Older readers may recall the heatwave that hit much of Europe, but especially France, during August 2003. Inevitably, perhaps, studies concluded that the influence of humankind was probably behind the event, or at least made events such as that heatwave more likely. See, for example, Stott, Stone & Allen (2004)i. The abstract makes it clear that:
“It is an ill-posed question whether the 2003 heatwave was caused, in a simple deterministic sense, by a modification of the external influences on climate—for example, increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—because almost any such weather event might have occurred by chance in an unmodified climate.”
Having said that, they nevertheless find:
Using a threshold for mean summer temperature that was exceeded in 2003, but in no other year since the start of the instrumental record in 1851, we estimate it is very likely (confidence level >90%) that human influence has at least doubled the risk of a heatwave exceeding this threshold magnitude.
By 2019, when western Europe (and particularly France) had experienced another heatwave (in June of that year) attribution studies had moved on. CarbonBriefii was quick to tell us that:
The record-breaking heatwave that struck France last week was made at “least five times more likely” by climate change, according to a new quick-fire assessmentiii.
They went on to explain that there were uncertainties, although it seems that uncertainties only operate in one direction:
However, they note that there are “large uncertainties” in their analysis and the true influence of climate change could be higher.
So far so apparently certain, and indeed the Wikipedia entry for “Climate change in France”iv tells us that:
Climate change is expected to bring longer, warmer summers and less precipitation to France, which will severely affect many of the crops used in agriculture. Due to the warmer weather, the evaporation will be higher and less rain is expected. As most crops currently grown in France are to some extent sensitive to drought, there will likely be a higher need for irrigation, leading to a higher cost of crop production. Extreme weather events and droughts can also eliminate crop yields for some years. The warm weather…will prolong the growing season.
What has all this got to do with bees? Well, on 20th October 2021 an article appeared in the Guardianv with the headline “‘Climate change is hitting us’: French beekeepers expect worst honey harvest in half a century”
It appeared that all those warnings of long hot dry summers brought about by man-made greenhouse gas emissions were justified. But wait. What’s this? The secondary heading to the Guardian article expanded on and clarified the contents of the main headline, thus:
“Bad weather hits production across Europe as flowering seasons become earlier and shorter”
What do they mean by “bad weather”? Most of us, at least those of us who live in fairly cool, wet locations and who are grateful for a bit of sun and warmth, assume that by bad weather they mean things like cold and rain, maybe even frost and snow. And sure enough, this is what the Guardian tells us, when we read on:
French beekeepers expect their worst harvest in decades as unseasonably cold and wet weather due to climate change has prevented bees from producing honey….
…Beekeepers association UNAF said …2021 will be a disastrous year for honey as, with the exception of a few rare areas in France, conditions have been very difficult for bees in spring and summer, with long periods of frost, cold, rain and northerly winds…
…Due to late frost and rains, there will be virtually no acacia honey this year, for the second year in a row, while rosemary, thyme and heather honey production, as well as chestnut and sunflower honey harvests, have been poor to virtually zero.
Forest, mountain and pine honey harvests have also been disappointing as the flowering season was too short…
…“Little by little, climate change is hurting our business. At this rate, there will be less and less French honey,” he said.
So it’s our old friend (or enemy) climate change again. But not climate change as we’d been led to believe. It seems any unusual weather (hot, cold, wet, dry) qualifies as climate change, even if it’s not the type of climate change we had been told to expect. I have no doubt that extreme weather of all kinds might be less than helpful to bees and their keepers, but is it right to blame an all-embracing climate change on variable weather? Might some other factor be at play?
On 4th August 2021, an articlevi appeared on the France 24 website, headed “Pesticide threat to bees likely ‘underestimated’: study”. It provides a detailed explanation of a very real and substantial threat to French bees, and concludes that the main problems are habitat loss and pesticide use (no mention of climate change):
“Exposure to a cocktail of agrochemicals significantly increases bee mortality, according to research Wednesday that said regulators may be underestimating the dangers of pesticides in combination.
Bees and other pollinators are crucial for crops and wild habitats and evidence of steep drops in insect populations worldwide has prompted fears of dire consequences for food security and natural ecosystems.
A new meta-analysis of dozens of published studies over the last 20 years looked at the interaction between agrochemicals, parasites and malnutrition on bee behaviours — such as foraging, memory, colony reproduction — and health.
Researchers found that when these different stressors interacted they had a negative effect on bees, greatly increasing the likelihood of death.
The study published in Nature also found that pesticide interaction was likely to be “synergistic”, meaning that their combined impact was greater than the sum of their individual effects.
…In a commentary also published in Nature, Adam Vanbergen of France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment said that pollinating insects face threats from intensive agriculture, including chemicals like fungicides and pesticides, as well as a reduction of pollen and nectar from wild flowers.
The industrial-scale use of managed honey bees also increases pollinator exposure to parasites and diseases.
…The main drivers of pollinator extinction are thought to be habitat loss and pesticide use.”
Bearing in mind that this appeared just two and a half months before the Guardian article bemoaning the supposed effect of climate change on French bees, one might have expected it to be considered relevant to the issue, and reference to have been made to it by the Guardian. All the more so since on 9th September 2021 the Guardian’s website included an articlevii with the heading “France threatened with legal action over use of pesticides
Widespread use of chemicals that can harm wildlife means French state has failed to protect the country’s flora and fauna, say NGOS”. Even more than that, the heading to the article was followed by a photograph of lots of placards with pictures of angry-looking cartoon bees raising one fist, with the sub-heading: “A campaign in Paris earlier this year highlighting the threat of neonicotonoids on bees”. Indeed, in this article, even the Guardian said:
Scientists have repeatedly shown a link between the widespread use of pesticides on agricultural land and the loss of pollinators, which are essential to so many food chains. This is believed to be a leading cause of insect losses worldwide – along with the destruction of wild areas. Last year, a global study showed insect numbers had dropped by almost 25% in the last 30 years.
EU members banned neonicotinoids on crops in 2018 because of the damage they do to bees, but some countries have subsequently allowed them to be used in specific situations.
The whole article was about threatened Court action against the French government by two NGOs, in respect of the French government’s alleged failure to meet its obligations to protect nature by authorising the use of neonicotinoids under specific conditions in France despite the EU ban. The entire article makes no mention of climate change.
Adverse weather conditions undoubtedly cause all sorts of problems to bees and beekeepers in France. However, cold summers and shortened flowering seasons are the exact opposite of all the usual climate change warnings that have been made by alarmists about French weather, especially summer weather, where almost the entire focus has been on how CAGW is making heat-waves more likely. To blame cold, wet shortened summers on climate change without more ado is all just a bit too glib and easy. To blame the problems of French bees on climate change in an article that doesn’t mention pesticides and habitat loss is unworthy, in my opinion, especially when the Guardian is well aware of those issues.