miscellaneous musings

A night in the lecture hall: students, bees, and pesticides

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to a class of graduate students about bees, pesticides, EPA regulations, and the thesis-writing process. What astonished me was the interest shown by the diverse individuals in the class. The questions they had were amazing, both in number and depth. If there hadn’t been a time constraint, I think the questions would have continued all night. The queries kept coming right through the students’ break period and several students followed me to the parking lot, firing questions as we walked.

The sad thing is that I don’t have all the answers, especially when students want to know how we can effect change in pesticide regulation, how we can convince farmers to change certain practices for the long-term good, or what we can do to assure biodiversity of bees into the future. I wish I knew.

I can explain the biology, the chemistry, and the process behind many pesticide issues, but I can’t explain what goes on in the minds of lawmakers. Instead, I had to tell the students what I truly believe—that US agriculture is inextricably entwined with government programs and corporate interests, that special interest groups and lobbyists call the shots, and that our government wants (or needs) American farmers to produce the greatest yield per acre no matter the cost—after all, agricultural goods are one of our last exports . . . or so it seems.

When you are in school and studying environmental issues it seems like something could be done because everyone around you thinks the same way. But educational institutions are closed environments. When you get out in the “real” world, those “everybodies” dissolve into the general population—a population that, for the most part, just doesn’t care.

But can we blame them? Can we blame the farmer who needs a good yield so he can send his kids to college? Can we blame a beekeeper for trucking his bees all over the country when he just wants to pay his bills? It is very easy for “us” to know what “they” should do—but extremely difficult to convince anyone to change. We say it is immoral to destroy biodiversity; he says it is immoral to let his family starve. In the end, another day passes, another species bites the dust, the farmer is still in debt, and the environmentalist still sits on his high horse.

Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see so much interest and enthusiasm in one room. Maybe these young people will be wiser, more creative, and more prescient than we were. If I can inspire even one student to become a better steward of our bees or convince one student to tackle our regulatory problems, then I have done my job. I thank The Evergreen State College for giving me the opportunity to try.


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  • Sounds excellent.

    It is difficult to feel optimistic beyond local events; very sad indeed! The GOP, which gained so much in the last election (thanks to the Citizen’s United Supreme Court case and a national media dominated by Fox News), is a wholly-owned subsidiary of major corporate interests. These calcified and extremely powerful players at the top are concerned about one thing: “the money, Lebowski!” Broad issues regarding poverty and economic opportunity, biodiversity and extinction, health and well-being of the land and its people, these are all inextricably linked and made much worse by prevailing tea party politics. Sigh!

    This is just another reason to keep bees, I guess. Keep your mind free of sensations of futility and impending doom!

  • Thanks for presenting your thesis to our class! The consensus among the seven assigned to your thesis was that we very much enjoyed reading it and learned a lot. The glossary helped too. I learned many new words in those 130 pages.