My brain is not wired towards panic. I strongly dislike worrying about things I cannot control, and I highly doubt most of you do, either. Nevertheless, have you ever stopped for a moment to ponder the frailty of our society? Sometimes, after watching the news, reading a hard-hitting piece of journalism or even perusing a particularly relevant novel, I start to realize that we humans are tightrope-walking. An inch away from falling off in a million different directions, we are so glorious in our ability to evade, confront and create danger all at once.
For example, I am absolutely disconcerted by the current state of domesticated bees. According to UNEP, or the United Nations Environment Programme, “Out of some 100 crop species, which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated.” A 2000 study included in the 2010 UNEP report revealed that $14.6 billion of US crops were pollinated by bees. Without bees, most entomologists concur that humankind, let alone the American economy, would be in dire straits.
Albert Einstein himself is accredited to the saying, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”
Right now, due to Colony Collapse Disorder, bees are starting to suddenly abandon their hives, causing the disintegration of their colonies.
Scientists are still researching the exact cause of CCD, but they believe it is a multi-factor syndrome, and possible linkages include the interference of cell phone radiation with bees’ ability to fly (The Independent, UK), the introduction of various mites, and factory-produced airborne toxins.
Another issue, very different but no less serious than the first, is the growing number of natural disasters all over the world. According to the EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, which is maintained by CRED, the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Brussels, Belgium, natural disaster numbers have spiked in recent years. In 1970, there were 78 recorded catastrophes, and in 2004, there were 348.
The recent earthquake in Japan in conjunction with the resulting nuclear waste hazards has devastated countless lives. The earthquake in Haiti exacerbated already calamitous conditions in one of the poorest countries in the world. The earthquake and subsequent flooding in Christ church wreaked havoc on one of the world’s most beautiful and culture-rich regions. And as most of us know well, the wounds from Hurricane Katrina in the United States are still far from healing.
Another disastrous disease that is sweeping through our world is Tropical Race 4. Race 4 is a fungus that affects Cavendish bananas, the species that we eat. The New York Times ran a fascinating article in 2008 that paid tribute to the unique history of the everyday fruit, and practically predicted its demise. Previously, Cavendish bananas were not popular at all. Instead, South American planters grew the Gros Michel, which was said to be far superior. However, Tropical Race 4 came and wiped that out, which gave rise to the Cavendish.
Right now, banana scientists are trying to construct a new, immune successor. Imagine a world without bananas.
Even if they succeed, you will likely never again taste the same banana you eat today, but instead a species manipulated even more so by man. If they are not able to find a suitable replacement, the consequences are a lot worse. Countless jobs would be lost, and the lack of exporting goods would sink several South and Central American economies, especially that of Guatemala and Honduras.
The issue of Tropical Race 4, as well as the even more dangerous issues of bee declining and natural disasters represent how tenuous our way of life is. There are so many other crises like these that rear their ugly heads all over the world. For me, they put my personal issues, as well as the more general issues of humankind, into perspective. All our evolved, convoluted issues we have developed mean nothing if our civilization falls apart entirely. They bring into question what issues really are worth squabbling over. You do not have to be a tree hugger or a doomsday preacher to find these issues disturbing. They just make you realize how fragile our world really is. Life, in itself, is a miracle. And through our struggles, whether they be Upper Spring, APs and SATs, sports or college decisions, we have to remember that.
Our solution to these problems was outlined by MJ Engel ’13 in her article, “Stand Up and Act.” She wrote about her particular passion fighting for peace in Darfur, but the overall message still rings true. Do something. Join forces with an organization, become a scientist on the forefront of these studies and be the one to cure Colony Collapse Disorder. We are lucky enough to be living in a world where passionate individuals exist who are willing to devote themselves to the betterment (or perhaps the survival) of humankind.
Raeva Kumar is a two-year Lower from Poughquag, NY.