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Climate Change Tracker: To bee or not to bee

Bee populations around the world are declining at an alarming rate, and this will affect the way we live

Bee populations are falling around the world. Getty Images
Bee populations are falling around the world. Getty Images

Whenever we talk about the effects of climate change on animal species, the urge is to focus on flagship species like the tiger or the snow leopard. While that is a valid way to look at Earth’s ongoing ecocide, we often neglect the smallest creatures. Sometimes, these animals are the most important link in the chain of planetary life.

Take bees, for example. Without them, there would be no pollination, which means there would be no flowers or trees, nor agriculture. Ninety commercially produced crops worldwide are dependent on bees for their yields. According to a 2018 report on pollination and food production by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Ipbes), 5-8% of current global crop production, worth $235-577 billion, is directly dependent on pollinators. The report also notes that bees and butterflies are severely threatened by climate change and altered land-use patterns.

The situation is bad in Europe and North America, where the intensive use of fertilizers and chemicals in food production has been going on for much longer than in the global south. According to the Ipbes report, 37% of bee, and 31% of butterfly, populations are threatened in Europe. According to an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) study, “46% of bumblebee species in Europe have a declining population"; earlier this year, it was reported that parasitic diseases spread by factory-bred bees for farming are driving Patagonia’s giant golden bumblebee to extinction.

The situation isn’t very different in India. A 2017 study in the journal Biological Conservation sought to bridge the gap between anecdotal accounts in Odisha of bees disappearing and hard data by surveying the state’s farmers. The study, co-authored by Parthiba Basu of Kolkata’s Centre for Pollination Studies, found substantial declines in bee populations in the state, with one bee species declining by over 90% in 10-25 years. The culprit was found to be pesticide use.

So while we worry about the effects of human actions and climate change on large animals, it’s time we looked at the small, quiet extinctions that affect us all.

In next week’s Climate Change Tracker, we take a look at how the fashion industry contributes to climate change. Follow the series with #MintClimateTracker

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