Halloween and Honeybees

Apis mellifera flying

I received a well-written email from a Central middle school 6th grader on a topic which I would never, in a million years, have expected to receive. I thought you might be interested in both the issue and my reply. Because it was a great opportunity to talk about being the change…

Here’s the email (name withheld, for the sake of a minor’s privacy):

Hi Mr. Olbert and Mr. Grassilli!

How are you? I am XXX, sixth grade at Central Middle School.  I was walking home from school a week or so ago and noticed that a bush of Mexican Sage flowers was just buzzing with honey bees.

I personally adore honeybees. What’s not to like about them? They’re fuzzy and cute, help the environment and only sting when you bother them! When left to their own devices, bees are an exceedingly important part of the ecosystem. Without bees to pollinate flowers, where would we have all the beautiful wildlife that San Carlos houses? Where would I get the honey that I mixed in with my oatmeal this morning?  

Bees are beneficial insects. Without them, many plants and flowers would not be able to reproduce and would slowly go extinct within our town. Unfortunately, a great quantity of bees die each year because of a number of different elements including disease, habitat loss and pesticides. We wouldn’t want many innocent lives to be harmed, would we? Especially such useful ones! This leads us to my main point.

It is my wish that the fake Halloween cobwebs – the stretchy white “cobwebs” typically made out of a cotton/polyester blend – are made illegal from San Carlos.

I know this sounds rather rash; I realize that simply banning products is not very simple.

Oh! And I haven’t told you why I had wanted these cobwebs banned at all yet! Well, as I was walking past this bush, I noticed that bees – my friend and I counted one hundred and four – were stuck in this webbing while trying to get to the flowers. Most were already dead; they had died struggling to free themselves, but I assume they eventually died of thirst or starvation. Many of the the bees were fighting to disentangle themselves from the web but were failing. After spending much time trying to cut the bees free with my friend’s scissors, we decided that we needed to get home for some homework. Since then, we have devoted a couple minutes of our days trying to help the bees, but there are so many, getting more and more tangled as they try to escape.

Bees fly with their sense of smell, and have no idea that the webs are there until they tangle  themselves in it. Sure, they make good Halloween decorations, but there are other decorations that work as well, such as spiderwebs with ropes that are spread far apart so they don’t trap animals and are reusable. Pumpkins, skeletons and lights also spread the trick-or-treating spirit.

Trapping bees aren’t the only downside of these decorations, either. They are used once a year and then are tossed into landfill and reside there for a very long time. They can also be swept away to the oceans and trap sea animals, as well as contribute to trash collections in the oceans such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is now twice the size of the state of Texas. You know, when I was in about second grade (four years ago) it was around the size of Texas. This is simply an example of how much trash is affecting our Earth.

Back to my point. I know it may be difficult to ban these webs, and if a petition is needed I will be glad to create one. Or, at the very least, you could help me educate the San Carlos public about the dangers of these webs, perhaps by posting something on the newsletter. I have given my views and I hope they give you a cause to help me on my journey to help our community- and the environment while I’m at it!

Thank you so much!

Here was my reply, lightly edited for readability:

Hi XXX,

I enjoyed reading your email, which was very well written, and clearly explained your concern. I admit it’s not an issue that I’ve ever heard about before.

Elected officials are called upon, a lot, to enact new rules controlling what the people they represent can or can’t do. Defining the rules which the community chooses to live by is the primary reason government, of any kind, exists.

Some rule requests seek to correct an obvious or compelling problem (e.g., setting up a neighborhood parking permit program, because people using the train to get to and from work are trying to avoid paying to park at the train station, and are instead using up all the parking spaces in nearby neighborhoods). Other rule requests are more a matter of choice.

For what it’s worth, my sense is that your request that we ban holiday/Halloween webs falls more in the second category than the first. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t important, just that it may not be important enough to enough people to make a ban reasonable. That’s important, because – and this may come as a surprise to you – the most important enforcement tool in public affairs doesn’t wear a uniform; it’s the public’s willingness to go along with the rule, and police its own behavior. Put another way, a rule that doesn’t seem reasonable to “enough” people is so prohibitively expensive to enforce that it’s generally not practical to put it on the books.

So my suggestion is that you start a community outreach effort to educate people about why people shouldn’t put up those webs. That effort could also include, at some point after you’ve gotten enough momentum going, a petition effort to document just how important the issue is to many people. At that point, you’d be in a much better position to lobby the Council to take action. And, whether or not the Council ever did anything, you’d have educated a lot of people on the importance of an issue they might never have otherwise considered.

I hope you don’t find this response too disappointing. Many people believe that government should, on its own initiative, simply do what is right. The challenge is that, in a diverse and complex world where we try to maximize the ability of individuals to pursue and enjoy their lives as they see fit, determining what’s “right” often becomes quite complicated.

But all change has to start someplace, and generally with a small number of concerned individuals. Good luck on being the change for what you believe in!

1 thought on “Halloween and Honeybees”

  1. Patricia Muller

    Loved this correspondence between you and this young resident in our Community. This would be great to share at the Youth Center and places that might carry this product in their shop to sell. Great project for him and his friends to do to save the Bees. There is a Bee Organization, too in this Community that meet at Trinity Pres. Church at the Alameda and Brittan Avenue. I am sure that they would be interested in this correspondence.

    Thanks for sharing this with me and others in our Community.

    Pat Muller, Resident of San Carlos

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