How dependent are our U.S. exports on pollinators?
Have you noticed that there are fewer insects on your windshield as you drive around in summer? The worldwide catastrophic decline in insects around the world has been worrying scientists for decades now. Many insects, especially bees, are essential for pollination.
And the growing collapse of pollinators is part and parcel of the planetary boundaries’ crisis we are in.
We have irrevocably changed our planet as we are now in the geologic age called the Anthropocene. We can now date our Earth geologically by how material changes we have made to our now engineered planet.
We see this bionic planet in the scientific data we now observe. For example, on the heels of record global average temperatures, a September study in Science Advances has raised additional alarm bells about the planet’s stability. It claims we have breached six of the nine interconnected planetary boundaries the planet needs to maintain a stable climate. We are also very close to blowing through all of them.
And pollination risk is a function of multiple planetary boundaries: freshwater change, climate change, biosphere integrity, land system change, and biogeochemical flows.
Pollination is an essential process in the reproduction of many plants, by which pollen is transferred from one plant to another allowing them to produce fruits and vegetables. Some plants are incapable of producing any fruit whatsoever in the absence of pollination and in many cases pollination is entirely mediated by insects. This means: no insects, no pollinator dependent fruits.
Pollination is the transfer of pollen between flowers, resulting in seeds, flowers, fruits, or vegetables.
Pollination can be started via wind, insects, animals, or even water.
Over 80% of flowering plants and 75% of all staple crops are pollinated.
Over 60% to 70% of all plants rely on insect pollination and of these insects, bees are key.
Not all plants are equally dependent on pollination, but some cannot do without. At the CFA meeting in Boston, we presented the results of our analysis of the crops that would almost completely disappear in the absence of insects: fruits, nuts and cocoa products (yes, that means no chocolate!).
These pollinator dependent products were worth $202 billion in exports in 2021 alone, making up 0.7% of the world’s total GDP and representing more than the total GDP of 154 of the 209 nations reported by the IMF.
The top 10 nations by export made up 46% of the total value of such exports with the USA leading the way at $16.2 billion, significantly more than the country makes from exporting aircraft parts.
Our analysis also revealed that the value of pollinator dependent exports is not just an economic problem but also one of equity. Whilst most countries in the top 10 rely on these exports for <2% of their GDP, Ivory Coast stands to lose ~10% of its total GDP from a collapse in insect pollinators.
Our results show that accounting for natural capital and protecting insect species is not just a moral and ethical imperative but also a business savvy decision for all nations around the world.
We at Responsible Alpha are starting a blog series focused exclusively on researching and compiling the latest market trends, frameworks, and initiatives on the intersection between economics, society, and planetary boundaries. This blog series starts with the premise that it is 2050 and we have successfully transitioned to a low-carbon, sustainable, and equitable future. Therefore, we can discuss what is the nature of wealth and the business principles, processes, and ethics that helped us arrive at this successful transition.