Category Archives: Economic Forces

The Fallacy of “My Part Doesn’t Count”

An oddly appropriate historical photo to help you visualize my wagon analogy.

An old photo to help you visualize my wagon analogy.

I’ve heard the exact same argument three or four times in the last few days, in what seems like a strange coincidence. To wit, “because my part is small, it doesn’t matter”. I heard an economist on NPR the other day discussing a potential carbon tax in Vermont, and he was saying that Vermont is so small compared to the rest of the world that cutting our emissions would have no measurable effect, so we should just skip the tax. Then I saw the argument in one of the Wait But Why posts, where the author discusses the cruelty of factory farming, but admits that he still eats meat from factory farms, even though he knows that “if everyone thought that way nothing would ever change”. Then there was David Brooks’ article about climate change yesterday, where he discounted a nationwide carbon tax in the U.S., on the grounds that it would have no measurable effect worldwide (which probably isn’t true).

These statements are actually difficult to counter, because they are related to what economists call the “free-rider problem”. Namely, that if someone else pays a price, and you can skip the price and yet still get the service, then it is in your rational interest to do so. Unfortunately, in the case of most sustainability issues, not acting is also a prescription for failure. Continue reading

Not So Far Off Course

Much is possible with our current systems.

Much is possible with our current systems.

Guess what?

I’ve been studying and learning and thinking for many years, trying to figure out how we can solve this environmental dilemma that we humans find ourselves in. And I’m not completely sure about the following, but—more and more I’m realizing that the workable path forward is likely to be a variation of what we’re doing now, and not some drastic departure or major paradigm shift. When you look at the big picture, we humans are not as far off the track as some fear.

That statement might cause some hand-wringing in some quarters, and it does seem a bit counter-intuitive when you see the immense damage that is being done to the planet. BUT, here’s my thinking—to fix it, we don’t need revolutionary changes, we need evolutionary ones. To explain, here are four things we don’t need— Continue reading

One Powerful Way to Change the World

“Systems should exist to serve society, and right now our capitalist system is not serving society, it is serving shareholders.” —Jay Coen Gilbert, Co-founder of B-Lab.

Fair trade matters.

Fair trade matters.

How you spend your money matters. We vote once a year for politicians, but we vote virtually every day with our dollars. And how we cast those dollar-votes really, really matters.

Every single time we spend money on a product we are reaching out with our economic power and acting on the world, often in places that are far, far away. Our dollars can support deforestation, the inhumane treatment of animals, pollution, sweatshop labor, or all manner of social ills, but they can also support fair wages, care for the environment, or community development, depending on our spending choices. These are REAL EFFECTS, and they are there whether we choose to see them or not. Continue reading

Sweatshops: Free Trade or Modern-day Slavery?

The bodies of two workers after the collapse of a sweatshop factory in Savar, Bangladesh, in 2013.

The bodies of two workers after the collapse of a sweatshop factory in Savar, Bangladesh, in 2013, where over a thousand workers were killed.

 Co-written with Joseph Bruhl

When it comes to understanding globalism and free trade, I think the world has gone crazy. I’ve written many times about the need to be informed consumers, and the power of our vote when we use our dollars to make sustainable, values-based purchases. But when it comes to many basic goods and services provided through a global economy, it’s hard to know what to think. In a complex and interconnected world, real solutions defy simple rhetoric. On the left, writers criticize the status quo and ignore basic economic truths while proffering unworkable alternatives. On the right, lovers-of-the-market can’t get beyond the basic dogma of “free trade benefits both parties.” In the middle, we find ordinary, common sense. The market provides powerful tools that lift millions to a better life. But, the market also carries tremendous risk of exacerbating inequality and deepening the misery of millions. As consumers, we must remain clear-eyed about the benefits and dangers of the market, and ensure that our dollars leverage the power of the market while minimizing its risks.

In China, anti-suicide nets surround factory dormitories. In Bangladesh, thousands of dead lie entombed in collapsed factories. In Indonesia, workers suffer as they sew our clothes for pennies an hour, while local industries in Jamaica are decimated by unfair competition. All of this tells us that something is amiss. Continue reading

Ill-Informed Thinking

Economic forces that make people better off--- present around the world, present across time. A rural market in Assam, India.

Basic economic forces that make people better off are present around the world, and present across time, and true in all social arrangements. A rural market in Assam, India, where trade improves people’s lives.

(Note, 24 Sept. 2015— For what it’s worth, it seems that the Pope agrees with me. From a CNN article— “Amid criticism that he is overly critical of global capitalism and dismisses its place in lifting millions of people out of poverty, Francis acknowledged that ‘business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world.’  But he cautioned that wealth should be shared and geared to “the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” …Which is right in line with my point here.)

I have “liked” several groups and organizations on Facebook that promote sustainability, and I enjoy perusing their posts as they pop up from time to time. But, as I read the items that they share, it is continually apparent that many, many thinkers on the left edge of the environmental movement have no fundamental understanding of economics. And I’m not talking about arcane elements of high finance here, but rather basic, fundamental, immutable economic principles that should be informing their thinking, but aren’t. To attempt social and environmental solutions that fly in the face of these principles is often a fool’s quest, or, at best, misguided efforts to “reinvent the wheel”.

Take this article, for example, that I saw yesterday— Continue reading

1967

Earth photographed from the Apollo 4 mission, 1967.

Earth, photographed from the Apollo 4 mission, 1967. Much has changed down there in the decades since.

It’s my birthday. I’m 48. And 48 years ago it was 1967, and looking back to that time can give us some perspective on the human trajectory, because trust me, it wasn’t all that long ago, and much has changed. When I was born, there were 3.4 billion people on the planet. Today there are over 7.3 billion, and the numbers are still climbing (though, thankfully, slowing down just a bit, but still projected to climb for the remainder of this century). That’s 3,900 million more people on the planet, since I was born not all that long ago. 3,900 million more people that need to eat, and have clothes, and clean water, and a roof over their heads.

And, what’s out-paced even population growth is the growth of the world economy. In 1967 world per-capita GDP was about $2,000. Today it’s over $7,000. So, if my math is right, while population has more than doubled since I was born, the economy is now something like seven times larger. Seven times. In general, that’s seven times more roads, ports, planes, energy use, steel  and concrete production, and consumption of all kinds.

Here’s what this mass of humanity looks like today, from the International Space Station–

As you can see from the video, there are an awful lot of us now. These two things, population growth and economic growth, have brought us where we are today, where the ecology of the planet is under tremendous pressure. Half of the world’s forests are gone. Nearly 40% of all arable land is being used for agriculture. The oceans are under siege, from acidification caused by fossil fuel use, to pollution and dead zones and overfishing. Animal life worldwide is finding itself squeezed. All of this, in addition to human-caused climate change.   Continue reading

The Lure of Alternative Economies

Capitalism, perhaps not fundamentally different? A London street.

Capitalism, perhaps not fundamentally different from the village market? Business in London.

Our planet has some big problems, and we humans are heading down a dangerous path. Inequities, abuses, unfairness and destruction abound. When faced with all of this, I often see people or groups who almost reflexively start to imagine kinder, gentler paths. They imagine economic systems where good people work hard and treat each other fairly, in families, in small groups, in small towns and villages, and ultimately across the globe. They imagine fairness and generosity and some measure of equality, both in opportunity and outcomes. They imagine the earth and our natural systems being prized and valued, along with spirituality and community, and they imagine an end to our current fixation on material goods. Often, as they’re imagining, they picture people living with some level of self-sufficiency, growing their own food, close to nature. And, partly because we don’t have enough of any of these things, these groups often find much of the fault in our economic systems, and blame capitalism, industrialism, “debt-based money”, fractional-reserve banking, or even money itself for our problems. Related, they also find fault with the super-rich, and their control of the media and politics. But, I’m not so sure about all of that…

And it’s not that I don’t see the problems, I do, and I’ll get to that. But it could be that our real problem is a people problem. But let’s digress just a bit, and let me throw out some thoughts that will likely get me pilloried from both sides of the political spectrum, and accused of a wide range of intellectual and ethical deficits—it’s likely that the market system (invariably labeled “capitalism” or “industrialism”) is not as bad as some fear. For large portions of the world’s people who live in market systems with democratic governments, we’re pretty free. We can buy goods from all over the world with a click of a button, we can use the latest technology in the form of computers or solar panels or electric vehicles. We can work, or not work, as we choose. We can travel or we can stay home. Despite some people’s fear of government control, the government leaves us largely alone. There are rules, of course, we have to pay our taxes, and abide by the law, but these are good things. Governments provide us with roads, and infrastructure, and education systems, and regulations that help protect us or the environment from harm. And, before readers start to freak out—I know it isn’t all perfect. But, for billions, the system delivers goods and services, food and housing and medical care. In economic-speak, it allocates goods, and lowers prices, and promotes efficiency and productivity. We all have, collectively, more stuff than we’ve ever had, and for less work.

Our market system, in miniature.

Voluntary trade benefits both parties. A market in Burma.

I find many of the complaints against the system to be red herrings. All this talk of “debt-based currencies” and the evils of fractional-reserve banking fall into this category. Just to throw out a small example, sure, the banking system can charge us interest on money they create out of thin air. But, it’s just money, and they don’t even get the money, the person they’re loaning it to does, and when that person pays it back all that money that the bank created disappears again (we don’t usually hear this side of the story from those who find fractional reserve banking to be the world’s greatest evil). And, the banks aren’t creating wealth as they create money; each dollar of such credit is offset by a dollar of debt. The net effect of this can be inflation as the money supply goes up, but inflation isn’t quite the bogeyman people fear either; some inflation can actually help people who are in debt by reducing the real costs of the money they pay back. Then, the increased money supply often spurs the economy, creating demand and then more jobs. The banking system does charge for this service of loaning a person money, but they aren’t putting guns to people’s heads, this is a service people want, and go asking for. The interest does provide profits to the “bankers”, but if we want to be a “banker” all we have to do is buy stocks from the banking sector, easy enough to do with a few hundred dollars and access to the web. Etc.

On the other side, the suggestions about alternative economies are themselves nearly always woefully lacking in workable detail. Gift economies won’t get us solar panels made with materials sourced from around the globe. Command economies, regardless of their stripe, will give us more equality only at the cost of freedom. Local currencies won’t finance the type of investment that creates large wind towers, or that brings us plants or seeds from another continent. I won’t belabor it all here, but suffice it to say that many of the people who dream of “a more beautiful world” can sometimes explain how small pieces of the economy can be love and happiness, but fail to envision a complete system. (See my post “Crop Circles and Water Memory” about Charles Eisenstein, one of these thinkers). (In fact, I have written several times about some of these issues, notably “The Amish Question“, and “The Role of Self-Sufficiency“.)

Now, back to the “people problem” part. Our real problem isn’t that market systems don’t work, it’s that they work too well. The drive toward efficiency and productivity work too well; we humans can now leverage energy and mechanization to literally move mountains, or fish every fish from the sea. Then, that power is combined with a flexibility that allows markets to provide us with exactly what we want, in terms of goods and services. (And, through advertising, many things we don’t actually need but are convinced that we want anyway). Part of the problem, ultimately, is us; we have a people problem. There are disconnects between our brains and our actions. We see the mono-cropped corn field, and lament the loss of biodiversity and soil and the rampant pesticide use, but then we go buy food created in this way. We protest the big oil companies, as we drive our fossil-fuel cars around every day (or even to the protests). We lament global warming as we board the jetliner for the tropics. We understand how advertising works but get caught up in materialism anyway.

The mall---where we often go to get what we want but don't actually need.

The mall—where we often go to get what we want but don’t actually need.

What people don’t realize is that the very power and flexibility of the market can be our greatest tool. When we decide to demand food grown in sustainable ways, the markets will deliver it. When we quit buying electricity made from coal, then coal companies will wither like grapes on a severed vine. When we decide that we’ve had enough of economic inequality, and get involved and vote, then policies can be changed. If we can ignore advertising and the power of popular culture, then the markets work for us. They are our tools, and with our dollars we can control them like dogs on a leash. The politicians are ours, too, and will respond to our votes. But we have to get involved, politically, and socially, and economically.

So, just to sum up before I leave half of you wondering and half of you angry—we have some big problems, but they are fixable with people power, even big problems like wealth inequality. It could be that there are indeed better economic systems out there, and it won’t hurt to try and figure them out. But let me suggest that until we do, it would be better to not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and focus as well on making the systems we have better. Because, the bogeyman does not lie quite where some people think it does.

 

 Top image credit: Trey Ratcliff, “Business in London”, Flickr Creative Commons. Image has been cropped.
Market image: Eustequio Santimano, “Myanmar/Burma Market”, Flickr Creative Commons. Image has been cropped.
Shopping mall: Agustin Rafael Reyes, “Winter Shopping”, Flickr Creative Commons. Image has been cropped.

The Economic Taproot of Consumerism

Galleria

The Cambridge Galleria—about as non-Minimalism as one can get; a three-story temple to Consumerism.

(Note— I’ve written this post, but I’m not sure exactly what to think of it. This subject of how-much-advertising-is-too-much is one that cries out for nuance. I think I’ll go ahead and post it as food for thought; feel free to chime in with your two cents, sometimes there’s real wisdom in group-think.)

 

I always tell people, when they ask about our off-grid house, that “we live like normal people”. We cook, eat, sleep, work, wear clothes, drive cars, pay bills, etc., pretty much like everybody else. But maybe we don’t live like normal people. We recently took a short family vacation to the Boston area for four days, and my sudden exposure to other people’s “normal” was a bit of a shock.

First of all, we’re about one fast charger short of being able to easily take one of the Leafs to Boston (anyone listening, Lebanon, NH?), so we rented a gas-mobile. It was a Nissan Sentra, and it got really good mileage, over 40 mpg according to the readout. But, I haven’t had to pump gas into a car for well over a year, so that alone was something new.

And, this is probably true for anyone, but it’s hard to “live sustainably” while out of town. We ate lunch at the Boston Science Museum the first day, and the mountain of trash we generated was just shocking; probably more trash than we generate in days here at home. Plastic-ware, paper cups and bowls, lids, foam plates, napkins, little salt and pepper packets, ketchup containers… A good portion of it could have been composted or recycled, but alas, there were no bins for either. Our hotel had complementary breakfasts that were also served on disposable-ware, so that same trash scene got repeated every morning as well, and then other days while out for lunch. Worse, we twice brought food that we couldn’t finish at a restaurant back to the hotel in take-home containers, but there was no refrigerator in the room, so both times that too ended up in the trash. Then there were the paper cups in the room, the daily washing and drying of all the sheets and towels, and the running of the AC because there was no good way to open the windows. All told, we were “consuming” at way, way higher rates than we normally do.

Now, all of that above-mentioned consumption and waste was mostly a function of sustainable systems not being in place. But, when we went to the Galleria mall in Cambridge, I was once again struck by how there is a whole other class of consumption out there. The Galleria contains a hundred stores or more, glitzy signs and ads, seemingly almost completely centered around fashion, appearance, or the latest gadgets. A veritable Temple of Consumerism; shoes for women who probably already have closets full, clothes that will likely only get worn a few times, high-priced sportswear with all the desirable designer labels. Some of the women shopping, judging from their appearance, would rank fashion and cosmetics as a driving force in their lives. The whole place just gave me an overwhelming sense of shocking superficiality, of uselessness, of waste. And most of those purchased items, in their specialty packaging, were being carried around in largish plastic or paper bags emblazoned with yet more designer logos, with both packaging and bags soon to go into the trash after their few minutes of use, where they would be transported still more before being buried in some landfill by fossil-fuel burning machines.

Then, back at the hotel, we were treated to the latest in cable TV; channel after channel of high-definition distraction, our modern day “opiate of the masses”. In fact, every single restaurant we went to, for four days, also had a television prominently blaring. Every single one, even the nice ones, and the hotel breakfast area as well. Inane “news” reporting, hyped up and rather ridiculous game shows, reality-style fix the house shows, morning shows, the list went on.

But, there’s a common thread between the TV and the mall. In 1904, J.A. Hobson wrote “The Economic Taproot of Imperialism”. Well, I believe what we have today could be called “The Economic Taproot of Consumerism”. The TV shows are evaluated and re-evaluated by the networks, to see which ones get the biggest share of the viewing audience. If a show (or the news) doesn’t “perform”, it gets replaced. The result is that every show, on every channel, is expressly designed to hold people’s attention (and it works; try having a meaningful conversation with your family while a TV is on nearby). And the purpose of attracting this audience? To sell advertisements, in the form of commercials, which play for huge chunks of every broadcast hour. And, the commercials themselves, created by America’s 300-billion-dollar ad industry, are scientifically designed and focus-group tested to ensure their own effectiveness at holding people’s attention. They are all finely tuned to convince people that they need this product, that food, this image, that vehicle. They are also finely tuned to convince people that what they already have isn’t good enough, so that those people have to go to… the mall. They have to go to the mall to shop, to replace, to keep up with the moving target of fashion, all carefully crafted by the puppet-masters in the looming skyscrapers above. Thus, the Galleria. (And this isn’t a new idea, Herbert Marcuse discussed this exact topic in his 1969 book “An Essay on Liberation”. A short and insightful excerpt—“…The so-called consumer economy and the politics of corporate capitalism have created a second nature of man, which ties him libidinally and aggressively to the commodity form…”)(Good short overview of his book here.)

Marcuse bookAnd to pay for all this consumption, for all that stuff and the big houses to store it in, people work, forty hours a week or more.

Then, in Boston, there were the many, many disadvantaged people we walked past every single day, waiting on buses and living in the poorer parts of town, who would clearly be unable to shop for much of anything at the Galleria.

So, waste and uselessness on one end of the spectrum, and privation on the other. It sometimes makes me wonder about our system.

Anyway, the above is a bit of a rant, but it seems that this media/consumption cycle isn’t in any way helpful in moving our systems and social structures toward some semblance of sustainability. I realize there’s a middle ground in terms of how to think about this topic—the market system creates the wealth and choices we all enjoy, name brands and advertising convey information that serve some useful purposes, and I enjoy a funny TV show just as much as the next guy. I also realize that human nature drives much of this; biology causes us to attempt to exhibit our evolutionary fitness and status with our clothes and belongings, and we all have hardwired conceptions of beauty that the fashion and cosmetic industries tap into. But, just as we have to use some self-control when eating, because evolution wires us to enjoy eating salt, fats, and sugars, we all need to use some self-control in the media and consumption arenas.

So, if you want to be part of the solutions, it might be good to turn off that TV, and give some thought about what the root motivations are that drive your purchases. And for me, the next time we go on a vacation like this, I might want to throw a recycling tub into the car. After all, why be normal?

veggie grill

Hanging out with George this evening, grilling garden veggies. Simple pleasures, and much less consumption than in the big city.

Top and bottom images: Me

A Price for Carbon: Ask and You Shall Receive?

coal excavator

Open-cast mining of lignite in Germany. Germany is the world’s largest producer and user of brown coal.

Once again, real life is making it hard to find time to write. It’s a busy time of year—classes winding down, getting the garden in, school activities with the kids, dealing with the new bees, and then, to top it all off, a funeral for an elderly relative and related activities. (Just as an aside—if you find yourself checking this site to see if something new has been posted, then I encourage you to enter your email into the subscription box on the sidebar; it really works well and a little note will get sent to you when something new gets posted. Each email has an unsubscribe link if you decide in the future that you don’t want the notices.)  But in the midst of all of that activity, I’ve had plenty of sustainability thoughts. And I’ve noticed something lately—my musings have been repeatedly taking me to the same end point. To wit—we need a carbon tax.

At the root of this thought is the fact that we’ve had tremendous advances in the sustainability field, on all fronts, in the last decade. A whole array of better products and systems are now proven and available—practical and highly-efficient electric vehicles, net-zero houses, cold-climate heat pumps, permaculture agriculture systems, heat-pump water heaters, micro-inverters for solar panels, electric lawn mowers… the list goes on. I’ve adopted a number of these, and yet we live a totally “normal” life. We’re completely comfortable here, but we use a fraction of the fossil fuel that most families do. Better still, far from being an expense, most of these systems save money, with returns on investment that typically range from as little as 1 or 2 years (air sealing, cold-climate heat pumps) to about 12 or 14 years (deep-energy retrofits, net-zero systems). Once the investment pays itself off, the rest is gravy. Forever. The same is true for us, driving the Leafs. They are fantastic cars, and the fuel savings alone virtually pays for the leases.

So why aren’t more people making these changes? We could all be living in much more comfortable houses, saving money, driving smooth, speedy, quiet cars that don’t smell, AND making dramatically fewer demands on the environment. I’m not sure why it is that people don’t change quickly, but I can venture a few guesses. First, many of these advances are recent, and people just don’t know about them yet (though the word is getting out—cold-climate heat pumps, “mini-splits”, which can cut home heating bills by 40% or more, are being installed left-and-right here in Vermont). Second, many of the systems result in serious savings, but require up-front funding or investment, and many people don’t have the know-how to navigate financing options, or the means to pay up-front. But the biggest reason, I think, is simply inertia. We’re all busy, and the systems that we already have seem to work well enough, and the easiest thing for most people to do is to just keep using them.

In addition to the inertia of individuals, the entire economic system has serious inertia of its own. Millions work and make their livings in fields that need to disappear, and this is a difficult problem. Take for example this shift to cold-climate heat pumps. If done en masse, it would virtually eliminate home fuel oil delivery, and the refinement of that oil, and the manufacturing and servicing of fuel-oil boilers and hydronic systems, and a whole host of other specialties related to heating with oil. On the other hand, it would create other manufacturing, installation and maintenance jobs in the heat-pump field. But while these new jobs will open up, these sort of shifts are difficult, and people resist them.

Speaking of inertia...

Speaking of inertia…

So here’s where carbon taxes work their magic—they help to tip the balance, and to overcome this inertia. Carbon taxes have a whole array of positive effects. They give people the nudge they need to switch away from oil and coal, but carbon taxes also spur efficiency, promote cleaner systems that pollute less, and encourage conservation. On a nation-wide scale, efficiency equates to wealth, and the taxes become a de facto long-term investment plan. Eventually, everyone winds up better off. When the revenue from such taxes are funneled into further efficiency improvements or are used to support renewable energy, the effects compound even faster.

Now, this idea of a carbon tax isn’t new (in fact, about twenty countries in the world already have some form of a price on carbon), and I’ve mentioned it before in various posts. But, despite all the positives that would flow from a price on carbon, I haven’t been expecting to actually see such a tax here in the U.S.; the political headwinds to such a move seem likely to be too powerful to overcome. But last night an article in the new issue of National Geographic caught my eye, “Can Coal Ever Be Clean?” (their answer—not really). In the article it mentioned that the Obama administration was poised to propose new restrictions on carbon emissions, to be enforced via the Environmental Protection Agency. I was surprised, I hadn’t heard about this yet (a good overview at Politico— “President Obama’s Big Carbon Crackdown Readies for Launch” ). While I’d rather have a carbon tax, these other sorts of restrictions on carbon have similar effects, and this promises to be a huge step in the right direction. The details are expected to be announced in just a few days, on June 2nd. Stand by for political fireworks and lawsuits, the big carbon companies probably aren’t going to take this lightly. But, add these carbon restrictions to my list of changes underway. As I’ve said before, it’s like trying to push on the Titanic to start it moving; it isn’t easy. But, the system is indeed moving. Hallelujah.

I’ll close here with a quick return to daily life—a pic of spring flowers, the new bees, and one of the Leafs being charged with solar. And with regard to the latter, we might see a lot more electric vehicles and solar charging in a world where there are taxes on carbon. So when the fireworks begin in a few weeks, jump in to support those advocating a price on carbon. Just like with voting, every voice counts.

bee yard

I added a bear-repelling electric wire since I took this picture–we’ll see if it works.

Image credits: Top photo “Tagebau Garzweiler” by Bert Kaufmann, Flickr Creative Commons at https://www.flickr.com/photos/22746515@N02/2989699245.
Hummer: “Sigh, or grrrr” by Payton Chung, Flickr Creative Commons at https://www.flickr.com/photos/paytonc/824328933.

Bee Addendum

ThinkingBeekeeper

A short post here, an addendum to my last (Bees: Our Problems in Miniature). I just read another book about natural beekeeping, “The Thinking Beekeeper”, by Christy Hemenway, and was struck by how some of her ideas matched those of this blog, particularly this passage—

“In the U.S., we’ve grown tired of expecting that the government will take charge, behave responsibly, and do the right thing. But—we don’t need to wait for the government to make the right move! We can make the needed changes, and the government, well, they can catch up. We can insist on organic food, and we can shop at the farmer’s market, and we can choose never to put anything in a beehive but bees… these are all viable options, and thinking people are doing them, and they are making a difference.

“That’s why I believe that the paradigm truly has begun to shift. In fact, I think we’re close to the tipping point. And I also believe we don’t have to find a cure—a new treatment, pesticide, or antibiotic—for Colony Collapse Disorder—we just have to quit causing it. . . What you do matters. Never doubt it.”

I couldn’t agree more about the part about demand—it’s the mechanism that will change the system on all fronts, and it will precede political change, and it will be enacted by millions and millions of individuals, voting with their dollars. (See posts “A Potential Path Forward“, and “Me and Ma and Globalism“.)

But beyond this note about demand, her book is a great introduction to the philosophy and mechanics of raising bees using treatment-free beekeeping methods in top-bar hives, and she presents her case eloquently and passionately. In one passage she expresses a thought that I was trying to express the other day, but she did it far better, so I’d like to add that quote here, too—

“For industrial beekeepers, especially large-scale migratory pollinators, Colony Collapse Disorder has been a devastating fiscal tragedy, not to be wished on anyone. And I have never, ever, met a beekeeper—commercial, backyard, or otherwise—who did not love their bees, so there is personal heartbreak as well in every vanished colony.”

This was so clear to me in the interviews with industrial beekeepers in the “Vanishing of the Bees” documentary—they may treat their bees, but they love them too.

So, inspired by all my bee-reading, I set out the other day to buy some bees. Some treatment-free bees. This was harder than I thought, and I wasn’t having much success. A fair number of people keep treatment-free bees, but not all that many appear to sell them. An added difficulty was that it seems that nearly all people who sell nucleus colonies (“nucs”) do so in Langstroth hive frames, which don’t fit into a top-bar system. So, almost on a lark, I went to Christy’s website (Gold Star Honeybees), and, ta da, she now sells packages of treatment-free bees that have been raised on small-cell foundation (a more natural-sized bee). They seemed to be more expensive than industrial packages, but worth every penny to me. Now, with three pounds of bees on the way, I just need to  get to work on a top-bar hive. I’m a good woodworker, that part will be a snap. Learning about bees—well, like gardening, that one might take a lifetime.