America's Other Trade Deficit -- An ENN Commentary

The massive die off of nearly one half of the US’s honey bees over the past six months indicates an underlying new, as yet unidentified, indicator of national economic well being and public health.

The massive die off of nearly one half of the US’s honey bees over the past six months indicates an underlying new, as yet unidentified, indicator of national economic well being and public health.

America has a massive environmental trade deficit and it’s growing wider every day.

Honey bees are being wiped out by the parasitic varroa mite that originates from China that was first identified in 1986. The mite attaches itself to the bee and sucks it dry of its internal fluids. Honey bees are crucial not only to making honey but pollinating many other crops such as almonds, watermelon, strawberries, apples, pecans and beans. California produces 80% of the world’s almonds crop, about 1 billion pounds a year. In all, these crops are worth about $15 billion each year.

The problem looming for US agriculture is much larger than simply that the varroa mite has become resistant to pesticides used to control it.

It is a case of the metaphorical chickens coming home to roost. In more ways than one rapidly expanded global trade with China, to name just one of our many trading partners, has introduced a new invasive parasite that is threatening to wipe out one of America’s strongest global products.


Each day countless flights, trucks and vessels are transporting countless tons of new goods into the US to feed the insatiable habits of our consumer society. Electronics, food, labor, and media bring with them new so-called invasive species of not only varroa mites but mounds of plastics treated with dangerous toxic chemicals.

Scientists are finding that these chemicals invade our bodies through simple touch, inhalation or when they leach into the water after they are thrown away. Pthalates, PBDE flame retardants, mercury, and a host of other dangerous, untested, and mostly unregulated chemicals are daily depositing themselves not merely in our homes but into our bodies as well with completely unknown consequences for human growth and evolution. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors effecting mental development, the nervous system and reproductive capacity.

Most at threat are our children who are being poisoned at higher doses by body weight from flexible plastic baby bottles and toys, utensils, plates and cups, body care products, clothes, blankets, bedding, electronics and numerous other household items. Children are actually doubly at risk of poisoning from plastics since children often labor sorting through mountains of our refuse in countries where our plastic waste is being dumped or “recycled”.

The very luxuries for which we pride ourselves for being able to afford are making us biologically poorer for having them.

As our global economy churns out and distributes more and more products at a blinding pace, plastics are being used with increasing frequency for packaging, wrapping, cushioning and casings replacing glass and paper which can be recycled many times.

Equally as toxic is the myth that plastics can be recycled. The fact is plastic can only be re-used and little of it is. Most of what is collected in shipped off to be someone else’s problem in another part of the world where there are no mechanisms to deal with it.

Both waste plastic and raw pellets end up in the ocean where it becomes another deadly menace to marine wildlife and washes up on the beaches of countless island nations. The documentary film “Our Synthetic Sea” presents evidence that plastic particles out number plankton in the ocean.

Much like the honey bee, we are witnessing a parasitic wholesale toxicification of an entire generation with unknown possibly Malthusian consequences for human development. While the European Union has implemented new regulations to slow and eventually eliminate these dangerous ingredients, American based chemical and plastics industry lobbyists are busily swarming Brussels to undermine their efforts.

The varroa mite and these seemingly disconnected mounds of toxic consumer goods have a lot in common. They are the inevitable invasive byproducts of our central role in the increasingly global economy. They are the costs of our rapidly widening environmental trade deficit—an indicator for which there is no measure but the failure of timeless ecological processes such as pollination and the biological process of human reproduction.


Robert Ovetz, PhD is an adjunct instructor at The Art Institute of California-San Francisco and an international ocean advocate with the California based Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

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Source: An ENN Commentary