The Collapsing Colonies of Bees: Economics and the Buddhist Doctrine of Ahimsa
by Janaka Goonetilleke on 22 Aug 2009 4 Comments

It was Einstein who stated that if the Honey Bee disappeared from the surface of the earth, man would have four years of life left. “No More Bees, No more Pollination, No more Plants, No more Animals, No More Man.”

Hence the fall of Bee population in America, Latin America and Europe should concern every human being. It is said that one third of the food eaten in America is dependant on bee pollination worth billions of dollars. Bees unfortunately, are victims of a man-made disaster geared by money economics.

Man does not understand that in an interdependent environment, destroying any life has a natural consequence - the destruction of the whole environment, including that of man. This of course is the reason for the doctrine of AHIMSA. Bee’s today, Humans tomorrow. Will consumption economics destroy man the way it is destroying the bees? The causes of the collapsing colonies are not confined to bees; they are universal and the whole animal kingdom is subject to them. It is again Einstein who said that there are only two things that are infinite – the Universe and man’s stupidity.

Colony collapse disorder

This disorder is characterised by worker bees leaving the hive never to return, to die elsewhere. The remaining bees in the hive are enormously diseased. They have a tremendous pathogen load. The Bee population in the USA has been reduced by 30% within two years. Billions of dollars has been lost due to reduced agricultural production. Although no single cause has been found the following are suspected:

- Poor nutrition or malnutrition

- Mono cultural environment, Genetically modified plants, destruction of habitat

- Immuno-deficiencies: a) secondary to malnutrition and b) environmental, i.e., antibiotics, pesticides

Destroying the natural habitat and replacing it with mono cultural agricultural plantations reduces bee nutrition. The bee gets its nutrients by eating different pollen from different plants which helps it get a balanced diet. Genetically modified plants possibly give pollen of poor quality, and also have toxic substances produced to destroy pests.

Immuno-deficiencies akin to the AIDS in humans are created by pesticides and insecticides and general environmental pollutants that expose the bees to various viral and fungal infections, to which they succumb.

Consumption Economics and Humanity

The social disruption and medical problems are not confined to bees. An economic system that has been sold by creative accounting in which one rationalise only the parts one wishes to rationalise has caused immense problems for humanity.

The human response to the present economic system is no different to the bees. As much as the workers are moving from the hive to die elsewhere, so are the poor moving in hoards to cities. Urbanisation of humanity whilst the habitat is being destroyed in the name of development causes rural economies with the auspices of the IMF and World Bank to run down.


In Sri Lanka, 50% of the GDP is spent on the western province (Greater Colombo), one of nine provinces. The expansion of humanity in this region has not been reciprocated with the needs of the community. However, advocates of this policy argue that the high density creates a vibrancy, a critical mass of people who animate the city enjoying each others’ company, and sustains public transport and businesses. Another creative account.

What it does not address are the disruption of the extended family system and its natural consequences of stress and mental disease, increased incidence of divorce and single parentage, and the future social consequences. In the UK, 1 in 5 people suffer from mental disease at one time or the other and have an incidence of about 40% - 60% single parentage. The public services are stretched to such a degree that violence and drug addiction are rampant in the cities.

Pollution affects the immunological system causing epidemics of chronic lung disease such as asthma and increased incidence of malignancies. Sexually transmitted diseases due to high density living is increased and so are epidemics of flu, etc. The most worrying factor is that pollution is causing reduced sperm counts. This, associated with late marriage due to social reasons and sexually transmitted disease, is increasing the risks of infertility.

To cater to the nutritional needs of the high density populace, vast rural areas are opened out for modern agriculture, and new dams built with further disruption of rural communities, resulting in urban migrations with global warming, and changes in weather patterns. The new agricultural mechanisms of genetic modifications have the potential of increasing the incidences of allergy and affecting other animals who sustain the environment.

New unhealthy farming practices produce meat products that have an increased fat content. The resulting obesity increases the risk of coronary disease and cancers. Globalisation and catering to foreign markets makes the damage to the ecology worse.

Oblivious to us, human health is damaged similar to the bees’. The question is - will humanity follow the bees and face a situation like “collapsing colonies of Humans”? The indications are that there are already collapsing colonies in rural areas; will the cities follow?


There is a fundamental difference between western policies of development and eastern Buddhist / Hindu / Confucius views of development. Western concepts of development which we in Asia follow, led by the post-Macaulay ruling classes, emphasise materialism as the best indicator of development, whereas the Asian development had a humanistic and moralistic approach.

Interestingly, in a recent interview on Chinese television, whilst discussing the trillions of dollars in the Chinese reserve fund, the presenter commented, “But this is at the expense of pollution that we have to endure.” It is this pollution and the social disruption that the creative accountants ignore. The western economic system that has imposed itself on the rest of the world through globalisation has a lot to answer for. President Castro of Cuba put it aptly when globalisation first started by saying it is the sauce they are going to eat the rest of the world with.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, when Japan was at a crossroads pondering whether to look towards the west and imitate it or look towards Asia, both Rabindranath Tagore and Sun Yat Sen appealed to the Japanese to deviate from the philosophy of rule of the might of the west to the rule of the right of Asia. It was humanism and the morality of the Indic/Confucian philosophy that led to a peaceful Asia that they yearned for. At the time India and China accounted for 50% of the world GDP. Today it is India and China who have the power to change the system destroying the Earth and prevent collapsing colonies of Humans.

Buddhist concept of Economics and Ahimsa (Harmony)

Buddhism emphasises that Compassion is god and Harmony is the ultimate. It is this harmony that can achieve sustainable development. Economists are least qualified to address the question of development as they use money as proxy and creative accounting as its justification.

Buddhist economics encompasses “Small Is Beautiful,” “Less Is More,” as against the western economic system which advocates “Bigger is better,” “More is More.” In short, sustainable economy can only be achieved when jobs go to the people, not people going to the jobs.

The author is a consultant gynaecologist; he works in London

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