The OP raises an interesting point. The global warming community (of which I am not a member) values the removal of carbon from the atmosphere as the key to reducing or eliminating global warming.
Again, I am not a member of that faction so someone who is should correct me where necessary.
So how much carbon does a hive remove from the atmosphere? The obvious place to look is in the collection of nectar from plants. Plants inspire carbon dioxide and make sugar with the help of sunlight via photosynthesis. Some of that sugar ends up in nectar. Much of the nectar collected is fuel for the bees and is expired back into the atmosphere. But a lot of it goes into beeswax and surplus honey. Someone smarter than me can calculate how much carbon there is per pound of wax or honey. :confused:
Just for fun, let's say honey is 100% carbon. Which is silly, of course, but let's go with it. What does a hive average per year in surplus honey? For fun and convenience let's say 100 pounds. So that means for every ten hives, one ton of carbon is removed from the atmosphere.
Whatever the real number is, bees clearly are part of such a global warming "solution."
But how could one possibly calculate the additional carbon removed not just from collecting nectar, but as a result of bee pollination improving plant growth and therefore increased photosynthesis? I can't even begin to think of it. I guess you would have to figure out how much better different plants respire with and without pollination. Then estimate how many plants a single hive pollinates. The OP suggests this could be many times greater than the benefit from nectar gathering and I agree.
Where the whole carbon offset scheme breaks down is when you ask the question, "Now what?" For instance, let's say you offset your private jet ride by paying for a bunch of trees to be planted. Good for you. Then, someday, the trees are cut down and burned for firewood. Not much net benefit, is there?
Contrast this with when the trees are coverted to lumber and used to build a house where the carbon stays out of the atmosphere for a long time. At least until the house is torn down and the wood goes to a landfill and rots.
Many companies that sell carbon offsets won't invest in forestry projects for this very reason.
The same happens with our honey. If you sell the honey and someone eats it, much of the sugar in the honey is used by the body as fuel and then exhaled back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Not much net benefit.
I suppose you could bury the honey but then it would ferment and further break down, releasing carbon dioxide, methane, and other carbon compounds back into the atmosphere.
Then again I suppose you could seal the honey in drums before burying. It sure would be neat to be paid by carbon offsets to keep bees and bury honey!
We know bees are beneficial to the environment, and this is an interesting challenge to quantify even a small part of that benefit.
Milton Township, Michigan (near South Bend, Indiana)