A New Canary

Arguably there have been four major social upheavals in the western world in the preceding five hundred years with another one underway.   The first four did not specifically involve beekeepers but the fifth most definitely does. 


The first was a challenge to the religious order which began in October, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenburg.  He was not the first to protest against the Catholic Church, nor did he want to start a revolution so much as a reformation, but his remonstration coincided with the invention of movable type, the development of better quality paper and ink and the growth of a body of experienced craftsmen, which meant that pamphlets, and thus ideas, could be produced quickly, in quantity and cheaply.  When Luther translated the Bible into German in the belief that if people read it for themselves (which they could not do as long as it was in Latin) they would understand the significance of his ideas. The Bible thus moved from the pulpit into the home where, for hundreds of years, it served as the source for family records, family prayers, grace before means and readings before sleep, and thus a center for ideas that were common to most western people.  Today it has been replaced by the iPhone!


There were other consequences as well, for example the issue of diversity of faith and opinions as Luther was followed closely by Calvin and Zwingli in central Europe and Henry VIII in England; by  new feelings of nationhood as countries identified either with the Catholic faith or those of the new Protestants; and the west lost it’s ancestral feelings of unity and common descent.


The second insurgence, which challenged the right of divine kings and thus the right of government by an elite,  witnessed the Civil War in England, notably the execution of Charles I in 1649, the American revolution in 1776 which was followed six years later by the French Revolution, notably the execution of Louis XVIII in 1793,  and  in the early twentieth century, the Russian Revolution and the execution of Tsar Nicholas and his family.   


The reaction to these upheavals is revealing.  In terms of the first, the Catholic Church responded with the Counter Reformation, which battened down the hatches, while the Protestant off-shoot continued to divide to the point where there are an estimated 39 000 Christian sects today.   In France the democratic uprising was followed by the austere Napoleonic regime, which in turn was followed by an interlude of three monarchies until the brief four year Second Republic of 1848.   In Russia the revolution was followed by a communist regime more stark than anything the Tsarist regimes could invent.  By contrast to these republics the British system lurched towards a constitutional monarchy, perhaps the biggest single step being the succession of the Hanoverian King, George I, in 1714 who spoke only German which offered considerable latitude to his ministers.    


Sometimes the pendulum needs to swing to the other extreme before it can settle somewhere in the middle. 


The third metamorphosis, beginning in France in the 1840’s, was a social uprising focused on the relationship between the needs of the individual and the role of government and in particular the movement towards economic and social equality.   Known originally as Chartism or the Cooperative Movement, the term socialism was coined in 1832 in Le Globe, a liberal French newspaper.  It argued that  that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole, with the proceeds being returned to the community in the form of subsidized housing, education, elderly care and health benefits.  The one country where this innovation never took hold is the United States and one result is that the discrepancy between the so-called haves and the have-nots in the USA is greater than in any other country in the western world. America, for reasons that are hotly debated,  choose to equate freedom with free enterprise and independence as preferable to interdependence , with consequences that are far-reaching.


The fourth upheaval was one of social engineering, whether it was Nazism, which argued that one race had the right to set the rules based on genetic purity; Communism, not least in Russia and China, in which a supposedly temporary elite ruthlessly set the rules for the eventual benefit of all; or Fascism in Italy and Spain which lacked the theoretical component of the first two and were more exercises in personal power and ego.  All argued that society needed to be forced into a new order for which it would later be grateful.   The guards at the various Nazi camps, for example, kept meticulous records of the atrocities they committed, the reason being that later generations would see them in heroic terms for having  pruned and created a more perfect society. 


The fifth sea change (both literally and figuratively)   is global in impact and effect, and may be labeled environmental. 2014 has seen more progress towards it’s achievement than previously even though we are still in the first stages of awareness and action. As Diane Ackerman writes in The Human Age :  “... our world dramatically changed around the year 1800.  That’s when the Industrial Revolution, powered by a massive use of fossil fuels, led to rising carbon dioxide levels.”  Other effects include massive urbanization, ecosystems were converted from mostly wild to mostly human centered, agriculture and mining became mechanized giants with extensive use of chemical fertilizers and producers of air born pollution.  “That is when, “Ackerman writes, “we first began adapting the planet to us on a large scale - changing the climate, changing the oceans, changing the evolution of plants and animals.”  It is increasingly called the  Anthropocene Age, in which mankind believes he/she can control planetary exchange exclusively for his/her benefit. The Anthropocene is a proposed geologic chronological term for an epoch that begins when human activities have had a significant global impact on the Earth's ecosystems.


Every six years the United Nations Panel  on Climate Change issues a report.  In September, 2013, the panel of 209 lead scientists and 600 contributing scientists from 39 nations citing 9200 scientific publications concluded that global warming is unequivocal but we can slow the process of change if we begin at once. 


I like to think that honey bees and beekeepers have been an integral if unwitting part in giving environmental change the necessary public face if that process of change is to be effective.   CCD caught the collective imagination  - how many times are we asked, at public demonstrations, “Is it true that the bees are disappearing, and what is the cause”?  How many of our hobbyists began keeping  bees as a response to this publicity and the perceived need for their involvement?  How many honey bee related news programs, videos and DVD’s have been produced in the last eight years compared to the preceding decades?  


At the PSBA Conference last November Bret Adee used an intriguing analogy.  We talk about honey bees as the canary in the coal mine, he said, and now the canary is dying before it so much as gets to the mine.  The government’s solution is to give the canary a gas mask, find a better canary, or move the canary further from the mine ... anything but deal with the actual cause.  “We need to work with nature,” he asserted, “rather than fight with nature.”


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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

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