Oil and Honey – A Review

oil and hone coverI saw this book in the rack for new books about the environment at the library, but I read the title as Politics and Money, not Honey and took it home thinking I’d learn about fossil fuel profits.

When I picked it up at home and realized my mistake, I promptly put the book down because I just wasn’t up for collapsing bee colonies right then.

In fact, the whole issue of what we’ve done and continue to do to the planet makes me want to go to bed and eat cookies.

It took a few days, and I finally picked it up again with a sort of grim “I’ve got to read this and get out of denial” attitude I use to overcome my reluctance to continue to look clearly at what’s happening.

I was spellbound.

Bill McKibben is, of course, a well-known writer who has been sounding ever louder warning bells about how we’re changing the earth for years. He’s also the founder of 350.orgthe group that has led some of the biggest, and perhaps most effective, demonstrations we’ve had, most obviously in a continuing effort to stop the KeyStone XL pipeline

The book is, in many ways, his story of how he got to the place that resulted in 350.org.

It’s also the story of his friend, Kirk Webster, who is a beekeeper. Not just a beekeeper, but one who has created a profitable business with bees without debt and without chemicals.

Let me say that again. Webster has created a profitable beekeeping / honey business without going into debt and without using chemicals.

In fact, Webster has been a leader in discovering that given half a chance, the bees will develop natural ways to fight mites and other pests.

How these two lives intertwine in Vermont is a story worth telling, particularly because the adaptation and  survival of Webster’s acts as a beacon of hope against some truly unnerving information about the damage we’ve already done.

McKibben is convinced that unless we stop big oil and big coal from doing what they do best, extracting fossil fuel and distributing it for cars, heat, chemicals and the like, it won’t matter how many light bulbs we change or solar panels we add or wind turbines we build.

Which isn’t to say we should stop doing those things – we just need to add first the awareness of of where the damage is actually coming from. And it’s coming straight from big oil and big coal and the money they generate and are able to spend on politicians and lobbyists.

Those companies continue to extract energy in more and more destructive ways. Of course, they claim it’s because we want / need the energy, and we do, but we’re not the one’s clamoring for energy to come from, say, fracking or mountain top removal. Most of us would be happy to get our heat from solar, etc.

The book, however, is not exactly an attack on Exxon and the like.

McKibben offers an understanding of corporations I’ve never had before. Quite simply, he says that corporations are good at what they set out to do – in this case create huge profits out of fossil fuel. But they are pretty mindless systems, even though they are made up of people. It’s that mindless system that keeps a company like BP from doing anything that would lessen their profits even if that means catastrophic climate change.

In fact he likens corporations to a bee hive which is dedicated to taking care of its queen and gathering enough pollen to stay alive to the next season. While bees have amazing talents, thinking outside their box isn’t one of them. And it’s not any individual bee that makes the colony successful. It’s the bees together, the colony, the hive, that makes it all work.

So when I get all hot and bothered because Peabody Coal is blasting off mountain tops and polluting rivers and streams, which I do, and you should too, I’m really asking the entity to do something it doesn’t know how to do, at least in the short term – and that’s see that changing directions might be a good idea. Of course they could diversify into sustainable energy and still be profitable, but their profits would probably dip, at least for awhile. The result is they keep doing what they’ve done.

So is there an answer?


McKibben and 350.0rg have added a campaign to urge investors of all sorts to divest themselves of fossil fuel stocks, called GoFossilFree. This echos the move to divest from stock supporting the racist South African government in the 70s, and a similar effort against Big Tobacco in the early 2000s. The South African regime tumbled and tobacco, if not on the ropes, is certainly not as profitable as it once was.

Will divesting from fossil fuel stocks be enough to stop those companies? Probably not, at least, in my opinion, not directly, but it adds to the pressure to those companies which could, if they chose to, diversify into sustainable energy as BP once promised it would do. That’s got to be a good direction to push in.

All this and more from a book I picked up for all the wrong reasons.

Not so by the way, Upworthy has a video called WATCH: This Is One Time-Lapse Big Oil Doesn’t Want You To See. Startling, worth thinking about and passing along.

You might also like NoKeystone.org. Keep your eye out for others and let me know about them.

What’s your take on this? Have you read the book? How are you moved to action?

Love, blessings, and abundance,

Anne Wayman: When Grandmother Speaks



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