Like bats, moths, and other pollinators, honeybees help to fertilize crops and allow humans to produce diverse foods. But because these pollinators are harmed by pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers, honeybees also have become symbolic — they stand for all victims of a changing climate in need of environmental protection.
“Honeybees are a symbol for much larger issues,” said Eve Bratman, assistant professor of environmental studies at Franklin & Marshall College. “The world is facing a much broader ecological crisis with effects for agriculture and biodiversity losses because of the ways we’ve been transforming habitats and putting things into our environment that cause significant ecological harm.”
To study the role of the honeybee in global environmental politics, Bratman recruited two students to work alongside her on a book project: junior Kathleen Miao, a Humanities and Social Sciences Student Exploration Fund Scholar, and senior Amelia Cadwell, a Hackman Scholar.
“My day to day work has been compiling research,” said Miao, a New York City native with a major in environmental studies and a minor in art history. “I searched through databases and used my notes to write the first draft of the paper on urban beekeeping in the U.S.”
Miao and Bratman are waiting to see if their paper will be accepted to present at a conference this fall.
“Urban beekeeping involves the paradox of sustainability values. It is also part and parcel of the aesthetic of hipsterism and inequality, which is often the stuff of further gentrification dynamics and elite food access, rather than food security,” Bratman said.
Meanwhile, Cadwell, an environmental studies major and geology minor from Spokane, Wash., studies policy laws surrounding pesticides. She prepared interviews for a trip to Washington, D.C., where the team spoke with representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Natural Resources Defense Council on differences between pesticide regulation policies in the European Union (EU) and the U.S.
“The EU is more advanced than we are; they just enacted a limited ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, which cause death to bees,” Cadwell said.
While it’s important to care for honeybees, Bratman emphasized the need to help native bees, too.
“We are worried about honeybees’ future and how it can affect us, but we’re seeing native bees die off before we can even identify and name them. There are more than 4,000 native bees in North America that are good at pollination,” she said.
In working so closely with Bratman, Miao and Cadwell have learned how much patience and attention it takes to create a scholarly paper.
“It’s like running a marathon,” Miao said. “I didn’t realize how much mental energy it takes to do it all.”
“I like getting to know my students and seeing them grow. I feel like I’m playing a part in nourishing their interests,” Bratman said. “Plus, it’s a huge help to me in getting this project done — I’ve gotten three times more work done this summer thanks to student research. It’s helped me to be more disciplined.”
For Cadwell, the work relates to her goal of a career in environmental policy.
“To me, environmentalism is not just picking trash out of streams. It’s changing the framework of why we’re allowed to make the decisions we make and shifting people’s perspectives on environmentalism," she said. "I feel policy is the best way I could make a difference. This research has been a godsend.”