“China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared.” A thrilling yet thought-provoking opening, gripping the attention of 24-year-old literature enthusiast Kanako Sampei as she opens the book ‘The History of Bees’ by Norwegian author Maja Lunde. By creating a fictional narrative – a future without bees – the author opens a portal to a possible dystopian world that tells a story that Kanako realises is not entirely unfounded.
A certain disparity in the awareness of species can oftentimes result in the misunderstanding of their importance. This lack of knowledge can especially be threatening to bees and their spot on the red list. A gap that can be dated back to early education. An out of sight out of mind mentality can have its consequences though. Whether it is Bee mortality, the decreasing life span of them, or the dependability of humankind on bees.
Chapter by chapter, Kanako realises that she did not know as much about bees as she initially thought she did. “The book really left me feeling scared of the future but then I was relieved that it is just fiction.”
Whenever one would find a flower, one would inevitably find a busy bee contributing to the world’s food resources. Apples, garlic, or the human’s well-cherished coffee, out of all agricultural products, 35% stem from the crops that the busy insects have prepared for the harvest and ultimately for human consumption. With a closer look at their importance, one would look at a stellar 22 billion Euros worth of food for one year in Europe alone.
“Whenever I do my grocery shopping, buying my fruits goes without saying. I don’t really think that much about where my food comes from, especially not its general origin.”
Just like Kanako, most children and therefore future generations share this unawareness when it comes to the significance of the bees in our ecosystem.
When asked about ‘bees’, the mind would immediately form a connection with the honeybee. In reality, however, there are honeybees and wild bees that could not be more different from one another. Thinking about the social honeybee and the state-forming wild bee, the difference between both apis is often unknown, especially looking at younger generations.
The results of a study by the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz highlight that many students find it difficult to fathom the importance of wild bees or to even differentiate correctly between them. Wanting to identify the students’ associations with the word “wild bee”, a detailed questionnaire comes up with shocking results. According to the findings of Laura Christ, out of 421 students, 28.1% answered with the term “honey”, “honeybee “, or “hive.” Showing that, 13.8% were not able to identify a single wild bee correctly, implies that there is a massive lack of education.
“Kids need to realise that there is so much more to bees than honey and the eventual sting. Really learning about them can show how they help to keep us alive;” emphasises Andrea Hirsch, forest educator at the Nature Conservation Association NABU.
Hoping that the yellow-covered book in her hand is only the result of the author’s wild and far-reaching imagination, Kanako stumbles across reasoning for the framework of this narrative that sounds not unfamiliar to her. “She writes about the collapse of the ecosystem as a result of climate change and that is no news to me. This is a conversation we’re confronted by daily.”
Bees are considered the prime necessity for securing the world’s food sources. 20,000 species are currently roaming the world, of which 101 bee species can be found in Ireland alone. Bee mortality, however, is not a rare phenomenon, it is an ongoing crisis that concerns the world’s entire ecosystem.
“On the one hand, there is the excessive agriculture, the use of vast amounts of pesticides that prevent bees from returning to their hives, the lack of various wild plants, urban development, and that many bees are now dying of thirst due to the consequences of the climate change,” shares the forest educator.
The bee’s generosity in supplying the sweet golden treat in the summertime and other products for daily consumption, can, however, look dramatically different when approaching September to April.
As a passionate beekeeper, Albert Bauer knows that “after the honey harvest is completed, the feeding phase begins, and this is where the real work only just begins.”
Even though enough feeding for the colder months can support the bees through their winter- and spring break, they are no species of hibernation.
Deaths in the summertime lead to more empty beehives going into the colder months. Once the temperature drops and the bees cluster to keep warm, death is still an apparent risk and even more frequently than ever before.
“Part of the honey that I harvest is always used for winter preparation, but their death is still inevitable in some cases, especially with the change in the climate and certain mites,” informs the beekeeper.
The varroa mite is only one damaging factor that causes the life expectancy of bees to decrease over the last few years. Losing a beehive and most of its colony over the winter causes a more aggravating start of pollination and is a hardship in securing the food needs of the world.
“The more I deal with bees, with their lives, their behaviour, their characteristics, and their interaction with nature, the more I learn from nature,” shares Albert Bauer suggesting that the human race, bees and the ecosystem are dependent on coexisting.
Kanako closes the book and returns back to reality from a fictitious world that is not as unrealistic as she initially hoped it to be. “This is an exaggerated depiction of the world, but that doesn’t mean it is not likely to happen in the future.”
She places the finished book back on the wooden shelf. Her vision crosses with “The End of the Ocean”, another one of Maja Lunde’s works. She traces her fingers along the spine of the technicolour book, opens it and reads “Nothing stopped the water.”