An earthquake, a hurricane, intense rain and severe flooding - all in the space of three intense weeks in 2011 with only a few days between each in which to catch our collective breath.
Intense tropical storms, originating in the heat of the Sahara Desert and tracking across the Atlantic, are bad enough, but what happens when they combine with another major natural event?
The Richter Scale is geometric in it’s progression, not arithmetic, and apparently the Japanese earthquake of March 2011 was 3300 times more powerful than the one we experienced. The Fukushima Daiichi power station was designed to withstand a powerful
earthquake and to resist a tsunami, but not to have to cope with a combination of the two, even though it is earthquakes that cause tsunamis.
We have a hard time planning for events that we don’t want to imagine happening. But they are precisely the events that must be taken into account in a realistic assessment of risk. In the US, for example, we assume that our nuclear plants are safe
and so far we have gotten away with it. The Japanese did not.
The American agricultural model is based on an immense industrial chemical monoculture that presumes the continued presence of major pollinators. We pretend that we are not facing a major food crisis in coming years as our prime source of pollination
for fruit and vegetables, the honey bee, declines. It’s easier to talk about importing the majority of our food from Israel, South Africa and Chile than it is to change the behaviors which have caused the potential crisis in the first place.
The movie Vanishing of the Bees stresses that honey bees are symptomatic of a bigger challenge. They are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine if we care to listen to them. But if we study the bees
in isolation we are missing the big picture. Other major species are in decline (frogs, fish, butterflies, birds, bats …) and there is the potential for further crises to hasten their demise. We like to pretend that our future food sources are safe because
we cannot imagine an alternative, and so far we have gotten away with it. But ultimately we may not.
Rebuilding after major disasters is possible. When an earthquake leveled the city of Kobe in Japan, which at the time was the 6th largest trading port in the world, 6400 people died, 300 000 were homeless, the damage was estimated at $100 billion
and the prediction was that it would take decades for Japan to recover. Yet within 15 months manufacturing was at 98% of pre-quake levels.
Similarly after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, the economy of southern California grew faster than it had before the disaster, and after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Charleston outpaced growth predictions in seven of the following ten quarters.
Initial reckoning suggests that Fukushima in Japan is recovering faster than has New Orleans after Katrina. Indeed the Japanese Prime Minister resigned under mounting public criticism for not having done enough and not having done it more quickly.
So recovery is possible even if the toll on human life is enormous. And in those recoveries huge amounts of capital are either lost or redistributed. In earthquakes, for example, money is redistributed from taxpayers to construction workers, from
insurance companies to homeowners, from those one once lived in a destroyed city to those who replace them.
“No one changes because it’s Tuesday.” Sometimes it takes a life-threatening occurrence to change abusive or self-destructive behavior. None of us would argue in favor of a disaster because of the possibility of a favorable long term outcome, especially
a disaster which, unlike an earthquake or a tsunami, we have the power to prevent.
But what is it going to take to mount a sense of outrage at what is happening in our own backyards? How many setbacks do we have to experience before we begin to accept responsibility not only for the causes but also for the solutions? How many
cataclysmic events will it take before we act proactively rather than reactively?
One of the joys of beekeeping is gradually discovering the order behind the apparent chaos of a hive. Every bee in a hive has a purpose and what initially appears to be confusion is in fact highly organized and purposeful activity. After a while
one feels like Napoleon surveying a battlefied or Peyton Manning looking downfield with the ability to read the play (or in our case, a frame,) see patterns in the disorder and take appropriate actions.
Is there a pattern behind the natural disasters of those critical three weeks and are we the bee, who is caught up in the action and focused on one specific task, or the experienced beekeeper, who can stand back and see the bigger picture? And if
the latter, where do we move our troops or to whom do we throw the ball so that we can emerge victorious?