A beekeeper in the Swiss Alps and a migratory commercial bee farmer in Calfornia have the same perplexing problem. Their bees are dying, and they don’t know why. In China, the disappearing bee population has forced farmers to buy imported bee pollen to pollinate their plants. An ominous turn of evolutionary events — aided by human interference — has put bees on a path to extinction all over the world, and that may have cataclysmic effects on the global economy, and our survival. Documentary fllmmaker Markus Imhoof explores the theories behind colony collapse disorder and its impact while examining bee behavior and reproduction in fascinating extreme closeup in his film “More Than Honey,“ now playing in select theaters. He shares his insights with MNN.
MNN: What prompted you to tell this story on film?
Markus Imhoof: Honeybees played a major role in my grandfather’s canning factory. Without the honeybees, he would never have had cherries, apricots, and raspberries in the vast orchards and therefore no marmalade to sell. The fascinating relationship between plants and honeybees is also the reason that my daughter and son-in-law are honeybee researchers (in Australia). But now, our family story with bees has suddenly become a topic of the utmost importance for everybody: when bees started dying all over the world, I was alarmed, because I knew what it meant.
Do you believe Einstein was right when he said "if bees were to disappear, mankind would have four years to live?"
It’s rumored that he said it, but it’s very clear what the risk is: 70%-80% of all plants are pollinated by insects and could not exist without them. Also, a third of everything we eat would not exist; specifically, the healthier and tastier part of it. For instance, a hamburger could not be made with lettuce, onion, ketchup, cucumber, mustard and meat from cows (who had never eaten any clover) without honeybees. The world would be in black and white.
Why was it important to show the effects of Colony Collapse Disorder in Germany, Switzerland, the U.S. and China?
It was important to show that there are many different factors that play a part in why the bees are dying. The different conditions were better illustrated on different continents to prove that the problem is global. However, the situation in China, where men have to act as bees, shows a utopian view in the present.
How did you get the incredible closeups of the bees in the hive and in the air?
We worked with tiny helicopters (drones), balloons with scents and scaffoldings, but the main secret was the camera, which could shoot 300 frames a second. That means one second of reality gives me 12 seconds of film—as long as I could get the right second! For the nuptial flight of the queen we worked 10 days on a high scaffolding to get 36 seconds of film.
There are many theories about CCD. Which do you think are the most plausible factors? Are scientists any closer to figuring it out, and preventing it?
The worst is the combination of the factors (for example, pesticides AND mites). But if you add monoculture (lack of food), stress, wrong medicines and inbreeding and it is just too much. The scientists have to work, analyzing the problems and finding answers, but we should also act politically and as consumers, since we know a lot already. I am hopeful because this year the European parliament has made some very important decisions: to ban the most dangerous pesticides and to link subsidies for farming to environmental obligations. If we turn farming into an industry, which is the plan of some big international companies, everything will collapse and we will not be able to feed the world. We are what we eat, so we consumers can decide what we want to be.
What do you hope viewers take away from seeing the film?
Curiosity is an enjoyable first step to finding a solution. I hope the audience will be astonished and will have an emotional relationship with the bees. I also hope that the audience will be fascinated by the facts, how everything is linked together: plants, insects, humans, global trade, consumers. I want everybody to be able to feel that they are a part of this story of the increasing conflict between civilization and nature.
What can people do about the problem?
I have one fundamental question: Are we human beings a part of nature, or do we want to stand on the outside and subdue nature? Could we find a form of creative symbiosis between all parts involved, composing a kind of orchestra comprised of soloists listening to one another and making music together?