Many people will remember that Rachel Carson predicted a silent spring, but she also warned of a fruitless fall, a time with no pollination and no fruit. The fruitless fall nearly became a reality when, in 2007, beekeepers watched thirty billion bees mysteriously die. And they continue to disappear. The remaining pollinators, essential to the cultivation of a third of American crops, are now trucked across the country and flown around the world, pushing them ever closer to collapse. Fruitless Fall does more than just highlight this growing agricultural catastrophe. It emphasizes the miracle of flowering plants and their pollination partners, and urges readers not to take the abundance of our Earth for granted. A new afterword by the author tracks the most recent developments in this ongoing crisis.
With a passion that gives this exploration of colony collapse disorder real buzz, Jacobsen (A Geography of Oysters) investigates why 30 billion honeybees one-quarter of the northern hemisphere's population vanished by the spring of 2007. He identifies the convergence of culprits blood-sucking mites, pesticide buildup, viral infections, overused antibiotics, urbanization and climate change that have led to habitat loss and the destruction of "the beautiful mathematics of the hive." Honeybees are undergoing something akin to a nervous breakdown; they aren't pollinating crops as effectively, and production of commercial American honey, already undercut by cheap Chinese imports, is dwindling, even as beekeepers truck stressed honeybees cross-country to pollinate the fields of desperate farmers. Jacobsen pessimistically predicts that "our breakfasts will become... a lot more expensive" as the supply of citrus fruits, berries and nuts will inevitably decrease, though he expresses faith that more resilient bees can eventually emerge, perhaps as North American honeybees are crossbred with sturdier Russian queen bees. The author, now tending his own hives, invests solid investigative journalism with a poet's voice to craft a fact-heavy book that soars.