As Mother’s Day approaches each year – and given that it coincides with the arrival of spring – I allow my mind to drift to the things that my own dear mom loved most: namely, her lilacs and the happy pollinators that make them possible.
To ensure I allow my experience of that intimacy to transcend beyond thought and sentiment, I nurture lilacs in the garden off my back patio each spring, hoping the fickle and unpredictable spring weather of northern New Mexico doesn’t nip them in the bud with a snow or freeze. This year? So far so good.
But over the past several years, I’ve also become keenly aware of the threats to those pollinators of lilacs – bees and butterflies. And I am not the only one. The emergence of Pollinator Philanthropy has become part and parcel of the larger philanthropic response to climate change and environmental stewardship.
Pollinators, which include over 200,000 various species, are critical to the growing of food and therefore to humanity itself. They are foundational to a balanced ecosystem and as we know, the ecosystem is in deep trouble.
It’s estimated that one in every three bites of food that humans consume can be attributed to the busy work of pollinators. A whopping 75 percent of crops depend on pollinators according to the World Economic Forum. And the humble honeybee in that mix? They carry out about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. And for those readers whose thinking tends to monetize things, $20 billion USD in products annually are attributable to pollinators. So yes, this is a big deal from every angle.
It’s therefore no surprise that in the early 2000s, when beekeepers worldwide began to track loss of beehives surviving winters, an alarm bell sounded. Like the literal canary in the coal mine, the decline of bee colonies signaled deep cause for concern.
Colony Collapse Disorder, or CDD as it came to be called, has thankfully receded since its 2008 height when 60 percent of colonies of honeybees were lost over the winter, but concerns persist. Other pollinators like bumble bees and butterflies, especially the majestic monarch, are all in decline.
The causes for the threats to pollinators is well-documented. Pesticides, loss of habitat and global warming all wreak havoc on the pollinator ecosystem, threating the global food security landscape and portending to upend human life as we know it. Hyperbolic? Maybe, but consider the role these creatures play in food production and what was termed the “Bee-pocalypse” isn’t too far-fetched.
The crisis has sparked a blossoming of nonprofit organizations seeking to support bees and other pollinators. Many long-time environmental organizations have also stepped up their efforts.
Check out the Pollinator Partnership (www.pollinator.org), whose work includes providing School Garden Kits to support educational efforts around pollinators and to create pollinator-friendly gardens. Save the Bees (www.beemission.com) sells bee-themed merchandise that supports their mission of education on threats to bees. Their line of t-shirts is impressive… and motivational. I am especially fond of the “God Save the Queen” shirt. Spoiler alert – they are not referring to Her Royal Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II.
A quick Internet search can identify local pollinator organizations across the globe. They are everywhere and create great opportunities to give financially for the good of ourselves and the planet.
In addition to giving to nonprofits, corporations with a socially responsible bent are also increasingly paying attention, giving consumers another angle for support. Most recently, my own Happy Hour indulgence of the classic Gin & Tonic encountered a way to double up on the enjoyment. Discerning palates for libations have long-bypassed grocery store standards for tonic. One favorite mixer brand describes the evolution succinctly, “If three-quarters of your drink is the mixer, mix with the best.” They make a point.
So when recently purchasing tonic, I came across Buzbee’s, a premium cocktail mixer brand, whose niche is sweetening their lineup of beverages with honey. Their ever-patriotic logo is a honeybee with wings, replete with the stars and stripes. They bill their product as both healthy as a result of honey’s inclusion, but also as part of the Pollinator Philanthropy movement in its passion for Bees, Beekeeping, and Honey. I’ll be honest, I’ve taken to the flavor of their Indian Tonic Water and it somehow feels slightly more responsible-citizen-like to supporting bees while imbibing.
If you want to know just how far the corporate embrace of Pollinator Philanthropy has come, how about a cigarette brand touting their support? In one recent advertisement from tobacco brand Natural American Spirit, the brand touted that “maintaining our own hive sanctuaries to supporting groups that help bees thrive, Natural American Spirit is dedicated to preserving pollinators and their natural habitats.”
Finally, there are things each of us can do to support bees and other pollinators. First, the loss of habitat for pollinators means each of us can plant our gardens, flower boxes and pots to support pollinators. The Pollinator Project allows you to enter your zip code and access Ecoregional Planting Guides with helpful information on what to plant. Go to www.pollinator.org/guides
Secondly reduce, or better yet, eliminate the use of pesticides. And if you have a swarm on your property, seek out someone who can safely remove the swarm. Do not spray it with pesticides to kill the swarm. Just this week, my local community group on Facebook had someone post an offering of their services to safely remove and relocate swarms.
Finally, support your local beekeepers and perhaps consider becoming a beekeeper if your living arrangements allow. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at the local beekeeper culture, wherever you live.
Bees, butterflies and other pollinators are the keystones for life on earth. They need our help. Now.