Dear Pablo,

I am still haunted by colony collapse disorder (CCD). I know the scientists are studying it, but is there anything that I and other individuals can do to help the bees?

The mysterious disappearance of honeybees in North America has been truly disturbing. According to some sources, over 40 percent of honeybee colonies have vanished each year since 2006 (30 to 90 percent according to the United States Department of Agriculture). While no one knows for sure what is causing this alarming trend, there are several theories, as well as some steps that you can take to help protect the bees yourself.

Besides converting nectar into deliciously sweet honey and making wax that we can use in candles, bees serve a much more important purpose: pollination. Bees pollinate about one-third of the crops we eat, including grains, nut trees, fruit trees and even watermelon. The pollination of crops is an ecosystem service that has intangible value. When you add up all of the ecosystem services that we enjoy, such as a stable climate, a supply of fresh water from rain, and a source of cellulose from trees and other plants, the collective value of our natural ecosystems is said to equal the “Gross World Product.” Similar to the GDP measure of the U.S. economy, the GWP represents the value of the world economy. Recognizing that our economy is wholly dependent on the ecosystem services of this planet puts the importance of environmentalism into perspective.

Consider for a moment the Biosphere 2 project in the Arizona desert. The fully sealed structure housed several scientists for long periods of time to see if a self-sustaining ecosystem could be maintained. The project cost $200 million but was unable to provide sufficient food for the scientists and several outside injections of pure oxygen were required. Now consider the value provided by bees and other pollinators. Imagine if they were to disappear completely and humans had to manually pollinate crops all around the world. Not only would the cost be prohibitively expensive, but non-food plants would remain unpollinated and become extinct. So you can see how important bees are to our economy and how important it is to save them.