David Suzuki, the Canadian geneticist and environmentalist, argues that when homo sapiens evolved in Africa approximately 150 000 years ago, their survival as hunters and gatherers depended on an intimate knowledge of nature,
of the cycle of the seasons and the movement of animals.
10 000 years ago mankind discovered how to cultivate crops and the consequent agricultural revolution the concept of permanent settlements ended the nomadic
life style for many. As a parenthesis, agriculture was probably the discovery of women who spent the day doing chores around camp while the menfolk were out hunting.
By 1900 there were 14 cities with populations of one
million or more in a global population of 1.5 billion; the majority of the population lived in small towns and villages of between 150 and 200 people. Fast forward 100 years and the world population increased fourfold as the number of cities in
excess of one million people surpassed 400. As the numbers increased so did our personal sense of space diminish. As children, our grandparents probably ranged safely throughout the neighborhood, our parents round the block, and the current younger
generation is often confined to the back yard. As long as there is a park somewhere close they have no need to think of nature; indeed Suzuki points out that the average Canadian child spends 8 minutes a day outdoors and cannot identify five plants
in his backyard, compared to six hours indoors in front of a television, computer or cell phone screen on which he can identify more than 100 company logos.
There is one error in this line of thinking and I am as guilty
of it as anyone. And that is to think that nature is somewhere outside, and in particular that it is outside of us.
Writing in the January/February 2014 edition of Orion, Anthony Doerr suggests that “...
‘Nature’ is not some elfin, rejuvenating spa that provides ‘Me’ with a daily dose of fresh oxygen, mental health and organic broccoli. Increasingly the science of microbiology is showing that we carry ‘Nature’ with us everywhere
we go. From the moment we emerge from our mothers we are colonized, seized and occupied by other entities.”
He cites as examples that the microbiome in our mouths is so dense that if we decided to name one organism
each second it would take fifty life times to name them all. We have ten times more bacterial cells than human cells, and as many as 100 trillion microbes in our gut, without which we would die.
To which I would add
that the water we drink and the air we breath has been in existence, essentially unchanged, for literally millions of years. With every sip, with every breath, we are taking in particles that were absorbed by the first land mammals, never mind
the dinosaurs or the apes that were to become hominids.
And we know that the gut of a honey bee can contain in excess of 3 million unicellular parasites we call nosema. That is beyond my capacity to imagine - angels
dancing on the head of a pin are easier to envisage.
We are inextricable linked to our ancestors and our neighbors, whether the latter be a honey bee, an earthworm or a lady bug. And as such we are biologically
interdependent. Even though more of us live in cities than ever before, we are all co-existing with nature. As Anthony Doerr writes, “In truth, no matter how far ‘Inside’ we go, the ‘Outside’ is always with us.”
When children ask David Suzuki what they can do to save the world, his answer invariably is that the world is not in trouble. We’re in trouble, but not the world. Famously, if pollinating insects disappeared, mankind would be severely
challenged to survive. If mankind disappeared, the insects and the world would be just fine, thank you.
David Suzuki continues, “... If you want to look to the future, environmentalism isn't a discipline
or a specialty like being a dentist or an artist or a musician. Environmentalism is a way of seeing our place in the world and seeing our inter-relationship with the biosphere. And we need everybody to see the world that way. So I tell young kids, follow your
heart, but whatever your activity is, if you're a dancer or a musician or an athlete, see that your activity is made possible by good old Mother Nature, and treat her with more respect.”
If each of us has the power
to change just one thing - ourselves - and if the Outside and the Inside are ineluctably intertwined, then respecting and celebrating the Inside must impact on the Outside. If we are going to save the pollinators, first we have to save ourselves.
And that perhaps is another take on the zen of beekeeping. The beekeeper and his or her girls are interconnected at a deep level, and it’s not confined to when we are suited up with smoker lit and hive tool sharpened.