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Book Review: A Spring without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply 

click to enlarge Lyons Press, 2008, $24.95.
  • Lyons Press, 2008, $24.95.

Alert observers of current events may have noticed, half buried in the general melange of war/gas prices/ politics/ celeb gossip that passes for What’s Happening Now, some alarming news about bees cropping up in the past few seasons. They’re going missing. To anyone with a glancing familiarity with how ecosystems work, this is an upsetting prospect. Besides being iconic, bees play a crucial role in the agricultural process; without them, we can kiss a lot of food crops good-bye.

When a news broadcast touches upon the subject of the missing bees, it’s usually in mystified tones. Where, oh, where could the bees be? What’s causing this phenomenon? Woodstock author Michael Schacker offers some plausible answers—ones that a lot of Powers That Be probably don’t want to accept. To the extent that one accepts his theory—and his evidence seems compelling—this explains both Colony Collapse Disorder (as the bees’ vanishing act is officially called) and the media silence surrounding its roots.

Referencing the French experience with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), Schacker implicates IMD, a relatively new pesticide and close cousin to DDT, manufactured in its most widespread form by Bayer. This revelation has a feeling of inevitability to it, like finding out that the murderer who drew the light sentence was the Congressman’s cousin. Though Schacker’s tone can sometimes get a little strident, any initial annoyance on the reader’s part is dissipated by the urgency of his message. By the time we get to the section titled “The Government Responds?” we are very much with him.

As the front flyleaf of the book points out, it’s been 100 years since the birth of Rachel Carson, and A Spring without Bees makes a fine testament to how right she was—and how little she’s been heeded. Looking beyond IMD and Bayer to uncover the deeper whys, Schacker makes it crystal-clear that deregulation of pesticide manufacturers—and the lobbyists who currently steer the EPA and the FDA—have brought us all to the brink of a new definition of CCD. That would be Civilization Collapse Disorder, and intervening at this point will take a vast and basic paradigm shift. But Schacker doesn’t merely wring his hands and moan. He offers a potpourri of hopeful small suggestions that, if widely adopted, could have big results: nontoxic lawns, starting our own bee gardens, planting our streetscapes with lovely silver linden trees and our agricultural fields with hedgerows. Organic and regenerative agriculture, he points out, are things we know how to do. Natural predators can take care of bee mites without hurting a soul, and the Earth, properly understood, can still rebound enough to help us heal its biosphere. But there is no time to waste.

Schacker has not only written a book that manages to convince, educate, and somehow amuse at the same time, he’s also the founder of The New Earth Institute, an online transformative learning center. At this writing, he’s recovering from a catastrophic stroke. He should be in all our thoughts. Not only is his heart very clearly in the right place, but his boring-but-erudite statistics are relegated to appendices, a habit more science writers might emulate. A Spring without Bees poses the question: could the humble honeybee be the agent of our planetary awakening? Michael Schacker’s book is a powerful wake-up call.

There will be a presentation at the Woodstock Public Library on August 16 at 5pm.

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