Staging a intervention (2)


Forming and re-forming ideas.

I want to continue thinking about loss, and ways to express this in relation to CCD.

Next step: prototyping/building/making.



How to articulate system collapse?

Faced with the infinitely complex pollination system globally, how is it possible to pin down accurately what is happening with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)? And even more difficult, how can this be communicated widely, increasing people’s awareness of the challenges that honey bees face without blinding them by facts?

I started by reflecting on CCD. Why is it keeping me up at night?

  • Complexity: of the system of pollination, of the possible causes, of the myriad effects and unintended consequences if pollinators die off.
  • Frustration: of not being able to pin-point an enemy, of the agricultural system which privileges profit over ecosystems, and with consumers who want their food faster, cheaper and bigger than ever before.
  • (Fear of) Loss:  what happens to all the things we like to eat, the plants we do not eat but are a vital component of our Earth’s biodiversity and provide habitats to other animals.


How can I channel this into an art/design piece?

When I came to thinking about strategies for an ‘advert’ analogy seems to be the most effective in communicating a future-scenario. What will happen if honeybees die off? Wholefoods illustrated this, by removing all products from their shelves which relied on pollinators  to create a striking series of images. They also have a website which educates on the importance of pollinators. Is it hitting home? Is it enough? Are all of Wholefoods’ products actually good for bees….based on their advert for ‘Pollinator Friendly Almond Butter’ I would conjecture that all the other almond butters they sell are not pollinator friendly. And finally, only a small section of society can afford Wholefoods…

This is where the difficulty of advocating for changes in our food system kicks in – the way food has been produced and sold for the past 50 years or more has been almost solely down to price. It is after all a necessity. Unless you have disposable income, you shop where you can afford which makes it difficult for people to choose higher priced, but potentially healthier, more environmentally friendly products.

An advert for CCD?

I made a couple of quick ‘adverts’ to bring awareness of CCD (below). The concept behind them was take something well known (Campbell’s soup cans) and twist it – what would be left if the pollinators die off? Well, potatoes would still be around…


Modification #1:


There are lots of criticisms that I could make about these ideas. You could read this as saying ‘the worst that would happen is having to eat potato soup’ which is the realm of climate change catastrophes does not seem very large. More broadly, they do not show the absolute lack of biodiversity and food culture that would come about due to honey bee extinction, and any unforeseen consequences of this.

Back to the drawing board….



Staging an intervention

In a system so complex as honey bee pollination, or global food production where does one start to intervene?

Clearly the organic food movement (if you can call it a movement) has tried to change people’s understanding about where their food comes from and how it is produced, but due to the premiums attached to its production methods, it is a privilege of the wealthy. In 2012 organic food produced in the USA accounted for only 4% of the total (USDA ERS, 2016).

Where could an artist or designer intervene in the process, or bring awareness to part of it? Ultimately, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is one symptom of our destructive, cost driven, vast system of global food production. The use of pesticides, farming monoculture, the animals caged and given antibiotics…  all of which are having a devastating effect on our environment. The honey bee is one vital part and because CCD is so ‘mysterious’ (read contentious), it breeds inertia.

One critical essay in my research on CCD is Be(e)coming experts: The controversy over insecticides in the honey bee colony collapse disorder. Here the authors explore how the ‘politics of expertise’ causes scientific research, often with a tolerance of 95% certainty, to be regarded as the authority on CCD. Whereas, bee keepers, many who have decades of experience, are not regarded as experts and therefore their qualitative evidence is disregarded even when it takes into account ‘multiple and difficult to quantify environmental factors’:

Informal measures like ‘strong brood’, ‘lots of diverse pollen’, and ‘almost zero stress’ do not easily lend themselves to standardization or quantification and are considered anecdotal from the standpoint of academic scientists. At the same time, these informal measures package complex information with multidimensional aspects into knowledge useful and meaningful to beekeepers.  (Suryanarayanan and Kleinman, 2013)

Ultimately, when it comes to the complexity of a system like commercial pollination in the USA or glaobally (where bees are moved around different farms to pollinate), scientific analysis which relies on isolated factors may not be able to adequately determine what is going on. On the other hand, ‘beekeeper knowledge is constructed via practices that take an informal epistemic form, which makes them conducive to the highly dynamic, local, variable, and complex aspects of their operations.’  (Suryanarayanan and Kleinman, 2013) It brings to my mind the crisis in The Collapse of Western Civilization, where scientists essentially failed with regards to climate change in the public consciousness, as they could never determine with over 95% accuracy what exactly would happen in a future scenario (Oreskes and Conway, 2014).

Back to my original question – where to disrupt? The complexity of the issue, the paralysis due to lack of consensus and dearth of public understanding, seems to beg for a way of bringing awareness to the issue?

The first thing to consider is audience. Who needs to know?

Farmers: the scale of agriculture in the US, and globally, does not lend itself to farmers taking consideration for their crops (other than their yield). No blame is on their part – food prices have been kept too low for too long, and unrealistic consumer expectations (particularly in Europe and USA) regarding how much it costs to produce food show no sign of reducing the pressure on farmers, e.g. 4 pints (over 2 litres) of milk costs £1 in the UK.

Policy Makers: do not have the best record at doing things for the public good, let alone with the environment in mind. Particularly in light of the new US administration’s stance on climate change.

Consumers: here I think I could make the most impact. As public consciousness around pesticides has increased so have the sales of organic food. People ultimately want to eat things which are good for them – artificial pesticides are not. However, those that are poorest in society (as always) suffer most. How could someone who cannot afford to feed their children buy organic? Could increasing public pressure force policy makers to regulate the use of chemicals on crops significantly enough to reduce the detrimental effect to pollinators, and in turn help those who cannot buy premium priced groceries to have better food?

For these reasons I am going to consider consumers as my core audience, and other stakeholders in the pollination industry as secondary.



Colony Collapse Disorder – An Attempt to Make Sense of the Facts

Photo source:

What is it?

  • Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as:
    • Sudden loss of a colony’s worker bee population with very few dead bees found near the colony.
    • The queen and brood (young) remained, and the colonies had relatively abundant honey and pollen reserves.
  • The collapse of the colony comes after the worker bees have disappeared, when the food stocks have run out – as only worker bees know how to produce food, the nurse bees and young that are left cannot sustain the hive. Therefore, the hive collapses.

What causes it?

  • The causes of Colony Collapse Disorder are the subject of much debate in scientific circles. One study, by a group of scientists in 2009 of colonies in Florida and California offers a partial conclusion:
    • Of 61 quantified variables (including adult bee physiology, pathogen loads, and pesticide levels), no single measure emerged as a most-likely cause of CCD. Bees in CCD colonies had higher pathogen loads and were co-infected with a greater number of pathogens than control populations, suggesting either an increased exposure to pathogens or a reduced resistance of bees toward pathogens. Levels of the synthetic acaricide coumaphos (used by beekeepers to control the parasitic mite Varroa destructor) were higher in control colonies than CCD-affected colonies (vanEngelsdorp, Evans, Saegerman et. al, 2009)
    • The study also provides evidence that the ‘condition is contagious or the result of exposure to a common risk factor (vanEngelsdorp, Evans, Saegerman et. al, 2009). They observed that hives with CCD often occur near other hives with CCD.
  • However, other studies argue particular mites or pesticides have larger parts to play:
    • For example, the long known major pest of A. mellifera apiculture, the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor has recently received comparatively little attention, but is certainly involved. Indeed, the broad patterns of CCD coincide with continents with different pressures from V. destructor (Image below). Since African and Africanized honey bees survive without treatment for V. destructor (Martin and Medina, 2004), and the mite has not yet been discovered in Australia, this supports a central role of V. destructor for the current colony losses. (Neumann and Carreck, 2009)


What is the impact?

  • The United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) created a rapid response action plan to the rise in CCD in 2007. They estimated the following value of the bee industry to US agriculture:
    • Beekeeping provides pollination services for over 90 commercial crops grown in the United States.
    • The honey bee adds $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year.
    • The California almond crop alone uses 1.3 million colonies of bees for pollination, approximately one half of all honey bees in the United States. Furthermore, this demand is projected to grow to 2.1 million colonies by 2012, a number nearly equal to all the colonies currently in the United States (2.4 million).
  • Although this study is now 10 years old, it is the most comprehensive at expressing the value that bees bring to the US agricultural economy.

How is it changing?

  • Western nations rely heavily on managed honeybees—the “movable force” of bees that ride in trucks from farm to farm—to keep commercial agriculture productive. About a third of our foods (some 100 key crops) rely on these insects, including apples, nuts, all the favorite summer fruits (like blueberries and strawberries), alfalfa (which cows eat), and guar bean (used in all kinds of products). (Holland, 2013).
  • Winter losses are down in USA, but summer losses (when hives should be stronger and healthier) are on the rise causing a increase in total losses (Agricultural Research Service, USDA):
    • A loss of 23.7 percent of managed honey bee colonies was reported for the 2013-2014 winter and 30.5 percent loss for the winter of 2012-2013.
    • Previous surveys found winter losses of 21.9 percent in 2011-2012, 30 percent in 2010-2011, 33.8 percent in 2009-2010, about 29 percent in 2008-2009, about 36 percent in 2007-2008, and about 32 percent in 2006-2007.
    • Annual colonies losses were 34.2 percent for 2013-14, 45 percent for 2012-2013, 28.9 percent for 2011-2012, and 36.4 percent for 2010-2011.
  • Summer losses are arguably more concerning, as they occur when the hives should be at their strongest.
  • The most up to date report from the USDA queried more than 20,000 honey beekeepers, finding that there were 2.59 million or 8% fewer honey bee colonies on January 1, 2016 than the 2.82 million present a year earlier on January 1, 2015 for operations with five or more colonies (2016).


  • Jennifer S. Holland, ‘The Plight of the Honeybee’, National Geographic News, published 10th May 2013. Accessed 02/05/17:
  • Kim Kaplan, ‘Bee Survey: Lower Winter Losses, Higher Summer Losses, Increased Total Annual Losses’ Agricultural Research Service, USDA. Accessed 02/05/17:
  • Environmental Protection Agency, ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’. Accessed on 05/02/17:
  • Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Jay D. Evans, Claude Saegerman , Chris Mullin , Eric Haubruge , Bach Kim Nguyen , Maryann Frazier , Jim Frazier , Diana Cox-Foster , Yanping Chen , Robyn Underwood , David R. Tarpy , Jeffery S. Pettis, ‘Colony Collapse Disorder: A Descriptive Study’ PLoS ONE. Accessed 02/07/17:
  • Peter Neumann & Norman L Carreck Honey bee colony losses, (2010) Journal of Apicultural Research, 49:1, 1-6. Accessed 02/07/17:
  • USDA ARS CCD Steering Committee, ‘Colony Collapse Disorder Action Plan’ 2007. Accessed 02/07/17:
  • USDA ‘Releases Results of New Survey on Honey Bee Colony Health’ (2016). Accessed 02/07/17: