

As we think, so we see — and so we do. This clashes with the prevailing notion that as life is, so we perceive, so we react. Pointing out a racial slight is not an offensive against racism — it is to feed into the idea that racism has a life of its own apart from us. This succeeds only in breathing new life into old stereotypes.

It isn’t the responding officer who set out to express his or her racism. The professor seemingly supplied plenty of his own assumptions. And therein lies the problem with the way in which academia promotes multicultural and ethnic awareness in general: the perverse perpetuation of history’s uglier sentiments. Like a communicable infection, once we embrace “the grudge” — over-identifying with the victim or the victimizer —we’ve incorporated their attitudes into our own.

History isn’t static. We are its vectors.

To learn about the past is one thing. To invite the painful aspects of the past to dominate the present day is another. There is a world of difference between acknowledging a problem at the societal level as opposed to fanning the flames of hostility at a personal level — particularly when those sentiments may not have been motivators in the first place. In this instance, had the police officer “racially profiled” the professor by intentionally stopping in front of the professor’s house while on routine patrols — even while ignoring a number of non-black neighbors entering their own homes — Professor Gates Jr. would have due cause for alarm. But the facts as they have been portrayed simply don’t support this conclusion. If anyone or anything is to blame at all, it is a problem all too common in modern America: Neighborhoods so devoid of community that nobody knows any better, and the most basic of social connections are unduly neglected.

Victim status does nothing to change the past, but it may skew our individual trajectories in life. And while victimization may not begin with a choice, it dies or lives to see another day for highly personal reasons. Victimhood is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy about our lives, relationships, ethnicity or potential as it relates to a recollection or dominating influence. That doesn’t mean powerful influences and limitations don’t exist, or that racism, in this instance, is a thing of the past. Yet when someone as esteemed and educated as Professor Gates Jr. points a finger, everyone sits up and takes notice.

This is not his finest moment.

The professor’s job is to convey history — not to repeat it. Like an actor who has over-identified with his character, it would appear that Professor Gates Jr. is in need of detox. The antidote to victimization is not more talk of victimization, but forgiveness. We forgive not so that we can forget, but so that we may reclaim authority and ownership in our lives. To the extent we call upon the past to explain the present, we are beholden to the act of looking over our shoulders — the somebody-or-something-is-out-to-get-me mentality.

That’s no way to live life. Or in Professor Gates Jr.’s case — no way to teach us to lead ours.

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Resources:

Juan Williams on African American Victimhood | NPR

Social Isolation Growing in US, Study Says | The Washington Post