What will the new year (and decade) bring? Although “20-20” denotes perfect vision, I doubt we’ll be so lucky. I suspect that we’ll continue with our near-sighted attitudes toward . . . everything. We can’t help it. We’re hardwired that way.
If the world gets better during the next decade, it will be by accident, not by intention. I’m not fatalistic, but my sense of realism is as thick as a blood clot. Will the ocean’s plastic islands disappear? Will superbugs become less super? Will carbon dioxide turn into foliage? Will temperatures fall? Icecaps grow? Will extinct bee species return to pollinate vanishing flowers? The likely answers are “No, no, no, no, no, and no.”
As an ecologist-in-training, I’m definitely an odd character. Most of my colleagues-in-training think that ecological salvation will only come if we return to a primitive lifestyle and commence a complete overhaul of the human psyche. They advocate retraining people to see the future more clearly, to care more deeply. If re-education doesn’t work fast enough, let’s make a bunch of laws to protect the world from ourselves.
I’m rather sure that won’t work. In successful beekeeping, you have to know your animal and deal with what you have. Bees are complicated, hard to get to know. Human animals are even more difficult. If we wish to clean up our messy bed, then scolding, shaming, and appealing to the better side of human nature won’t get the job done. You have to offer money.
A few weeks ago, our bee-ecology think-tank tried to come up with some universal cultural function that could encourage people everywhere to build a better world. For us, ‘a better world’ meant one with less pollution, healthier people, expanses of natural space, and a stable climate. What universal cultural attribute appeals to almost everyone, almost everywhere, and can be used to entice a better world? Money. Granted, there is a tiny portion of humanity that doesn’t care much about money. But that altruistic minority are already building a better world. They don’t need to be bought.
The average Nick on the Street needs to be given a penny for your thoughts. He won’t take your thoughts/ideas/suggestions without a little cash coming into his hands. This may sound cynical – it’s not. I’m just reporting the state of humanity. It’s been this way for millennia.
But here’s the good news. As societies become wealthier, people live longer, healthier lives. Girls grow up before they marry. Air becomes cleaner. Cities become safer. I’ve travelled a lot – including south Asia, South America, rural Mexico, central Europe – and I’ve seen that people don’t need much to be happy. But it’s only after the kids are fed and safe that we think about clean rivers and clear skies. We need a certain level of prosperity before we can save the planet.
In this new decade, let’s do what we can to make the world a little wealthier. What can we do? Beekeeping is one of the skills you might pass along. Perhaps honey bees, kept in vast numbers in the wrong places, have a bad effect on ecology. Nevertheless, a colony or two of honey bees can lift people out of poverty and give under-employed women and men a livelihood to pursue with dignity. Beekeeping encourages practical skills and business acumen while yielding wholesome food. Want to make a difference in 2020 and beyond? Support responsible beekeeping through community outreach, especially in developing areas. It can change lives and create a better world.
May you help others prosper in 2020.