There’s a curious story in the UK newspaper, The Independent, on mobile phones and the collapse of bee colonies (hat tip Randy, aka MRK). I don’t quite know what to make of it, although I am skeptical:
[Some scientists] are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world – the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe – was beginning to hit Britain as well.
The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.
The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast. (The Independent)
I’ve been following the bee story for a while. It is both serious and worrisome, considering the important place bees have in crop pollination. But mobile phones? I rather doubt it. Not because I think mobile phones are harmless. On the contrary, I have always been concerned about the transmitters we hold in our hands, not the cell towers that seem to worry some people. The exposure from the towers is small but the transmitter on the handset is right up next to us. I don’t think there is that much cell phone RF noise in the honeybee’s world, although that’s an empirical question. But the appearance of the disease, first in the US, which has less cell phone use than Europe, and the pattern of geographic spread, doesn’t sound like cell phones would be the cause. Chemicals are possible but again the pattern and timing don’t sound like a chemical problem. It sounds much more like a parasite, a fungus or a virus, although no agent has been found as yet. The door is thus open to any person’s favorite bogey man: cell phones, GM crops, global warming, endocrine disruptors. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dick Cheney were involved somehow.
I’m not trying to make light of this. The collapse of honeybees worldwide could have serious and unforeseen ecological consequences. Whether it’s cell phones or Dick Cheney, I hope they figure this out pretty soon. Especially if it’s Dick Cheney.