“If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live.”
Well, what can I say? Maybe this: If the honey bees are anything remotely as persistent as this quote, we wouldn’t need to worry about them.
Still: when you follow the bees through the media, hardly a week goes by without someone referring to this “quote”. Most recently, I met it in a brochure by the German Ministry for Agriculture.
Neither could we. In the beginning, when we started out on this project, we had this “quote” on our website, too. It just so perfectly sums up the importance of our little friends and the concerns that many people have about them. Maybe too perfectly.
It was only after some of the bee-people we are working with raised doubts about its authenticity that we set out to corroborate the source. We should have checked before.
But even if the quotation has to be considered a fine piece of fiction, the importance of bees is not. It’s just… more complicated. As Keith S. Delaplane, an Entomolgist at the University of Georgia, writes;
“Does human life depend on bee pollination? No. To what extent does the quality of human life depend on bee pollination? Well, it depends on where you live and what crops we’re talking about.”
He also writes:
“I think bee advocates do their cause a disservice when they stoke the flames of hyperbole and sensationalism. Much better to pose the question as a quality of life issue. To the extent that we value a diverse food supply with minimized trauma to the environments where it is produced, we will place a high value indeed on honey bees and other pollinators.”
There are no simple answers. At least not to this one. Just careful thinking and trying to see the whole picture. We are working on it.
Update (May 23, 2011): The latest encounter just happened (a sweet one though): A love affair with bees (at 1:15 min). Thanks Stephanie!