Progress - A Double Edged Sword

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Progress is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand we have made tremendous advances in combatting the things that hurt us, damage our crops and blight our environment; on the other hand we have invented painful and immeasurable ways to harm ourselves and our surrounds, the ultimate of which is global climate change. 


This dichotomy is evident in many spheres, not least agriculture.  Modern agribusiness depends on extensive inputs; chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are applied to the seeds, to the soil and to the plants themselves, and undeniably affect the food we eat, the air we breath and the water we drink at levels that we do not fully understand.  An oft-remarked irony is that these chemicals, together with extensive monocultures,  are killing the honey bees that the farmers rely on to pollinate many of their crops. 


Similarly we hear ad nauseam that honey bees pollinate one third of what we eat.  It’s a misleading statistic, in that our diet is based largely on grasses (corn, wheat and rice in particular) which are not bee-pollinated.  Remove those three and the percentage of our foods that are honey bee dependent rises significantly.   Secondly, what the bees do pollinate is most of our commercially produced fruits and vegetables, which are top of the food pyramid.  Without the bees these products become scarce (it’s folly to think we can simply import all of what we need from Chile, Israel, South Africa ...) and the cost rises considerably.  Less fruits and veggies means reduced rates of wellness with incalculable increases in health care. 


It requires a certain humility to recognize that sometimes the natural way is better than what we deem as progress.  For example, nature is a self organizing and adaptive network of complex relationships. Disrupt one part and we disrupt the system.  Recognized and honored, nature develops yet more life, more relationships that are both competitive and cooperate and are unimaginably diverse. 


Nature works in cycles  There is no place to ‘throw things away‘ in the cosmos; instead  every kind of waste product nourishes another part of the system.   And nature uses current energy, mostly from the sun, rather than fossil energy.  Solar energy does not deplete the earth’s resources and is infinite in it’s availability and potential.


We live in a culture in which it is easy to accept that we have the right to conquer, displace, drain our natural resources, to believe without question that human acumen, together with modern technology, will take us on a guilt-free trip to a brighter future. 


As we approach the limits of what life on earth can tolerate there is an increasing realization that there are other ways of being on this earth, other ways of interacting with nature.  Fortunately there are an escalating number of resources which offer humility rather than hubris, which provide inspiration as to how, together with like-minded citizens of this planet we call home,  we can re-connect with the natural world in a way this is respectful and mutually beneficial. 


In a recent and rather rare interview, Bill Moyers asked Wendell Berry (farmer, philosopher, poet and novelist) what he has come to understand as ‘the natural logic of capitalism.‘   Wendell replied, “That you have a right to as much as you want of anything you want and by extension, the right to use any means available to get it. I’ve been talking for a long time about leadership from the bottom and I’m convinced perfectly that it’s happening.... The world is full of people now who see something that needs to be done and start to do it, without the government’s permission, or official advice, or expert advice, or applying for grants or anything else. They just start doing it.”  


That sounds like many of the beekeepers I know. 





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Latest comments

27.11 | 16:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

27.11 | 12:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

13.08 | 05:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

21.05 | 07:18

Its pleasure to read about Boy Scout here. He plays vital role to serve humanity. I will share after my