Evolutionary Life

Voices of the Emerging Movement for Conscious Evolution

June 2007

====  Evolutionary Responses to Crisis ====


"Getting the Big Picture" and Addressing the Bee Crisis

by Tom Atlee

Crises are times when the usual patterns of life are being shaken loose. Normally and justly feared as dangerous, crises are seen as opportunities by evolutionary agents. Evolution almost always speeds up during times of crisis: Old structures and ideas that once seemed permanent and resistant to change are suddenly vulnerable, and people become interested alternatives and life-serving possibilities. Crises break ground for something new to emerge.

Furthermore, many of the crises humanity faces -- in the world and right at home -- come from our ignorance or violation of basic natural laws and the dynamics of healthy evolutionary change. Organisms that are not aligned to natural laws that help them survive end up becoming aligned to natural laws that destroy them.

Combining these two principles, we find a powerful formula for evolutionary response: Look at crisis as an opportunity to use healthy conscious evolutionary dynamics (such as systems thinking and generative conversations among people involved) to discover which natural laws we have violated and which can help us correct our course.

To make those discoveries, we have to be able to see what's actually happening, truly enough and at a big enough scale to understand it. Part of our ability to respond to crisis -- and to therebyconsciously evolve together -- comes from our ability to see beyond our immediate environments and lives into The Big Picture. This is both an individual and a collective capacity. A number of diverse initiatives further this capacity. Their emergence is a sign that important cultural evolution happening. Lucky for all of us, every one of them is really interesting, as well, a real eye-opener. So sit back and enjoy some engaging approaches to awakening our evolutionary capacity...


Using evolutionary understanding to address the bee crisis

Something is happening to the bees. Entire industrial honeybee colonies -- which are driven from one site to another in the US like migrant farmers to pollinate crops from almonds to avocados to kiwis -- "every third bite we consume in our diet," according to one industry expert -- are dying from an unprecedented, mysterious syndrome researchers are calling "colony collapse disorder" (CCD).

What can evolution teach us about this? Let's first look at a bit of the news coverage about CCD in the recent press:

By Seth Borenstein
Associated Press - May 2, 2007


About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even cattle, which feed on alfalfa, depend on bees. So if the collapse worsens, we could end up being "stuck with grains and water," said Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for USDA's bee and pollination program.

"This is the biggest general threat to our food supply," Hackett said.

Scientists and bee specialists have been abuzz about what might be wrong and major research is underway, but there have been only a few mentions of a significant fact that has shown up under the mainstream radar:

On a permaculture listserv near my home in Oregon, beekeeper "Paul" suggests that the problem may be emerging from the selective breeding and evolutionary pressures building up within the migrant bee-pollenation industry itself, and suggests an evolutionary solution: Use and support local bees that have evolved with natural immunities. Here's his message:

Some folks may not know that many large scale, commercial beekeepers
have been relying for decades on antibiotics, organophosphates, and
artificial food supplements to "help" "their" European honey bees
fight off stressors from parasites and other diseases. At least in
recent history this is what has been done: a new pest arrives, and a
chemical treatment is applied. What this scenario potentially creates
is a circular pattern in which weak, genetically inferior strains of
bees are raised in massive quantities to be trucked from one crop to
another for pollenation. But these colonies could be doomed to fail as
these stressors build a resistance to chemical treatments.

This could be a factor: Some queen breeders have been selecting for
productive queens versus queens that rear colonies resistant to these
pests. So what beekeepers using chemicals on their hives
indiscriminately could be unintentionally selecting for is the
strongest, most virulent diseases their bees have ever faced intead of
the strongest, most disease resistant bees!

Darwin was right, you know. The good news is that just like bee pests
and diseases develop a resistance to chemical treatments there are
colonies of feral bees that can live without chemical intervention
because they have (through natural selection) developed a resistance
to diseases! The answer here may be in raising honey bees from
colonies with locally adapted genetics versus mass produced genetic
lines for wide distribution (many beekeepers will be importing bees
from Australia this year to stay in business!). Swarms from feral,
overwintering colonies that have been able to survive without chemical
treatment could be raised to select for the best bees for our region.

Paul's observation that organic bees are immune is supported by articles like the following:

By Dan Sorenson
Arizona Daily Star - March 30, 2007


Dee Lusby's bees are doing fine. Actually, they're doing better than that, says the owner of Lusby Apiaries & Arizona Rangeland Honey of Arivaca.

Lusby has 900 hives of "free range" organic bees spread out over ranches from Benson to Sasabe.

"I've only lost one or two, maybe three (hives) out of every 30 or 40 hives," said Lusby.

She's not surprised by her good fortune or the modern commercial beekeepers' hive-mortality rates.

Lusby has a hunch the disorder is the result of a number of factors, including the use of pesticides, bee-growth formulas, artificial food supplements, breeding for size, inbreeding — all or some of which may make them susceptible to mites, viruses and fungi — and maybe even some strange side effects from feeding on genetically modified crops.

Breeding for size is a major factor, Lusby believes. She says the commercial honeybees are now too large to feed on some of the very plants that historically may have given them immunity to diseases and parasites. They're simply too big to get into those plant's flowers, she says.

The following grassroots article agrees, and I highly recommend the whole article, which includes the history of bee colony disorders (including this one) and much about the bee industry. But here I'll give you the immediately relevant excerpt:

By Peter Dearman
GNN - May 2, 2007


Sharon Labchuk is a longtime environmental activist and part-time organic beekeeper from Prince Edward Island. She has twice run for a seat in Ottawa’s House of Commons, making strong showings around 5% for Canada’s fledgling Green Party. She is also leader of the provincial wing of her party. In a widely circulated email, she wrote:

I’m on an organic beekeeping list of about 1,000 people, mostly Americans, and no one in the organic beekeeping world, including commercial beekeepers, is reporting colony collapse on this list. The problem with the big commercial guys is that they put pesticides in their hives to fumigate for varroa mites, and they feed antibiotics to the bees. They also haul the hives by truck all over the place to make more money with pollination services, which stresses the colonies. [Source: http://eepicheep.gnn.tv/B21650 - Labchuk’s email is reproduced in the comments section; authorship was confirmed by article author Peter Dearman]

Her email recommends a visit to the Bush Bees Web site at bushfarms.com. Here, Michael Bush felt compelled to put a message to the beekeeping world right on the top page:

Most of us beekeepers are fighting with the Varroa mites. I’m happy to say my biggest problems are things like trying to get nucs [small "nucleus colonies"] through the winter and coming up with hives that won’t hurt my back from lifting or better ways to feed the bees.

This change from fighting the mites is mostly because I’ve gone to natural sized cells. In case you weren’t aware, and I wasn’t for a long time, the foundation [a thin sheet of beeswax embossed with the hexagonal pattern of comb, which the bees build their comb on] in common usage results in much larger bees than what you would find in a natural hive. I’ve measured sections of natural worker brood comb that are 4.6mm in diameter. …What most people use for worker brood is foundation that is 5.4mm in diameter. If you translate that into three dimensions instead of one, it produces a bee that is about half as large again as is natural. By letting the bees build natural sized cells, I have virtually eliminated my Varroa and Tracheal mite problems. One cause of this is shorter capping times by one day, and shorter post-capping times by one day. This means less Varroa get into the cells, and less Varroa reproduce in the cells. [Source: http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm Bush Bees Website ]

Who should be surprised that the major media reports forget to tell us that the dying bees are actually hyper-bred varieties that we coax into a larger than normal body size? It sounds just like the beef industry. And, have we here a solution to the vanishing bee problem? Is it one that the CCD [Colony Collapse Disorder] Working Group, or indeed, the scientific world at large, will support? Will media coverage affect government action in dealing with this issue?



Nature has been evolving workable ways for life to proceed for a long time. We, in becoming conscious and capable of manipulating the rest of nature to serve our own ends, need to be humble in the face of the vast accumulated wisdom embedded in every corner of the natural world. We would be wise to learn from this wisdom. Just for example, three fields of study and practice that access and apply that wisdom are:

The more we individually and collectively align to nature's wisdom through these, other, and more ancient knowledge systems, the better chance we will have of surviving and thriving long into the future. The kind of evolution we seek as conscious evolutionaries will involve humanity changing its consciousness, cultures and technologies, rather than dying out to be replaced by other organisms. Actions that align human cultures to natural wisdom help us consciously evolve a sustainable, healthy civilization.