The Vanishing of the Bees (2009) investigates the economic, political and ecological implications of the worldwide disappearance of the honeybee. But by comparing the current U.S. Colony Collapse Disorder with the catastrophic loss of bees in France more than a decade before, the film formulates both a cause (systemic pesticides) and a solution (the elimination of those pesticides). Systemic pesticides are chemicals that are actually absorbed by a plant when applied to seeds, soil or leaves. The chemicals then circulate through the plant’s tissues, killing the insects that feed on them. Unlike with traditional insecticides, you can’t wash or peel off systemic pesticide residues because they’re in the plant’s tissues, not on their exteriors.
The film also reveals a cultural difference in approaches to environmental protection. Responding to the Precautionary Principle, the French agreed to farmers’ demand that certain systemic pesticides be outlawed. “Better Safe than Sorry” might be the message. Drawing on the risk assessment principle, Americans and the EPA, on the other hand, are waiting to act until scientific studies provide certain evidence of a cause and effect relationship between these toxic chemicals and the collapse of bees.
The precautionary principle states that “When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” Ecological risk assessments (ERAs) are conducted to evaluate the likelihood that adverse ecological effects could result from the exposure to one or more chemical and/or radiological contaminants in the environment. ERAs also provide needed information to adequately develop and evaluate remedial alternatives that best balance human health and ecological concerns while being protective of the environment and are cost-effective. Although The Vanishing of the Bees advocates for implementing the precautionary principle, Bee Movie bi-passes both principles and highlights humanity’s need for bee pollenization without destroying either the bees or humans.
Bee Movie (2007) asserts that human and nonhuman nature share an interdependent relationship based in both organismic and chaotic approaches to ecology that, once disrupted, may destroy them both. Bee Movie at first seems to illustrate a need for bifurcation between bees and humans, with any interaction between humans and nonhuman nature—in this case bees—not only advised against but outlawed. Instead, Bee Movie asserts that bees and humans must live and work together for both species to survive, either individually as represented by Barry’s relationship with Vanessa, or collectively, as illustrated by the drastic loss of plant life when bees go on strike, refusing to pollinate and thus regenerate flowers and other plants around the world.
There is no doubt that bee populations are decreasing rapidly and that their annihilation would have a devastating effect on agriculture. According to Diana Cox-Foster and Dennis vanEnglesdorp’s March 31, 2009 article in Scientific America, in 2007, due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), “a fourth of U.S. beekeepers had suffered … losses and … more than 30 percent of all colonies had died. The next winter the die-off resumed and expanded, hitting 36 percent of U.S. beekeepers. Reports of large losses also surfaced from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe and other regions.”
These losses may be catastrophic for farmers, Cox-Foster and VanEnglesdorp explain, “because one third of the world's agricultural production depends on the European honeybee, Apis mellifera, the kind universally adopted by beekeepers in Western countries.” Loss of bees, then, would deplete agricultural products that benefit humans. But because these bees also pollinate other plant species, their depletion could have widespread effects on a biotic community, destroying whole species of flowers and trees.
Researchers see human factors contributing to this loss of bees. Cox-Foster and VanEnglesdorp cite poor nutrition, pesticide exposure, stress-related viruses, and fungicides as factors influencing colony collapse. In order to slow the collapse of bee colonies and ensure agricultural pollinization, Cox-Foster and VanEnglesdorp assert that beekeepers need to act quickly to minimize disease and ensure good nutrition and less exposure to pesticides for their bee colonies. Farmers too should decrease their use of harmful pesticides and herbicides, so bees can survive and help maintain a food supply for both humans and bees.
Bee Movie illustrates the catastrophic losses such a lack of pollinization might cause, not because bee colonies have been destroyed by human farming techniques but because bees go on strike. By elucidating this connection between bees and human production, the film also reinforces the need for interdependent relationships between humans and bees, relationships that also draw on both organismic and chaotic approaches to ecology. The Vanishing of the Bees, on the other hand, validates the science Cox-Foster and VanEnglesdorp assert while offering an answer to the bees’ collapse—choose the precautionary principle and eliminate use of systemic pesticides.