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Avoiding ‘beepocalypse’: What beekeeping entrepreneurs teach us about stewardship

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Over the past decade, we have received many resounding warnings of an impending “beepocalypse”—and for good reason. Honeybee mortality rates have spiked and scientists are still struggling to pinpoint the cause, posing a range of environmental concerns and putting many important crops at risk. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bees add $15 billion in annual revenue to the economy.

Yet amid the increase in bee mortality—attributed to something called colony collapse disorder (CCD)—the country’s beekeeping entrepreneurs have quietly been stewarding their colonies with great wisdom and success. Today, many have already declared, “crisis averted.”

“Despite the increased mortality rates, there has been no downward trend in the total number of honeybee colonies in the United States over the past 10 years,” writes Shawn Regan at PERC. “Indeed, there are more honeybee colonies in the country today than when colony collapse disorder began….Thanks to a robust market for pollination services, they have addressed the increasing mortality rates by rapidly rebuilding their hives, and they have done so with virtually no economic effects passed on to consumers.”

In a new paper paper, “Colony Collapse Disorder: The Market Response to Bee Disease,” agricultural economists Randal Rucker (Montana State University) and Walter Thurman (North Carolina State University) explore and explain the situation, assessing the latest innovations and methods of beekeepers and their economic and environmental effects.

The most surprising discovery: despite the strenuous and persistent efforts to prevent agricultural doom, the rise of the disorder has had minimal economic impact.

“If a beepocalypse was really upon us, colony numbers and honey production would be declining, the costs of rebuilding lost hives would be rising sharply, and the prices of the crops most reliant on honeybees would be rapidly increasing,” writes Regan. “None of these appear to be the case.”

Rucker and Thurman offer the following conclusion:

Our examination of the operation of pollination markets leads us to conclude that beekeepers are savvy entrepreneurs who use their wealth of knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place (see Hayek 1945)—acquired over their lifetimes of work—to adapt quickly to changing market conditions. Not only was there not a failure of bee-related markets, but they adapted quickly and effectively to the changes induced by the appearance of Colony Collapse Disorder.

In contrast to the doomsday scenarios used to describe CCD at its outset, the workings of the forces of competition to accommodate bee disease make less compelling headlines. The receding of CCD from the national consciousness will be noted by few, but the resilience and adaptation to bee disease by the bee- keeping industry is a story worth noting—and savoring—along with one’s breakfast of honey on toast with pollinated fruit.

Such “resilience” and “adaptation” is often framed by critics of capitalism as a net negative—a parasitic impulse that will surely be wielded to prey on the weak and exploit the environment. Yet it through these precise features that we see the power and capacity of the human spirit, not forced, but simply encouraged within the context of wise individual ownership and environmental stewardship.

Through the beauty of trade, we realize that we were made to cooperate with each other. But first and foremost, through the beauty of environmental and economic stewardship, we see that we were also made to cooperate with nature itself.

As explained in Episode 2 of The Good Society, Acton’s new film curriculum, at a fundamental level, all of our work is simply the process of applying our God-given intellect and creativity to transform matter into usable things.

Similar to the farmers in the film, the example of the beekeepers offers a clarifying example, but the underlying truth of each applies to each of us, whatever our economic activity and environmental domain.

When we look back to the garden, we see God partnering with Adam and Eve as co-creators in nature, calling and empowering them to complete it, steward it, cooperate with it, and improve it using their reason, creativity, and spiritual discernment. Just as these beekeepers continue to use their gifts to steward these bees, and in turn, preserve crops and grow bee colonies, so can we use our creativity and stewardship to transform and redeem creation, each and every day.

Image: Topp-digital-Foto, CC0

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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