Many of us have experienced an increased awareness of the natural world through the activities of honey bees - what is in bloom and when, the response of plants to daily and seasonal temperatures and rainfall, the flow of nectar and pollen at
differing times of the year, what flora attracts honey bees, the reaction of bees to environmental toxins - and while most of us began managing honey bees for a variety of personal reasons, what keeps many of us involved is a fascination with this amazing
superorganism and it’s interaction with the immediate environment.
But honey bees also invoke a larger perspective. I for one had a rather simple, even romantic, view of agriculture. One of the few things that
humankind has in common is the need for food and water; indeed it was the discovery of agriculture some 10 000 years ago that was the trigger for the development of civilization. For more than 95 per cent of that time, farming respected and adhered to
the inherent laws of nature, in the same way that beekeeping was initially more about the needs of the bees than it was of the beekeeper. Farms were limited in size, dependent on what could be managed well by the farmer and family. A variety
of crops with a healthy mix of domesticated animals (which supplied the necessary fertilizers) were determined by the local natural resources, climate, geology, geography and local cultural norms.
view of the industrial revolution could be summed up as economically advantageous and socially divisive; there was little awareness of a post-industrial agriculture characterized by 5000+ acre farms with monocultures that ignore the law of interdependence
with the natural environment. A classic example is ripping out orange trees in California, an area with major water issues, to plant almonds trees which require some 35 gallons of water per tree but provide a higher immediate financial return.
Monocultures necessitate massive amounts of chemicals in order to protect the nature-estranged, weakened crops from being overtaken by insects, fungi, and bacteria. In the case of genetically altered, factory-farmed animals, the adverse effects
are masked by administering daily rations of antibiotics. According to a recent EPA report, the US administers 1400 tons of pesticides per day nation-wide. No wonder a headline in the New York Times in November last year read,
The Insect Apocalypse is Here.
The core of agriculture, as well as of culture, depends on the basic act of cultivating, of caring, of nurturing. Modern farming is almost exclusively based on extracting,
manipulating and controlling, aspects which seem to be overtaking our lives, our economy, and even our politics at a rapidly increasing rate. As early as 1924 Rudolf Steiner warned that “(U)nder the influence of our modern philosophy of materialism,
it is agriculture – believe it or not – that has deviated furthest from any truly rational principles. Indeed, not many people know that during the last few decades the agricultural products on which our life depends have degenerated extremely
rapidly.” Today, the explosion of the ‘supplements’ industry is an obvious sign that our food is not providing what we need in terms of nutrition and nourishment, with immense implications for public health.
In October, 2017, in Europe, the Krefelder study revealed that over the last three decades 75% of all flying insects, as measured by mass not by numbers, have disappeared. In Germany, 41% of 560 species of native bees are on the endangered list
or already extinct. In the US, the Xerxes Society estimates that 28% of all North American bumblebees are facing some degree of riskof extinction and we don't have accurate numbers for the 4000+ species of native bees. And in the last two weeks
there have been dire reports of the future of birds and trees in Europe.
“We have a global mass extinction at a speed not achieved since the time of the dinosaurs", said Andreas Segerer in February 2019, head of
the ecological state collection in Munich. But there is a huge difference between the extinction of dinosaurs and the extinction of insects : unlike the former, the latter play a fundamental role in providing healthy ecological edifices.
At Apimondia last month in Montréal it was intriguing to note how frequently the term ‘climate change’ appeared in the presentations (of which here were 364 in all) without any qualification - no ifs, ands or buts.
Peter Rosenkranz from the University of Hohenheim in Germany observed, almost as an aside, that southern Germany no longer expects snow in winter.
Agri-culture has been replaced by agri-industry, on the altar
of which the care of the land, the animals, the water and the air is sacrificed. We too are part of this surrender, accepting without question cheap, mass-produced food, not asking why, in the US for example, why there are more people in prisons than on farms,
or why nationwide the farmer suicide rate is more than double that of veterans.
None of this would have been in my consciousness without the honey bee.
Over my life I’ve seen some
enormous changes. After the Birmingham (Alabama) bombing, for example. After Selma, after Vietnam and Mai Lai, after Nixon and Watergate, after the Soweto Riots. The demolition of the Berlin Wall, the release of Mandela and the collapse
of the USSR happened within five years of one another. The civil revolution that followed the genocide in Rwanda occurred parallel to the changing verdict on the connection between the use of tobacco and lung cancer, and more recently, the use of glyphosate
and cancer. The pendulum can swing suddenly. The public can change its mind.
Not only is beekeeping a gateway drug but beekeepers are the gatekeepers of a new vision. Our responsibility is to tell the story that
the honey bees tell us. As with Edward Murrow in 1940, reporting the truth is the only basis for any moral authority. Colony Collapse Disorder in 2006 was a demonstration of how reporting the truth about toxic house disorder can be energizing.
With no silver bullet, what do we do? We can be activists in our individual capacity, by supporting the farmers and nurseries who grow food or grow plants organically or
argues Bill Moyers, we must also cooperate as kindred spirits on a mission of public service. We must create partnerships to share resources. We must challenge those in power to act in the public interest. We must keep the whole picture in mind and connect
the dots for those not privileged to hear bee-speak. We must look every day at photographs of our children and grandchildren, to be reminded of the stakes.
We will not be alone. Who would have thought that, in
2019, a company making meat-free burgers could be worth almost $4bn; that the world's most powerful oil cartel would
brand four million striking students the "greatest threat" to the oil industry; that climate change would become a key issue for Democratic candidates in the 2020 presidential election, or that a 16 year old Swedish girl would lecture a rapt US
Congress on their lack of initiative and responsibility?
Just as Brexit and the Ukraine-gate are currently preoccupying the media in Britain and the USA respectively, neither is worth a hill of beans, so to speak, if
Mother Earth is no longer habitable by humans. (The bees, of course, don’t care one way or the other. Without us they will be just fine.)
There is no doubt that a real change in course will be highly
disruptive of our conventional way of life, but if we fail to heed the message there will no longer be a normal way of life left. In the first scenario, we will be in charge; in the second one future generations will suffer the consequences of our neglect.
“The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves,” wrote Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. “We live in denial of what we do, even what we think. We do this because