No Climate Crisis for Thriving Honeybees

By Vijay Jayaraj

Writing anything good about climate change runs the risk of the writer getting lynched metaphorically by the online enforcers of a cultist apocalyptic narrative. For years, doomsayers have insisted that polar bears are in danger of extinction because of man-made warming even as experts have shown that populations have actually increased. So much so, that the native Inuit people in Arctic Canada want an increase in hunting quotas.

Likewise, I’ve documented how the Bengal tiger population in India has doubled, personally verifying the increase by visiting their habitats. The same is true with other species of mammals and birds that have benefited from the protection of conservation projects.

Now, another important creature, honeybees, are showing a dramatic increase in population despite the fearmongering of the climate crowd.

A long-running narrative of a looming apocalypse has clung to the reporting on the fate of our beloved bees. Headlines painted a dire picture of collapsing colonies and a world teetering on the brink of ecological disaster because of vanishing pollinators.

The Natural Resources Defense Council published an article titled “Colony Collapse Disorder: Why Are Bees Dying?” CNN wonders, “Bees are dying – what can we do about it?” National Public Radio asks, “Why Are Bees Disappearing?” While threats to bee populations undeniably exist, most media have failed to tell the truth: Bee populations are not declining but thriving.

Globally, the number of managed honeybee colonies has been steadily increasing over the past several decades. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the estimated number of colonies worldwide climbed by 46% between 1990 and 2021. That is a phenomenal increase and makes us wonder how we’ve been fooled into thinking otherwise.

This trend isn’t limited to a few isolated regions. Countries across the globe – from Brazil to China – have witnessed substantial growth in managed bee populations. Even Europe, once considered particularly problematic for bee decline, has seen a more modest recovery in recent years – an 11% increase between 1990 and 2021.

In the Americas (North and South), the increase has been around 20%. Other areas recording increases in colonies included Africa, 38%; the Oceania region around Australia and New Zealand, 90%; and Asia, a massive 95%.

This has resulted in large amounts of honey production for human consumption, with China, Iran and Turkey being the major producers.  According to a 2022 peer-reviewed research paper in Nature, between 1969 and 2017, “there were increases in the number of managed honeybee colonies (85%), honey production (181%) and beeswax production (116%) … The yield of honey per colony improved globally by about 50%, with the greatest improvements being in Asia and Europe where they peaked at more than 100% between 1961 and 2017.”

Scientists say that the narrative of large-scale global decline in bees and similar doomsday stories “are usually based on research reports limited to one or a few countries with observations over a relatively short period of time.” You will seldom hear about the scientific assessment of an uptick in bee numbers in a media more inclined to cherry-pick data showing random regional drop-offs of bee populations.

Purveyors of a climate doomsday take advantage of an ill-informed populace, using news reporters who are equally ignorant of the facts or willing participants in the deception.

However, it is not unreasonable to suggest that honeybees are thriving partly because of our modern era’s modest natural warming and increasing atmospheric carbon from human activity, both of which have greened Earth over the last several decades.

A January 2022 paper presented evidence that forest cover within 2 kilometers of bee populations had a positive effect on their numbers. “Since wild bees are highly dependent on forest patches as a nesting habitat in agricultural landscapes, it is possible to attract more populations from pollinators by creating new forest patches,” the paper reported.

So, it would seem, today’s climate is a boon for bees.

This commentary was first published in BizPac Review on February 9, 2024.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia.  He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, U.K.

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