BILL MOYERS: The toxic trespassers of which Sandra Steingraber warns afflict all creatures great and small -- from humans to the humblest honeybee. As you may have read, honeybee populations are dying out all over the world and with a serious impact on our food supply. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says a quarter of the American diet, many of our fruits and vegetables especially, rely on pollination by honeybees. But something is killing them at an accelerated pace and it’s getting worse. Forty to fifty percent of the hives have been wiped out.

More and more, the leading suspect is certain pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, singly or in combination, that appear to be slaughtering bees outright or affecting brain and nerve functions. Beekeepers and activist groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency to ban a kind of pesticide known as neonicotinoids.

Not only are we dependent on the honeybee for much of what we eat, there is, of course, a grace and elegance they bring to the natural world that would diminish us all were they to disappear. The environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben narrates this short film by my friend and colleague, Peter Nelson.

BILL MCKIBBEN: Let’s think about bees in a hive, they go out every day when the temperature is high enough. There’re not like other farm animals, they’re this weird wonderful cross between wild and domestic and they head out into the open world and they come back as it were, with reports about that world, you know, what it’s like miles away. So one little bee yard some place is a kind of hub for understanding whole huge swath of territory. Understanding whether it’s been farmed well, or treated as kind of a monoculture; whether it’s being saturated in pesticides or whether it’s producing a wide beautiful variety of flowers of all kinds.

There’re sort of accomplices in figuring how healthy and together our landscapes really are. One of the reasons I like being out with bees is that you do sort of slow down and enter their world a little bit. I think they’re quite beautiful, I like watching -- I confess -- I like watching in early spring the first few days of bees coming back with pollen and just sort of looking at the pollen in their saddle bags as they return and seeing what color it is and figuring out where--what tree it must of come from, or whatever. And there’re beautiful and that you get a sense of indefatigability, I mean, this is an impossible task to, you know, three grains at a time produce enough honey at time to keep the colony alive over the winter, and yet they do it and there is something quite beautiful about that too.

I think most bee keepers are fascinated by bees themselves. This perfect example of the idea that humans could cooperate with another species to both of their mutual benefit we don’t have very many examples of that in our society but that’s what a bee hive is.

I mean honey bees are, like everything else on our planet, under all kinds of duress. I mean, the world in which we jointly inhabit is changing with enormous speed, so none of the patterns that any of us are used to exist in same way anymore. Bees are under treat because landscapes keep changing, we get better at everything that we do and take more cutting of hay, you know, we leave less time for clover to just sit there in the field. Life is speeding up for them just like it is for us and really neither us is coping very well with the results of that.

So, I mean, what we could do to help bees is exactly what we can do to help ourselves, try to slow down the pace of change in the world around us. Human societies aren’t going to be able to cope with rapid climate change and neither can most animal societies, bees included. Human societies can’t cope, turning everything into monoculture, neither can bees, they are a remarkable reminder for the need for a certain kind of stability, in terms of things like climate and the need for a certain kind of variety, in terms of landscape and what’s around us. We need to be making at this point in our society some wise decisions about the years ahead and so we need to be using some of that same focused and determined decision making that bees has successfully employed over a great many millennium.

“Dance of the Honey Bee”

Bill presents and introduces the short documentary Dance of the Honey Bee. Narrated by Bill McKibben, the film takes a look at the determined, beautiful and vital role honey bees play in preserving life, as well as the threats bees face from a rapidly changing landscape. “Not only are we dependent on the honey bee for much of what we eat,” says Bill, “there is, of course, a grace and elegance they bring to the natural world that would diminish us all were they to disappear.”

Producer, Director, Photographer & Editor: Peter Nelson.
Narrator: Bill McKibben. Original music: John Powell. Audio: Merce Williams.

Intro Producer: Lena Shemel. Intro Editor: Paul Desjarlais.

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  • Lynn Jericho

    In my coaching practice, I ask my clients what their 1/12th of a teaspoon will be. Every honey be makes 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey over its lifetime, a golden, indestructible legacy. Raw honey in incorruptible and can maintain its vital gifts for thousands of years. The glucose in honey is ideally suited for liver metabolism (the functional units of the liver, lobules, are hexagonal just like honeycomb. The honeybee and the human being are deeply connected.

  • Clyde Robinson Jr.

    I wish I could fly so I could survey the land from the air like a bee. I think it would bee so cool:-)

  • Luis Manuel Ruiz

    Wonderful report and eye opening, with awareness about OUR Changing Worl! I use honey everyday, and never stopped to think about this action? Thank you for this Gift! To me and to Mankind……

  • NOLALiz

    I am an urban beekeeper because I think that they are safer in neighborhoods then in the agricultural fields where Monsanto, Bayer and other companies have changed the quality of plants and their pollen. But, one of the problems i have are hysterical neighbors. I had one who went into a screaming match at me in the street. There are hives all over the place, mine are the ones in boxes. The others are in abandoned buildings, walls, trees. I just had a urban farm ask me to move a hive because they had one person who thought that there could be, maybe, sometime in the future, perhaps, someone stung, maybe. Urban farm was unable to adjust to a hive. I think we need to show more short documentaries and do more outreach so we have bees that are safe in cities and the suburbs. IMHO.
    P.S. many beekeepers handle their hives without veils and gloves…

  • Gerald

    Hang in there. The way to “urban” beekeep is to keep them hidden behind a screen of some sort and no one will ever know they are there. They can actually make as much or more honey in urban settings as they can in the country since so many flowers are typically available.

  • Pat Elgee

    Do you remember sitting on the front porch watching the fireflies at night? When was the last time you saw a firefly? World wide that are all but gone. I tried to describe them to my grand daughter. The evening use to be filled with them.

    In Florida during a heavy rain the croaking frogs were sometimes louder than the rain. After the rain, the puddles were filled with tiny pollywogs. Then the trucks came around spraying for mosquitoes.

    Instead of poisoning the mosquitoes, frogs, and subsequently the birds, they could have saved money on their poisons and nature would have taken care of it.

    Bees are on their way out. Thank you Monsanto, Dow, bought politicians, and stupid people.

  • motleymutton

    The firefly, bee, and frog populations are alive and well in the hills of WV where we have an organic farm.
    But with mountain top removal and now fracking, their days will be numbered here as well. Our so called “leaders” can only see fossil fuel dollar signs, as the resources are trucked out of our state along with our clean water , clean air, and our health.
    If these destructive practices are killing US, I can only imagine what it is doing to the tiny bees, fireflies, and frogs.

  • Robert J. Gaydos
  • Phyl Stiles

    Bee City USA encourages city leaders to celebrate and raise awareness of the contribution bees and other pollinators make to our world–making the world safer for pollinators, one city at a time. Consider becoming a Bee City USA designee. Apply at

  • Henssis1

    I haven’t seen a Honey Bee for years…

  • Ruben Anderson

    I am an urban beekeeper, and I love my bees. But, honeybees are invasive, and displace many native pollinators. The native pollinators can often fly earlier, and in colder and windier weather, so they are important to pollinate early crops. Because of the honeybees, we may lose these pollinators and lose crops.

  • Patricia Ellen Hart

    If we lose the honey bees..we are all in jeopardy. I wonder if monsanto will try and buy the rights to control the genes of all honey bees!?! As for the fireflies…I live in South County RI and late in June…you can sit in the field at night…and there are so many fireflies can’t tell the difference between the stars in the heavens and the lights in the field…just beautiful!

  • HappyBeeDay

    “To help bees… same thing to help ourselves: Slow down”

    Love the cinematography!

  • Kn Black

    My family have 25 hives that we keep on our small farm. It is in the middle of Iowa, and is unusual by having a buffer of wooded areas and a small river around it. Unfortunately the attack of sprays and GMO crops are in our bees range, but at least they have some non-managed area to live in. We have an uphill battle to help our bees live. We have to feed them, medicate them and watch over them all year long, yes even in the winter we still look in on them. (not that they like that) A bee can travel two or three miles to gather their food, so our little friends still are exposed to the poisons of modern farming. Many people don’t understand that in almost all America, there are no longer wild bees. The swarms that occur are from a managed apiary. A colony can no longer live without our help. The mites and sicknesses are just to great for them to live on their own, very sad.

  • Nikki Rose

    If we don’t think we’ll face the same fate as these monoculture worker bees, we’re truly in a trance. Why do humans continue to think they must “house” honey bees to save them?

  • StungTwiceYesterday

    I’ve trapped a swarm of bees that made their nest in my bird house. If you can remove them to another location I am willing to discuss it. I taped over the access hole this morning when they were quiet. So I think you need to act fast.

  • Anonymous

    I have a beekeeper who keeps hives on my property in town. We actually got the city council to pass a bee keeping ordinance so that it would be legal. Don’t let the fear-mongers discourage you. You are helping increase the bee population–a worthy and good thing to do.

  • Dowzer

    I used to be afraid of bees- as a child I was stung just once, but badly. Over time, I tried to just observe them more from a distance. I would practise breathing deeply, and talking to them, trying to calm them as well as myself. The more I learn about them, the more I love them, feel so grateful for their existence. I really do just SLOW DOWN around them, as Bill McKibben suggested. Now, approaching 60 years old, I am transforming more of our “lawn” into friendly habitat for many critters, by planting native flowers, shrubs, ground cover, and lots of clover. Our 1-acre property has been all-organic for the 7 years we have lived here, but it seems so small in relation to the larger community and the world’s use of pesticides. Thank you for posting.

  • BeeMan

    Have a look at this woman’s work:

  • HPeet

    Imidacloprid, a neonicitinoid is made by Bayer AG, not Monsanto. This insecticide is most likely the root cause of the many bee problems being experience. The added stress necessarily placed on the bees in order to be a successful commercial beekeeper, compounds the problem. Urban and backyard beekeeping may provide a hope of saving this vital insect.

    So far, the deleterious effect of Neonicitinoids can only be proved by correlation and not causation. Look to the following dates in comparison to the various collapses and diseases that have afflicted the beekeepers:

    “On January 21, 1986 a patent was filed, and granted on May 3, 1988, for imidacloprid in the United States (U.S. Pat. No. 4,742,060) by Nihon Tokushu Noyaku Seizo K.K. of Tokyo, Japan.”

    In the 80’s and 90’s, American Foulbrood, European Foulbrood, Varroa and Tracheal Mites ran rampant over American bee colonies and virtually wiped out any feral colonies. This has greatly reduced the gene pool available to American Beekeepers. Queens that used to last for 4-5 years now have to be replaced every 1-2 years.

    “On January 26, 2005, the Federal Register notes the establishment of the ‘(Pesticide Tolerances for) Emergency Exemptions’ for imidacloprid. It use was granted to Hawaii (for the) use (of) this pesticide on bananas(,) and the States of Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota to use (of) this pesticide on sunflower(s)”.

    2005 is the first year of beekeepers reporting CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).

    “Imidacloprid has many brands and formulations for a wide range of uses from delousing or defleaing animals to saving Hemlocks, Maple, Oak and Ash Trees. Here are a few—Admire, Advantage (Advocate) (flea killer for pets), Gaucho, Mallet, Merit, Nuprid, Prothor, Turfthor, Confidor, Conguard, Hachikusan, Kohinor, Optrol, Premise, Prothor, Provado, Intercept, Winner, and Xytect.”

    “Many trees are wind pollinated. But others such as fruit trees, Linden, Catalpa, and Black Locust trees are bee and wind pollinated and imidacloprid would likely be found in the flowers in small quantities. Higher doses must be used to control boring insects than other types.”

    In my area, the Black Locust is the primary source for the spring honey flow.

    These quotes are (shamelessly) lifted from wikipedia at the following link:

  • HPeet

    Where are you?

  • Guest

    In the 90s, I had a backyard neighbor who was an urban beekeeper from France. They described the traumas of their immediate next door neighbor using complaints to the City Planners, and then the City using city ordinances to harass, and eventually, stop them from doing it. They were simply so devastated by the hostility they received, that they sold their Silicon Valley property and bought 12 acres in Oregon, where they could farm and beekeep legally, and in neighborly/officials peace.

    As a side note, in remembrance of my former urban beekeeping neighbors, and all that they taught me about bees, my new yard is “a bee-lovers paradise.” Here’s how to do it:

  • jtgriffe

    Beautiful film. Quite unscientific. I didn’t hear even one mention of the mite problem which is still the worst known problem us beekeepers face. In my experience, hives do better in a urban or suburban area rather than in a forest.

  • Anonymous

    Being a small gardner for many decades, I immediately notice the lack of bees swarming around my garden as my veggies bloomed. What appears to do the work that bees normally do, Wasps show up in great numbers! Which makes me wonder, why aren’t the chemicals affecting the Wasps as they do the bees?

  • honey lady

    I sure hope someone came to the bees’ aid before they died! (OOF!) In future, you might try your local or state beekeepers association, local CSA organic food coop, farmers market or extension service – someone will have a connection to a list of beekeepers willing to remove bees, either nests or swarms. I suggest you keep that list handy, especially for your area’s swarm season. If one beekeeper can’t help right away, then another can take her place.

    And please – no more taping over access holes! (Thanks!)

  • Gary Ehrenfeld

    I give a presentation on bees and beekeepers to elementary, middle, and high school children. I would love to add this video to my presentation. Anyway I can get a copy so I can add it to my laptop. At some of the schools I do not have internet access.

    Who would I contact to ask?

  • moderator

    Hi Gary,

    We’d absolutely like to help out, can you email me at with all your info? Thanks again for watching!

    Sean @ Moyers

  • ccaffrey

    It’s not just fear-mongers. Some people are deathly allergic to formic acid, sometimes as a result of fireant stings, and the migration of aggressive bees moving northward doesn’t allay those fears. Whether they can afford allergy treatments is another issue.

  • hedddo

    I am a new honeybee keeper, and this thought crossed my mind…I’ve never seemed to have a lack of native pollinators. I don’t plan on multiplying beyond two hives, but will stay aware of any stress I’m placing on my natives.

  • Mary Schoen-Clark

    I’m seeing the interest in Bee’s go up on my news feed among my friends. Articles like this one help to increase awareness and this is another example of “if you take care of the little things the big things will take care of themselves”!

  • soulfulady

    Me too, Dowzer. In fact, the last time I was stung by a bee the doctor said the next time would be fatal. What I heard him say was that the defense mechanisms in my body/mind could be deadly, working against me instead of for me. I took that to be a signal to pay attention to an unconscious/semi-conscious fear in me that was frightening the bees!

    Sure enough, I found alot of unnecessary fear and tension in me, even at the mention of a bee, even when there were none around! I decided to look at them from the “birds and the bees” perspective. Maybe that as a metaphor was the real underlying fear and tension… I had to open up and release that first, separating the one issue from the then-misplaced and misdirected issue.

    I too began to learn about bees, especially because a close and treasured friend suddenly began to love bees. Listening to her talk about them, I began seeing them through her eyes and have learned to love them with great joy, appreciation and gratitude. I think something healed in me at the level of DNA (research has shown that love, joy, appreciation and gratitude are the 4 psycho-spiritual building blocks that run the programs in the DNA, according to author Gregg Braden).

    I haven’t been stung by a bee again, and I’ve been around alot of bees since this change of heart has occurred, but I have a good feeling that bees have no reason to sting me because I don’t present any kind of threat to them even though I’m in their territory. They really are the most loveable creatures. Maybe we all are, even us humans.

    You all may be interested in 9 lectures by Rudolf Steiner on the spiritual importance of bees. They’re published online to read for free at

  • Anonymous

    I love bees. I am the last person in my area to mow because bees need the dandelion for their first feast. I make sure they have fresh water. I don’t care if neighbors like it.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    I have some of the plants she has but not enough.

  • Anonymous

    I got stung once by a honey bee. I sat on it. They bit and/or sting when they die. :(

  • Anonymous

    What is wrong with you? Do you not know how vital even wasps are to our food supply?

  • Anonymous

    People like you are vital to survival. I love you.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t wonder read Kn Black above.

  • Anonymous

    What pollinators?

  • Kn Black

    It is true the European honey bee competes with native pollinators. In some cases the honey bee has become the predominate pollinator in an area.There are several hundred natives in various regions of the USA. The one just off the top of my head is the bumble bee. There are several types of Bumble Bees that is also in danger of survival. The thing is this isn’t a new situation as the honey bee was introduced in colonial times and had reached an equilibrium. Until recently none of the natives have been exterminated by this competition. Now all pollinators are under attack with some times the same and some times similar stressors of the honey bee. The one thing about the honey bee is it is a canary in the mine type indicator. It is an insect we need for ag. and honey so we monitor in in great detail.Several less publicized studies have shown the bumble bee and other pollinators are close to extermination in some areas for the same reasons the honey bee is having problems. We need to address this issue as we need all the pollinators.

  • Kn Black

    Yes Monsanto is purchasing their way into the bee industry. Quote;
    ” According to a company announcement, Beeologics handed over the reins to
    Monsanto back on September 28, 2011, which means the gene-manipulating
    giant will now be able to control the flow of information and products
    coming from Beeologics for colony collapse disorder (CCD).”
    On a related issue to prevent labeling of inclusion of GMO foods prevents consumers from voting with their pocket books at the grocery store.

  • Alan Osterman

    This footage is so touching. We all take so much for granted. These little beings are part of the fabric of this earth, and if they go, somebody WILL have to answer for it. Times I think, that this world would be a lot better off if humans were not on it. I wish that this was a full length feature film, perhaps someday before the`re gone.