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11.19.08

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Phaedra

Fruitless Fall

Reviewed by Michael S. Gant


AMONG THE many ecological crises looming, the plight of pollinators—both cultivated and wild—is one of the most worrisome. After all, upon their industriousness depends a great deal of our agricultural diversity and abundance. The recent scare over colony collapse disorder (CCD) among the nation's honeybees raised a frightening prospect for which we have no solution or even diagnosis. In Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, environmental writer Rowan Jacobsen travels the country in search of some answers, speaking with beekeepers and other experts. Unfortunately, no single culprit can be blamed. Bees have fallen victim to parasites, to toxic sprays, to the demands of monoculture, to a whole panoply of stresses: "Trucked to new sites every few weeks jacked up on high-fructose corn syrup, dosed with pesticides and antibiotics, invaded by parasites and exposed to exotic pathogens, they are worn thinner and thinner." In short, a la Michael Pollan, we may need to rethink our entire farming model. As Jacobsen notes, "For decades, we've been wringing every last drop of efficiency from our agricultural system, not noticing that we were sacrificing resilience to get it." Jacobsen provides, in a sometimes too breezy style, lots of fascinating background about bee behavior and plant physiology. He also paints a scary vision of a world without pollinators: in Sichuan, China, pear trees are pollinated entirely by swarms of human workers, who use bamboo twigs to impart pollen grains by hand to millions of blossoms. (By Rowan Jacobsen; Bloomsbury; 278 pages; $25 hardback)


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