Can You Spell “Bee”?

According to a story in this morning’s SF Chronicle, the decline in honeybee populations is continuing. Bees are vulnerable to a number of pests, and the decline has been going on for several years, but two years ago reports started appearing of a new malady, Colony Collapse Disorder. This has some distinctive features, and the cause is unknown.

The loss of bees, if it continues, will turn out to be more important than whether we have unfettered access to cheap petroleum. It will overshadow gay marriage, abortion rights, and the U.S. government’s fascist atrocities at Guantanamo.

Early reports had suggested that CCD might be due to a parasite or virus. But it’s also possible that the massive human footprint on the planet is to blame, directly or indirectly. Specifically, unfettered use of pesticides, urban sprawl leading to loss of wild lands, mono-agriculture, and the stress on the bees caused by trucking them across vast distances for commercial purposes.

Maybe the bees can be saved. (Maybe.) But such problems are going to crop up with increasing frequency. And at some point in the not too distant future, some combination of human-made disasters (dead areas in the ocean, global warming, extinction of land-dwelling species) will lead to a rather sudden worldwide economic collapse.

In this collapse, as many as five billion people will die.

This will give our children a bit of breathing room in which to consider whether to adopt more eco-friendly lifestyles. Sadly, the track record of the human species in the area of long-term planning is not good. Not good at all. If the human race manages to climb back up out of the pit we’ve dug for ourselves, there’s a very high probability that we’ll turn right around and do it again.

What we’re dealing with here is a fairly intelligent species of chimpanzee. It would be a mistake to expect too much.

Like other animals, humans operate almost entirely by instinct. Our instincts evolved in sub-Saharan Africa over the course of several million years. For most of that time, there was no reason for our ancestors to consider the large-scale, long-term consequences of their decisions, because there weren’t any large-scale, long-term consequences. In the one area where long-term consequences were on the table (making babies), our instincts are rock-solid. We make babies. Even when not making babies, we devote massive amounts of energy to the activities that evolution has carefully tailored for the making of babies. That is, your procreative instinct doesn’t care whether any given act of copulation will produce a baby, because your instinct evolved before the invention of condoms. Your instinct only cares about finding a partner who is endowed with something resembling desirable genes and then getting it on.

In all other types of long-term planning, we’re just plain brain-dead. We don’t know how to do it. Or, to speak a little less sweepingly, a few of us have some vague ideas about how to do it, which we may implement with more or less success, but in the long run that won’t matter, because the effective planners are outnumbered 100 to 1 by the bozos.

Bozos make more babies, even though it’s obvious to any thinking person that producing too many babies is the root of the problem.

Bozos use pesticides in their homes, even though it’s obvious that pesticides are going to get into the environment and kill species that you need in order to survive.

Bozos kill wild plants by the side of the highway because they’re unsightly (to whom? not to me!) and a fire hazard. But guess what: It’s the humans that are the fire hazard, not the wild plants. Take away the vehicles and the wild plants will get along just fine.

Bozos eat beef, in spite of the massive environmental damage caused by herds of cattle.

Bozos drive SUVs. Why? Because it’s convenient for them, personally, over the short term. Long-term consequences to the planet as a whole? Don’t give them a moment’s thought.

There is no way to change any of this. Education and debate won’t work. Facts are way less powerful than instinct.

Gee, what a nice train of thought with which to start out the morning.

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