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

We are the World — and the World Killed Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop“, made an untimely exit from the stage of life after suffering a cardiac arrest Thursday, June 25, Brian Oxman, a Jackson family attorney, reports. More shockingly, Oxman told a CNN reporter that he warned the Jackson family that the star may be headed for a fate not unlike Anna Nicole Smith, who died little over two years ago following prolonged prescription painkiller dependence. Smith also lost her teenage son to a fatal drug interaction in 2006. In Jackson’s case, Oxman says the entertainer suffered chronic pain from a multitude of former stage injuries, among them a fractured vertebra and a broken leg.

Prescription drug abuse often starts legitimately enough. Life happens. We suffer injuries and accidents. And we don’t want to live like cripples before our time. But oftentimes the so-called cure comes with its own consequences.

The similarity between the average Jane or Joe and the Jacksons of the world seemingly ends in the doctor’s office. The average American who suffers a chronic pain condition, whether it is arthritis or severe back pain, is more likely to end up disabled as opposed to receiving pain management that succeeds in restoring one’s lifestyle. Celebrities, on the other hand, encounter the opposite: Eager to satisfy the demands of their high-power clients whose careers and lives must go on in a very public fashion, doctors are less likely to deny their well-known patients powerful forms of pain relief whether such medications are needed or not. The assumption on the part of the medical establishment, ostensibly, is that successful people who “have it together” are not going to throw it all away in pursuit of an addiction. Far be it from the public, all the while, to view a figure who is vibrant, charismatic and larger than life as weak, sickly or disabled. With enough drugs to combat the pain, life goes on as normal — until the consequences catch up.

The exact cause of Jackson’s fatal cardiac arrest, to be clear, is not yet known. Some suspect the superstar’s undernourished appearance, implying that the rigors of Jackson’s physical training program in preparation for a comeback tour are to blame. To that we now add the all-too-familiar specter of drug dependence. Let us not forget that Los Vegas headliner Danny Gans also died this month as a result of cardiac toxicity brought on by a legitimately prescribed painkiller. This is a story, sadly, that never ends. And that is the point. It should end, but it doesn’t.

Aside from the obvious — that drugs, even legitimately prescribed drugs — may lead to an untimely end, what does this tragedy have to teach us?

When singing sensation Susan Boyle, a contestant in the Brittish equivalent of “American Idol”, showed signs of stress and later admitted herself to a treatment facilitySimon Cowell, among others, cited her fragile mental state as the cause of her concert cancellations and erratic moods. In truth, however, the spotlight drives a lot of performers and public figures nutty. Eccentric behavior is much easier to brush off, however, when blamed on prescription tranquilizers, alcohol or illicit drugs. From Elvis Presley to Marilyn Monroe, celebrities of all generations, it seems, are pressured — if not explicitly than implicitly — to turn to drugs for answers rather than to allow anyone to see that their bodies, if not minds, cannot keep up with the frenetic pace of their lives. Were each of them, like Boyle, “unfit” and “ill prepared” for their success? Or would it be more accurate to say that this is the dark underbelly of celebrity — the reality check our celebrity-obsessed culture never confronts no matter how many famous people succumb to the inability to live up to their own or others’ expectations?

Let’s face it: We never want to accept deblitation. We never want anyone to grow old. But for a few fashionably naughty exceptions for sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, we never want anyone to seem all that human, either. As the Susan Boyle “case study” shows, cruelty is aimed at those who are too old, too overweight, too fragile, too offbeat, too ordinary. We like our stars airbrush perfect, immune from the unglamorous slowdowns associated with age and chronic medical conditions. From concert promoters to ordinary fans, we the people seem more inclined to tolerate rumors of substance abuse than to accept the news that a superstar has reached the limits of their physical and mental stamina. Drug abuse and stardom may go hand-in-hand, whereas honesty doesn’t get you very far in a world where image is the only reality that counts.

To live in the fishbowl that is celebrity you have to be a little bit crazy. And if you aren’t off kilter to begin with, living in the glare of paparazzi camera flash will surely induce as much. But the blame belongs to society too. We are the ones who idolize celebrities’ lives, never willing to hear the admission that the pressures are too much and they can no longer live up to fans’ expectations. Doctors, too, are not immune. There’s a pill for that. A surgery that will fix it. And an expectation that enough is never enough.

We are the world — and the world killed Michael Jackson.

May he rest in peace.

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