As a Boy Scout I was exposed to a lot of first aid theory and practice, and last week it came back to me in a flash. Walking down a main street in town I heard a horrendous thump, turned around and realized that an elderly man had been hit
by a car. He was clearly in a bad way – broken leg, fractured skull, lots of blood … but fortunately from my first aid training I knew exactly what to do. I bent over and put my head between my knees to stop myself from fainting.
Only the Boy Scout bit is true, but hopefully the rest provided a chuckle. What is humor? Why do we laugh? In most cases it is when we are taken by surprise, when an outcome is contrary to our expectations.
It’s like the environmental scientists experimenting with a vehicle fueled by peanut butter. Apparently the gas consumption is excellent but the car sticks to the roof of the garage.
‘surprise’ is called a paradigm shift. A paradigm is similar to a pair of glasses through which we see the world, glasses which are put there by our background experiences – our parents, schooling, friends and experiences. And
they have limitations. Sometimes our view is unexpectedly expanded, we gain a new insight, a new realization, see a new and vital piece of the puzzle, and our paradigm is said to have shifted.
Clearly the extent
to which your paradigm shifts depends in part on the extent to which you are exposed (or expose yourself) to new and different stimuli. Thus Diana Sammatro wrote in the April 2011 edition of American Bee Journal, “The bees really open a lot of
doors in very interesting ways. I would never have imagined just where they would take me.”
Americans today are essentially an urban/suburban people both in residence and culture. Less than 2% of the
population produces the majority of the food we consume and, if projections by the USDA are correct, we will soon be a nation that not only imports all of our fruits and vegetables but most of our staples as well – corn, wheat and soya beans. Such
a scenario was inconceivable one hundred years ago.
It seems it is easier to import from China, Israel and South Africa than it is to change our chemical industrial agricultural paradigm which would require addressing the
fundamental issues causing the decline in our agricultural productivity. The reduction in the presence of the honey bee is one of those symptoms, although it is in itself a symptom of much larger issues.
few of our urbanites know much about the food they eat, least of all the processes that are involved in its production. Sometimes, looking at a plateful of food, I’m awed by the fact that it is the end product of a process that began millions of
years ago with the formation of the soil and the microbiotic elements that give it life and nutrition.
We live in larger homes, drive larger cars, consume more gas and food per capita than any people on this planet.
Americans compose 5% of the world’s population and, by some estimates, consume 40% of the earth’s resources. That is a non-sustainable equation, a self-defeating paradigm.
America is also the only country
in the world where the total debt of the average family (mortgage, car and college loans, credit card payments etc.) is greater than that family’s total assets.
And in the midst of this cornucopia many Americans
have a mystical reverence for nature based on dramatic TV footage or occasional visits to unspoiled nature parks. Not only do they oppose any proposal that threatens this idyll but they don’t make the transfer from pristine nature to their own
urban habitats and behaviors.
Rather than being based on sound ecology or reasoned understanding, our perceptions of the natural world are grounded in nineteenth century Romanticism which was a reaction to the exploitation
and industrialization that followed the Scientific Revolution. Emerson, Thoreau, Longfellow, Cooper and Muir expressed it in writing; Homer, Cole and Bierstadt put it on canvas, and National Geographic put carefully staged photographs of majestic
nature on our coffee tables.
And because so few of us have kith and kin living on the land, we uncritically accept such Romantic portrayals and verify them in cruises to Alaska or coach tours to the fall colors in New
Writing in the March/April 2011 edition of Tree Farmer, Steve Arno and Carl Fiedler describe Walt Disney’s 1942 animated feature film Bambi as capturing viewers emotions and having
a huge influence on our view of wild life. Similarly Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie with its anatomically and behaviorally incorrect portrayal of bees may well influence a younger generation’s perception of these vital insects. The film
version of Dr. Seuss’s story The Lorax, in which a forest of mythical trees is cut down by a greedy industrialist, is another example of the rush to the extremes without any consideration of the middle ground, the reality in which we live, eat
Hence the populace is influenced by the advocacy of the extremes, those who idolize nature or demonize technology in short sound bytes. But somewhere between the extremes of Yosemite and downtown Los Angeles
there is a gap.
Our modern world is here to stay; we are not going to return voluntarily to the frugal life styles of the nineteenth century. We have inherited a post World War II, even a post 9/11 world, with a deliberate
emphasis on consumerism which continues to material increase despite the environmental damage and pollution which are inconsistent with our romantic ideals of nature. In public we advocate protecting the environment while in private we contribute to
The solution cannot be found in either of the extreme archetypes; indeed doomsday scenarios can make us feel helpless and leave us feeling fatalistic. Yet there are things each of us can do that make
a difference, and urban beekeeping is a central part of this revised paradigm. Beekeepers, once perceived as mildly eccentric old geezers, are now seen as a vital part of the greening of the urban areas, with bees that are less impacted by chemicals
and exposed to a greater variety of floral sources.
And this time it is no laughing matter.