Some personal news and photos below, but wanted to start out ruminating a bit on the recent coverage of the collapse of bee colonies. Elizabeth Kolbert writes about it in The New Yorker, which wasn’t quite up to her climate change writing in terms of sharp clarity and getting through the mysteries to basic facts. Much better is an article in our wonderful local quarterly magazine, Terrain, which is published by the Berkeley Ecology Center. Terrain just gets better and better, and is becoming a real regional and political ecological magazine, which we sorely need in the Bay Area. Gina Covina does a great job of discussing the collapse of bee colonies as a precursor to a more generalized agricultural collapse, at least in terms of the absurd industrial structure of food production. Her insight is to suggest malnutrition as a key element in “colony collapse disorder,” noting that the honeybees that are key to the pollination of all primary agricultural crops are shipped all over the country on trucks, and while stuck in boxes in transit are fed a strange solution of corn syrup and soy protein (both probably GMO, and the GMO crops contain insecticide-like genes!)… the bees that have been found in the collapsing colonies are usually beset with multiple ailments, infections and parasites, apparently suffering a general collapse of their immune systems. The main effort of USDA and agribusiness is to identify the virus or bug that is causing the problem, imagining that by eliminating the cause the system can be maintained. As a stopgap they are importing millions of bees from Australia. But as Covina eloquently argues, it’s the system of agricultural production that is breaking down, for which the bees are merely the canary in the coal mine. (How little we are aware of! Did you know it takes ALL commercially rent-able bee colonies in the U.S. to pollinate the huge California almond crop every year?) Just as we are becoming aware of how bad diets dependent on corn and its derivatives are, wild bees are used to feeding on dozens of different nectars. Commercial beekeepers move their bees from monocrop to monocrop and feed them that ill-advised serum in transit… bad diets lead to bad lives! and dead bees!
So that’s pretty worrisome, but I just finished John Robb’s excellent “Brave New War,” and started in on Mike Davis’s recent “Buda’s Wagon.” I’ve had Robb’s excellent blog listed in the right column here for a while. Brave New World is a great compilation, summary and extension of his ongoing work there. In a nutshell, he’s arguing that the globalization and technological changes of the past decades have permanently weakened the nation-state and its ability to control its traditional responsibilities, especially war. The new generation of global guerrillas are faster, smarter, more innovative, and so small and inexpensive that the lumbering war machines of the state cannot keep up. He’s writing from the point of view of wanting to alert U.S. war planners (originally) and then the population at large (now) to the coming breakdown of modern society that proliferating super-empowered individuals and groups can (and almost surely will) bring about. Since his book was published the inexpensive but hugely effective attacks on “systempunkts” have arrived in Mexico. He argues that the vulnerable and highly centralized energy and communications networks that we still depend on will be attacked eventually, and that the augmentation of the state’s repressive capacities is not only not a help, but makes it worse. Davis’s book details the history of the car bomb, starting with an anarchist bombing of Wall Street in 1920, and following it through the 20th century to its crazy expansion in the recent decades. Corresponding to Robb’s analysis of the steady drop in cost to mount an attack, and the emergence of an open-source logic to armed dissent, the car bomb is the quintessential “poor man’s airforce”. Timothy McVeigh’s attack in Oklahoma City was a great example of how easy it is for anyone to bring down vulnerable targets.
So we should redouble our efforts to re-localize our energy, our food, our water. This is Robb’s advice, to build on a platform logic to increase density and complexity of networks such that major attacks, which cannot be absolutely prevented by any means, can be absorbed with some resilience and flexibility.