Coffee Talk: History of Bees
The History of Bees by Maja Lunde is a novel spread over three time periods; England in 1851, the United States in 2007 and China in 2098. Despite the fact that there are three different plotlines underway simultaneously, the author skillfully threads a common string through them, driving home the point that if humans stick to their current food production habits, the consequences will be dire and we won’t be able to blame anyone else. Pesticides kill bees, no bees no crops of any sort, no crops no food, no food no humans!
Even though the book falls in the category of speculative fiction, once can feel the dread as two of the three plotlines were set in the past, yet are very close to reality. Therefore, the future sounds uncomfortably close to non-fiction and there is a strong sense that we are already on a similar apocalyptic path.
The three timelines share one common denominator - bees. In 1851, a biologist who doubles as a seed merchant, sets out to build a new type of beehive. In 2007, George, a beekeeper, is fighting an uphill battle in the face of modern farming dominated by chemicals. The year 2098 depicts the era after bees when humans are used as artificial pollinators to get the bare minimum food that is needed for human survival. It shows how the absence of bees creates a domino effect and leads to the collapse of society as we know it. Individual dreams are lost along with the higher intellect and moral claims as people are reduced to their primitive instincts that revolve around survival of the fittest.
Colony Collapse Disorder’s (CCD) addition to the storyline further adds a sense of reality to the story. The CDD is a phenomenon where the majority of worker bees abandon the queen bee, leaving behind plenty of food and a handful of nurse bees to care for immature bees, resulting in the collapse of the colony which then negatively impacts pollination. Anyone reading the book is bound to end up researching this concept and this seems to be one of the goals of the author as well.
Despite being a dark read the end is optimistic, which comes as a surprise. It stems from the protective instinct for the next generation and a desire to give them a better future. The book leaves one with hope that there is still a window for us to get our act together and not let the environment deteriorate any further. Humans need to respect nature to be able to enjoy its many gifts. Disrespecting it is only going to unleash its wrath.
Fatima Arif is Senior Officer Digital Media, WWF-Pakistan.