A brief update on the ‘Vanishing of the Bees’

The documentary was released in 2009 but the issue is on-going. UK and US bee populations have declined by 50% in the last 25 years. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating at least 80% of the world’s crops. Without their industrious services, pollinating up to 18,000 plants in a day, food prices would soar dramatically. Therefore farmers are reliant on bees, yet the pesticides they use are considered one of the main causes of the widespread phenomena, Colony Collapse Disorder, that has hit the States most significantly from 2006.
Independent academic research in the UK and France has found that ‘neonicotinoids’ in pesticides, are harmful to bees nervous systems effecting their memory and mobility. Results from the research showed that a third of the colony exposed to neonicotinoids were unable to find their way back to the hive, as well as an 85% decline in the survival of the Queen Bee each year.
This research has not been validated by the current UK government who are propping up insecticide manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer CropScience findings, which conclude that ‘neonicotinoids do not pose an unacceptable risk to honeybees’. None of this research has been publicly disclosed for review.
Last year the EU enforced a two year suspension on the use of neonicotinoids, although the UK were against the ban. This decision will be up for review again at the beginning of 2015.
Protecting pollinators and our food from these damaging chemicals is far from accomplished.

In the meantime grow more bee-friendly plants to increase bee habitats.
Buy fruit and vegetables from The Co-operative and Waitrose who are both committed to sourcing their fresh produce from suppliers who do not use harmful pesticides.
Or start learning how to become a beekeeper through a local mentoring programme or by doing a course.

One of the most striking things I took away from the documentary were the numerous (some perhaps a bit far-fetched) parallels between problems afflicting bees and our own human plight.
– Commercial bees are fed on sugar syrup rather than being allowed to feed on their own honey, much like our reliance on manufactured sugars rather than natural sugars we have grown ourselves.
– We both suffer from the sprays we put on crops, which have transmitted various diseases into the food chain.
– The female role of queen bee is undermined as commercial bee keepers replace them with new younger, more efficient queens each year. A reflection of how women are commonly upgraded today, and how female qualities are often undermined in the workplace. ( the disempowerment of the sacred feminine at large in society)
– Bees are now farmed and exported miles overseas to pollinate crops far from their natural habitats, which disorientates them and makes them less effective. Similarly the human mass-migration we are witnessing in the last century, of displaced communities and enclaves of people uprooted from their indigenous landscape, has effected peoples coping mechanisms and livelihoods, estranged and far from their home culture.

Simply observing the bees appears to be the key to understanding what is wrong and what can be done. One academic even said that from observation it is clear the bees have all the answers and reflect that the problem is far more multi-faceted and complex than first appears. It is not simply about eliminating the use of neonicotinoids but changing the whole complex system by which we are currently sustaining life on planet earth.


Documentary – real embedded journalism

Last week I went to see Slingshot Hip Hop, a documentary on the Palestinian hip hop movement at the monthly documentary screenings in the Art House Cafe, Stokescroft. It has become an emotive vehicle for the younger generation in Palestine to express themselves in a peaceful but powerful way, a form of liberation from oppression through one of the few basic human rights they are free to exercise – freedom of voice.

It was a really inspiring and high-energy documentary, the music bringing lightness to a medium which can often drag heavily through a deeply-rooted issue. However this was weighted by the back-drop of bombed buildings, wastelands of debris and dereliction, colourless streets and random gun fire conveying a landscape void of opportunity and enterprise. As one of the musicians remarked, too many young growing up in Palestine today are bored and resort to drugs.

Briefly, the most striking things about the documentary were
# Arabic hip hop is really good – even without the subtitles to understand what it means I’d listen to it
# The number of checkpoints are absurd – Palestinians may have to queue up to 7 hours just to travel from one neighbouring city to the next, usually only a 15 minute drive.
# The fear of the Israeli’s – despite being heavily armed, policing and patrolling the walls and the settlements. One of the rappers was stopped on the street and hostilely ID’d because he was speaking his first language Arabic rather than Hebrew.

I came away very happy to have re-connected with an issue I used to be very active on, but equally frustrated at how the the prospects for young people growing up in Palestine have hardly progressed.

It also raised another particularly interesting question about the ineffectiveness of news today to initiate change and propose solutions to on-going problems. I feel it has become more like a drone that simply props up the ‘business as usual’, ‘this is reality-deal with it’ line.

This is were independent documentary as a form, over and above news, fills a gaping hole, since embedded investigative journalism and feature articles appear to be a dying breed. They should be given far more airtime, broadcasting licenses, than most of the stuff we chose to distract ourselves with today. Documentary is embedded investigative journalism at its most visually compelling, leaving a lasting impression on the mind which might, just might, be enough of a call to action.

What to do?

The Economics of Happiness sounds like an irritatingly nice subject for a documentary – like a well meaning cheery-faced parent trying to feed a baby fruit when all it really wants is to have the ice cream. Just feed me the crap please-that is what I enjoy!
To be honest I missed the first half an hour and began to tire of the same globalisation issues quickly – land grabbing, resource contamination, food and energy waste, human rights abuses, worker exploitation, externalised corporate costs, soil depletion, farmer suicides. Usually the documentary ends and the audience is left feeling trapped in a system too overwhelming to change and the inevitable what do we do then? sentiments in the Q&A are answered with some vague general idea leaving us none the clearer.
At least with this documentary the second half was spent identifying solutions and practical localised action currently taking place. These small grassroots organisations, while seemingly insignificant to the size and power of multi-nationals, had all the stamps of commitment to sustainability over profit (perhaps the soft feathered power in their fledgling wings) – fair trade, ethical, animal welfare, organic, micro-finance schemes led by local people, food sovereignty ( le Via campesina).
Helena Norberg-Hodge, producer of the film, spoke afterwards about the “drone effect” prevalent in big business where our corporate arm has become so long we can’t see and therefore be responsible for the actions of the hand. A neat way of visualising a core systematic problem at the heart of many globalisation issues. She was positive about the smattering of small but successful progress cropping up all over the world and has a list of actions individuals can take or become involved in on her website here.
All I can add – which is to be taken with a pinch, since I am still a frustrated meandering career denialist bordering on my 30’s – is try and have the courage to do what really makes you happy in a meaningful and fulfilled way before you have a family to take care of! – take that risk sooner rather than later – or you are probably heading for a midlife crisis. We need more artists, initiators, inventors, entrepreneurs, risk takers, pioneers, adventurers, explorers in the world.
I was told a story today about a guy who went into a recruitment office when he first moved down to Bristol with dreds and the guy behind the desk looked him up and down in that way. They got talking and after 5 mins the man in the suit said, “Listen when you first walked in here I was only going to give you 30 seconds of my time but since talking to you I can see you’ve got a lot more going on in there than might look. It is as simple as this – What do you want to do? Now I’ve got an expensive wife, mortgage and three children and this job is not what I want to do. Now walk out of this door and go and do what you want to do.” As simple and as chirpily grating as the economics of happiness sound – a leap of faith, a salary cut and less boozing will be the worst of it and better, healthier more lively conversation, lifestyle and work the results. Go to escape the city / do the artists way / see a therapist / or keep it simple and just start blogging about or make time for what you love.