Last week, Bavarians forced their state legislature to change farming policies with the most successful petition in the state’s history. And while the law proposed by the petition covers a range of measures, it’s no surprise that campaigners’ rallying cry quickly became “save the bees”. Bees stand for diligence, dedication and orderliness. But they are also a symbol of our relationship with nature – and everything that has been wrong with it for decades. Bees are emblematic of how the fight to save our planet and stop runaway climate change cannot wait. They are our canary in the coalmine.
Bees are essential for our food supply: apples, courgettes, almonds – one in every three bites we eat depends on bees and other pollinators. But soil sealing and industrial, monocultural agriculture using bee-harming pesticides have caused a massive decline in bee populations worldwide, to the extent that apple farmers in China have to pollinate their trees by hand.
Instead of being good beekeepers, taking care of nature so it takes care of us, we have neglected it, endangering our own long-term survival. Corporations that are more focused on maximising profits than their responsibility towards people and the planet have a pivotal role to play in saving the bees – and, ultimately, the planet. Ironically, it is a German company, Bayer, that since the acquisition of Monsanto has become the epitome of this exact type of toxic agro-industry, promoting monocultures and selling pesticides that harm bees and destroy biodiversity. And while the consequences of this might not yet show on our plates, they can be seen in changed landscapes – literal and political.
The organisations and voters carrying the successful campaign in Bavaria weren’t just a loud minority of environmentalists. They were a broad and diverse coalition, of progressives and conservatives, who want to preserve our precious ecosystems in the face of damaging industrial farming practices. It is this same combination of progressives and conservative conservationists that got Winfried Kretschmann elected as Germany’s first Green party governor in Bavaria’s neighbouring state Baden-Württemberg. Kretschmann’s philosophy that environmental politics are key to preserving creation is key to understanding the foundation of the historical win for the bees in Christian-conservative Bavaria.
The campaign’s messaging also helped to bring people of different political views together. For example, instead of putting all the blame for loss of biodiversity on farmers, the campaign explicitly highlighted the struggles of small farms as one of the issues to address. Maybe out of reflex, many farmers still felt scapegoated, but this inclusive approach nevertheless helped to build bridges. During a time in which heated and highly divisive debates about rightwing populism and diesel car bans in cities dominate the public discourse in Germany, finding common ground was critical.
Bavaria’s remarkable campaign to save the bees can give us all cause for optimism. Where politicians failed to protect the environment and put corporate profits first, Bavarians stood up and have taken power back in their hands. Empowering people to fight for our planet is at the heart of what the organisation I work for does, it is why SumOfUs supported the campaign in Bavaria. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of SumOfUs members are calling on the EU to take immediate steps to improve the way it tests all pesticides, to ensure bees are protected.
Climate change, our changing landscapes and the global loss of biodiversity are increasingly visible. Faced with this, people of all political backgrounds are rising up, like in Bavaria. Many of these people wouldn’t have considered themselves activists before – and maybe still don’t. But they see the necessity for change and are willing to take a stand for it – some of them even wearing a bee costume.