About a year ago, I came across this post by Mandy Brown on the parable of the bees. A recent Radiolab podcast on the worth of intangible things (via Kottke) re-explored the story and exposed the dilemma of human solutions superseding natural solutions at a larger cost.
A quick recap on the story: In the 1990s, the bee population died off in Mao County, China due to an overuse of pesticides. To remedy the problem, Chinese farm workers resorted to hand pollination in an effort to salvage their apple production. In an interesting discovery, the human effort resulted in a 30% growth in production. It even resulted in a boost in the local economy with workers spending their limited fortunes in the local market.
Though the act of hand pollination continues to this day, there is a concern that it may slow down or stop altogether. Chinese workers are demanding higher wages. This puts pressure on farmers to control their costs. The biggest problem with all of this? They can’t just choose to go back to natural production because they don’t know when the bees will come back (if ever).
So take the natural, “in-efficent” but cost effective, pollination method and compare it to the human method which requires more man hours, painstaking work, and no sustainable loop. Interrupting nature’s course with the intent of valuing efficiency and economic output sowed the seeds of a real problem.
It’s a strong reminder of the hubris of humanity as it faces nature taking its course.