M.G. Mason's Reviews > A World Without Bees

A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin
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Aug 18, 2012

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“A world without bees” is a flawed book that attempts to bring to the fore a serious problem that has arisen in the last 5 years, honeybee colonies have been succumbing to a bizarre killer called “Colony Collapse Disorder”. That is, beekeepers waking up one morning to find their colonies practically, or completely, empty. The book writers list a variety of problems, discussing known diseases and how long we have known about this problem. Several doomsday scenarios are presented to us including a problem in southern China were the locals must pollinate pear trees by hand since pesticides had wiped out their local bee populations. They also list the sheer volume of staple crops that depend on bee pollination and how life will be se much harder without them. In that respect, the book is interesting.

However I am always concerned when books about scientific issues are written by journalists and this is no exception. The writers don’t seem to have a critical eye and Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” is considered just as authoritative as any article in PNAS by qualfiied entomologists! They also contradict themselves in implying that the honeybees are on the verge of extinction. They are not and the steps being taken by governments, including the EU, to tackle this problem are relegated to the last five pages of the final chapter which in some ways makes a lot of the book redundant. There are also species (such as the temperamental African honeybee and the cross-bred Africanised honeybee currently spreading across the US) and many more species that do not seem susceptible to CCD.

They also let their prejudices guide their opinions on what is causing this. They rail against GM despite having no evidence to support it, point a finger at all pesticides despite that those shown to be dangerous to bees have already been banned or are in the process of being banned on both sides of the Atlantic and of course, throw in a few references to climate change. All very well but the lack of evidence for any of those scenarios betrays the lack of scientific training. This book *needed* scientific input and suffers for the lack of it.

The biggest horror story comes from the almond colonies of California where honeybees are put under enormous stress and transported across the US. They are treated as livestock, as a multimillion dollar industry and this they say, could be causing CCD. The problem here is that this is one state in one country and CCD is seen all over the world (though admittedly the US is the worst affected country, *possibly* because of the industrial treatment of bee colonies). The writers demonstrate that there is no speculation considered to be invalid.

Certainly we should all be concerned about the plight of the honeybee and in that this book is an interesting introduction, but it isn’t the “bee” all and end all (sorry!) in the same way that Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” is a good introduction to climate change but shouldn’t be the foundation of a person’s argument. I urge anybody who is concerned about the honeybee to read this book… but don’t leave it there.

See more of my book reviews at my blog
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