Hope Elusive: Getting Bothered over Bees & Bags

by David King on May 29, 2013

honeybee Since this blog’s conception, I have tried to focus on topics and issues of the less obvious sort. My goal was (and remains) to get people thinking about things like time and space and what it means to be human – what it means to live in this world. I wanted to tackle big issues, engage people on an existential level, and really challenge everyday thinking. To this end, I have decidedly ignored many issues that have seeped into mainstream media, no matter how bothersome. But my motivation for this has really been two-fold. In addition to avoiding redundancy and offering something new, I also made the assumption that my readers were already bothered by all of those things. I presumed the thoughts and feelings of an unseen audience, and implicit in this was the belief that intelligence was relatively consistent with a certain kind of getting bothered. Most intelligent individuals must also be worried about climate change, I thought. The educated must understand what is meant by words like discrimination and homophobia. I don’t need to write about the oil sands fiasco, because people get it, right?

About a month ago, I found myself in a bit of Twitter scuffle with attorney, investigative journalist, and blogger, Debbie Schlussel (I should also mention that she’s a “proud American” and a conservative; her Twitter bio reads: “best damn country on Earth – USA”). To be honest, I had never heard of her before. My friend Robbie Romu (42stillnoclue.com) involved me in this little online rant due to Debbie’s blog post about self-outed NBA player Jason Collins. Here’s what Debbie had to say:

“Jason Collins could have done the right thing and not led a woman on, possibly exposing her to AIDS–because he probably went on the “down-low” and also had sex with men while he was with her. (“The down-low” is the slang term in the Black community for men who are secretly gay and have gay sex but date or marry women.)”

After some back and forth babble with an irritating supporter and eventually Debbie herself, it became clear that concepts like discrimination and racism were not being understood on a fundamental level. Debbie made the assumption that because Jason Collins was a gay black man, he must have been on the “down-low” (1 count racism, 1 count presumption). As a result, she made a judgment about Jason’s sexual behaviours, stating that he put his wife at increased risk of contracting AIDS (1 count homophobia, 1 count generalization, 1 count presumption). When I pointed out the stereotypical and discriminatory merits of assuming all closeted gay black men were on the down-low, Debbie responded with confusion and stated, simply, “Stop making up stuff.”

Case in point: Debbie is an attorney and journalist with two university degrees, and she doesn’t understand concepts as central to human rights as discrimination, stereotyping, and racism. And yet she is a self-proclaimed expert on radical Islam – dangerously so, I would say, in light of the above. Clearly, presumptions should not be made about the scope or reach of intelligence and education.

But it isn’t Debbie that has me bothered. Although the Debbie’s of the world need to be managed, issues like discrimination and stereotyping will sort themselves out. We’ll eventually get those things right…

But only if we have time.

Of all my attempts to draw attention to big issues, it is the health of the planet and our longevity as a species that has always had me the most bothered. We’re on a serious brink, and it’s time for each of us to get seriously bothered about a lot of things. No exceptions. No holds barred. We need to get downright worried and angry and fed up. And we need to make some serious changes, in both our behaviour and our way of thinking.

To get to the point (finally), we’re really fucking up the planet. Seriously fucking it up.

Let the conservatives cry hippie and tree hugger. But the truth of the matter is that we’re doing irreparable damage to the natural order of things. We’re putting ourselves at serious risk. Systems are failing left and right, and in North America, all anyone can seem to do is get political. But it’s not about politics and lobbyists and misconstrued science. It’s about survival.

In a previous article, The Horseshoe Crab: A Case for Conservation, I discussed the importance of the horseshoe crab to pharmaceutical companies, who use the creature’s blue blood to test the safety of vaccines and intravenous drugs before production. It’s a simple example, and it is relatively small in scale, but it nonetheless demonstrates the interdependence of human beings and nature. It is also an example that is relatively unknown to most, and so it underscores the complex and intricate qualities of our dependence. Yet despite our reliance on a creature that has been alive for over 300 million years, the horseshoe crab is now threatened by habitat loss.

An example of a much larger problem is the honey bee. According to recent statistics, 90% of the wild bee population in the U.S. has died out, with many beekeepers also losing up to 80% of their colonies. Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon in which honey bees uncharacteristically abandon the hive and never return, is being observed around the world. Scientists are unsure as to the root of the problem, but most have cited changing weather patterns due to climate change as a likely mechanism. Nevertheless, if the problem worsens, the sustainability of our species (and all life) will be put in jeopardy. It’s estimated that every one in three bites of food is owed to the pollinating habits of honey bees. Included in the long list of items dependent on bees are apples, pears, tangerines, peaches, soybeans, pumpkins, cucumbers, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, carrots, broccoli, avocados, and almonds.

New reports from Europe, however, are pointing to pesticides as a major cause for the honey bee’s decline. This has been taken quite seriously by many European nations, who have banned the use of specific bee-killing pesticides produced by seed manufacturers like Monsanto and Syngenta. But with an administration that continues to support these companies, President Obama doesn’t seem too worried about this – to the dismay of many international representatives. Russian President Putin, for example, wasn’t too impressed in light of a recent report by his Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, which claimed “undisputed evidence” for a link between specific pesticides and increasing bee deaths. He has further suggested that the problem is so dire that it could spark war.

Many more examples exist, and each one is cause for alarm. Bat species in North America, which are responsible for controlling mosquito populations (among other insects), have also been experiencing a serious decline for years. Some endangered species, like the Javan Rhinoceros and the Golden-Headed Langur (a primate), number less than 70 living members. While most North Americans worry over the rights of domesticated animals like dogs and cows, the suffocation and slaughter of hundreds of species occur on a daily basis, with potentially disastrous implications for our global ecosystem. Unfilterable chemicals are being pumped into waterways, sea levels are rising, and an estimated 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest are being lost every day.

No matter our attempts to sterilize our lives and separate ourselves from the natural world, we remain largely reliant. Grassroots efforts and large-scale protests like the recent march against Monsanto are helpful, but governments and media representatives need to get their shit together. This is serious stuff, whether you’re of the tree hugging persuasion or otherwise.

I’ll be the first to admit, however, that despite my level of concern, the problems seem so numerous and complex that I am frequently met by feelings of defeat. I recently shared the following quote by comedian George Carlin, which gets at the heart of this defeat and the cynicism that often ensues:

“We’re so self-important. So arrogant. Everybody’s going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save the snails. And the supreme arrogance? Save the planet! Are these people kidding? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven’t learned how to care for one another. We’re gonna save the fuckin’ planet? . . . And, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with the planet in the first place. The planet is fine. The people are fucked! Compared with the people, the planet is doin’ great. It’s been here over four billion years . . . The planet isn’t goin’ anywhere, folks. We are! We’re goin’ away. Pack your shit, we’re goin’ away. And we won’t leave much of a trace. Thank God for that. Nothing left. Maybe a little styrofoam. The planet will be here, and we’ll be gone. Another failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake.”

It’s difficult not to go there, especially when world leaders like Obama don’t fully grasp the problems at hand. In the end, we may truly be defeated. It has been reported that human intelligence is actually decreasing, the likely result of fewer evolutionary pressures to advance and survive. As Texas passes a law which allows college students to bring guns onto campus (so long as they’re kept in their cars); and as I watch a news story about a Seattle father who allegedly placed his baby in a freezer to stop her from crying, I admit that hope in this world is often an elusive thing.

I once read an intriguing and deeply insightful perspective on human development that has stuck with me ever since; that “we are the dumbest creature that could possibly create a civilization, because cultural improvement is so much faster than genetic improvement that as soon as we were good enough, it was already too late to get any better” (Julian Morrison). Take a moment to digest this notion. From a purely evolutionary perspective, it is true. As a species, we advanced as soon as we were capable of advancing, whether or not we had the capacity to get it right; to weigh all sides; or to explore all options and, by extension, to explore all potential consequences – all the while giving in to our primitive, selfish desires. To our own possible demise (and to the demise of many other species), technology advances faster than wisdom, and most certainly faster than intelligence.

I’m not sure of the answer, or if an answer even exists. There are a lot of stupid people in this world, and everyone’s terrified of change. It’s a recipe for stagnation and repetition. It’s a recipe for environmental disaster, and the water is boiling. At the least, we must overcome our tendencies to engage in black-and-white thinking, for potential and change reside (and thrive) in the grey. I believe there is still time to get it right, but the window of opportunity is quickly closing. And while reusable bags may make you feel better, they’re no match for the 4 million new cars in the U.S. each year, or the coal-burning plant that’s being built in China every week. (In fact, in order to offset the higher carbon emissions involved in the manufacturing of reusable shopping bags, each bag would have to be used 171 times. Sadly, research shows that the average bag is used only 51 times before being tossed.)

As for politics? The answer seems clear. It’s time to stop voting with both eyes fixed on fiscal policy. It’s time to start thinking about things that really matter – not money, for once. It’s time to be responsible and accountable, and to make sacrifices accordingly. At the end of the day, all this other stuff doesn’t mean a damned thing if the world itself goes to shit. And guess what people? It is going to shit.

We’re all responsible. We’re all to blame. Let’s remove the dead bees from the bottoms of our shoes and get real about a real problem. As my grandfather might have put it, let’s bite this one in the ass before it’s too late.

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