According to economic historian Gregory Clark, in the 3600 years between 1800 BC and 1800 AD there was minimal, if any, improvement in material conditions in Europe and Asia. Then came the Industrial Revolution. Driven by the explosive
energy of coal, oil and natural gas, it inaugurated an unprecedented two century wave of prosperity that today we are calling the Anthropocene Age, a geologic chronological term for an epoch in which human activities have had a significant
global impact on the earth’s ecosystems. Indeed we now believe we can not only change but can control our environment for the benefit of human kind.
As a hobbyist beekeeper I don’t easily get bored; the constant
joy comes from seeing the incredible beauty of life in finite detail. The perpetual challenge is twofold - not to be overwhelmed by the amazing complexity and diversity of the apis world, and to string together all of the roles and functions evident
in a colony so that they make sense. It’s the jigsaw analogy I have used before.
A hive is like a continuous game of 3-D chess. There are an innumerable number of moves at so many different levels. A
competent beekeeper is one who can see the actions to make at the right time and integrate them with the natural instinct of the bees so that the continuity of the hive is ensured.
Kirk Webster cites the Japanese farmer and
writer, Masanobu Fukuoka : “Farming (or in our case beekeeping) is the cultivation of better human beings.” In other words the only measure of good beekeeping is to leave the land better than one found it, with greater fertility and productivity
caused by more efficient pollination in a toxic free environment.
Unfortunately this is foreign to our Anthropocene cultural of exhausting a resource in the belief that we will find more, of farming for money rather than for the long term
vitality of the soil or purity of the water and air, of using chemicals to increase productivity and kill ‘weeds’ as well as the insects on which our long term food source depends.
It is this culture which has,
for the first time in 10 000 years of civilization, put our long term survival on this planet at risk, not to mention the quality of life we take for granted. This is the culture of more, of faster, of personal ambition and sensation and novelty,
none of which one finds in a bee hive. The bees remind us not only that there are other ways of being that pre-date humans by millions of years, but also that everything is connected, and we lose that connection at our peril.
hear often that the future of planet earth as we know it is in jeopardy. I would suggest that it is the future of humankind which is threatened, that the earth will do just fine, that expressed as a percentage humans have been present for less
than .0001% of the earth’s existence and if we were to disappear both the earth and the bees would do just fine. Or in an even bigger analogy as described by Edward Wilson, the relationship of our earth to the size of the universe is equivalent to the
second segment of the antenna of an aphid in the state of New Jersey. Sadly if the earth were to disappear the universe would not notice.
A honey bee colony is both a superorganism and a eusocial unit. Each
bee is programmed to be specialized in one task at any one time, but the bees together are brilliant - so highly coordinated that they resemble the cells and tissues of one larger organism. According to Edward O. Wilson, of the millions
of species in this world, twenty are currently classified as eusocial, which means that they rear their brood across many generations (one queen can comfortably birth 6 generations in a year) and there is division of labor in that the same bees tend to the
queen, raise the young, forage for food and look after the nest.
Of those 20 eusocial species, one is mankind and another is the honey bee. Most of the others are ants and termites.
If the world is one gigantic
bee hive then none of us is a queen bee; rather each of us is a pollinator, and just as the work of the honey bees is to extend life - both of the colony and of the plants it depends on - into further generations for their long term benefit, so do we
have a responsibility to keep cross pollinating our ideas, our values and our behaviors for the long term survival of a better world.