Bees, Data, and Everyday Life

Bees, Data, and Everyday Life

Bees are responsible for the pollination of <insert your favorite number here> percent of all agricultural crop.

Some website, at some time, somewhere on the internet.

If you are searching long enough, you can find every information you are looking for somewhere on the internet — and it’s tiring. Oftentimes, I want to answer a seemingly simple question (For how much pollination of agricultural crops are bees responsible?) and then I am occupied for the rest of the evening searching for some truth within a vast number of secondary sources. This post was supposed to be a short one about some evening photos of the first bees I spotted; instead it is a collection of thoughts about information on the internet, and the environment.

There is quite some stuff going wrong in this world and I think one of the causes is the complexity, variety, and multiplicity of available data. Thus, people who want to push their agenda can easily select, transform, or present data to support their point. Or just manufacture false data that becomes hardly distinguishable from ‘real’ data and blurs the line between fact and fiction. How scary this can get can be easily seen when looking at the election interference during the 2016 presidential election in the USA or the general data manipulation and surveillance in China. But also in everyday life, I find it increasingly difficult to make informed decisions because finding the best data is time intensive and one has to weigh up many different aspects:

You want to support the environment by avoiding plastic packaging? Sounds like a superb idea, but be prepared to invest some thoughts about the alternatives. Single-use glass and bottle packaging is probably worse due to increased weight and associated CO2 emissions. Cotton bags are too resource-intensive in their production. Paper packaging is even worse with respect to its carbon footprint and uses lots of wood- and water-resources. And in general: Is it even worth it when looking at the amounts of waste that is produced in the general economy? (However, you should definitely try it and also (if you are German-speaking) check out this.)

You want to stop livestock farming by going vegan? Also wonderful, but be prepared to closely question all of the substitute products which will in turn be wrapped in tons of plastic, destroy rain forests with their palm oil, and are shipped twice around the world. When looking at the health side, it becomes even more complex: Inconclusive studies with diverging results about how diets do or don’t influence your health depending on your physical condition, characteristics of your diet, and other factors. (However, you should also definitely do it because exploiting or killing animals surely cannot be the alternative.)

And then there is climate change in general: Can you justify to fly several times a year or that you to have two cars? Can you justify a large flat with enormous heating and electricity costs? And what is the most effective way as an individual to achieve a small CO2-footprint? Is it enough to pay for carbon compensation for these things? How does carbon compensation even work? And then there are the popular politicians who still believe in coal until 2038, drive off renewable energies to foreign countries, and do not care about the next generations that will inhabit the planet. We, as individuals, need to strongly adapt our lifestyle, and we, as a community, probably need to restructure our society to be prepared for the changes that are coming.

For now, I guess, I can only focus on some areas and try to progressively add more and more data, and thus more and more changes into my life that are based on informed decision and coincide with my moral and ethical values.

By the way, depending on how and where you are counting, bees are responsible for some of the pollination of agricultural crops, depending mainly on the crop itself, the trans-regional and regional context, the year of observation, and a multitude of other factors. Bees are also declining faster than ever before, however, it is also difficult to confidently quantify this decline. Depending on the country, research seems to agree that their yearly decline is from 10-50%. The following photos are from the first bees I spotted at one of the large intersections in my home town. I adore my macro-lens, the Fujinon 80mm f2.8, as well as the bees — they are wonderful.

And in compliance with all the other articles out there I was too lazy to include any sources for all of the claims here; you have to take the journey yourself and will likely arrive at different conclusions in the end.

Fog Clears the View

Fog Clears the View

Forecast: Clear skies, sun the whole day, frosty temperatures in the morning. Reality: Dense fog, no sun for the first hours of daylight, temperatures not cold enough for frost.

That’s how it mostly is – it never comes as expected. I still have to learn to adapt my expectations from forecast to reality. On this particular morning I hoped for ice crystals in front of the rising sun – what I got instead were goose painted on a blank canvas.

Fog drowns the noise and highlights only what is in front of you. And sometimes the unexpected is even better than the forecast: The grey heron was hunting mice directly in front of me and I was able to get closer than ever before.

Know Your Resources

Know Your Resources

On an ordinary day during the last autumn, I saw, for the first time, the common kingfisher – what a beautiful bird. Despite its divergent blue and orange coloring, it is quite hard to spot when sitting still. Only when the kingfisher changes its branch from which it hunts you see a brief blue shimmer darting close above the water. It belongs to the family Alcedinidae whose species are scattered across the whole globe; and most of them are at least as colorful as the common kingfisher (e.g. check out the oriental dwarf kingfisher!). Since then, we have seen the common kingfisher multiple times at a lake close to our home and I have tried to get in on camera at multiple other locations around our town. I spoke with others where to find it, I spent lots of time waiting for it, and I made hundreds of photos of empty branches and little blue dots in the far distance. On some occasions I was somewhat successful, but the clear sight was always interrupted by branches at the locations I visited. Then, last Friday evening after another day of home office, I sought out one of the last spots around our town I haven’t been before during my search for the kingfisher. It’s only 3 minutes from my normal working location but due to the current situation I haven’t been there for a year. And there, directly at a small pond, the perfect location for the king fisher is prepared: A stick curved above the water, a sign that warns uninterested bystanders of the curiosity, and nearby benches and bushes for the interested photographer. I guess, I have to come back next autumn and try my luck here; in the photos below you see my best attempts from this winter.

Work often feels similar to this experience: You search something for a long time before you unexpectedly find it somewhere else. And sometimes you find even more: In this case it was a wonderful sunset and the first spring flowers:

Black and White Spring

Black and White Spring

I don’t like thinking in black and white. I don’t think liking black and white-thinking is sensible: There is always an in-between, an uncertainty, missing knowledge. My side is not correct and your side is not wrong, truth is on both sides. While it’s easy to say, it’s hard to act on: Being empathetic in heated situations, seeing purpose when everything seems empty, or noticing progress when stagnation feels permanent – it takes effort to spot and point at the grey areas. It is exhausting to discuss the subtleties and understand the intricacies of the in-between.
And still, sometimes it is necessary to treat things as if they were black and white, because otherwise we would still be discussing the shades of grey – as long as we are aware of the underlying simplifications. Maybe we should just do it as in modern photography: Take the picture in color, from purple to pink, from dark corners to bright skies, include all shades in between. And then: Edit and redact it, remove undesired colors, increase the contrast, do it careful, and you are left with a delicate black and white version of truth while knowing the steps you took to get there.

I am very happy how the images from today’s morning walk turned out: First, everything looked quite dull and I couldn’t find anything interesting. On my first passing of this field, where small water droplets gathered at the growing seeds, I quickly moved onward when the first pictures did not turn out as expected. I had the wrong settings and not enough patience to find an interesting perspective. Then, on my second passing on my way home, I tried it again and this time I did not want to give up. And after many, many failed attempts of pictures that only showed grass and water droplets, I was able (at least to some extent) to capture the beauty I was hoping to find: Small sceneries of nature in light and shadow that allow the imagination to roam free. Now, I not only see grass and water droplets, but I can see small individuals, I can see groups of fairy-tale characters, I can see them holding lanterns to find there way through illuminated towns in the dark between moon-lit flowers.

… or sunrise?

… or sunrise?

Being out at sunrise feels exciting. Nature awakes and prepares for the day, people jog in circles, in life and around the lake, traffic noises drown the early birds; and we stare and wait for the orange dot at the horizon. When it arrives, the frozen fog begins to shine, flowers begin to bloom, our cameras begin to click, and birds win the second round against the traffic. And then the excitement gives way to everyday life, routines are repeating themselves, and we join the others and continue our own circle, in life and around the lake.

Sunset …

Sunset …

Being out at sunset feels calming. Nature slows down and prepares for the night, people vanish from the streets, windows light up the city; and we relish the moment, above, reflect on the day, fool around with the last rays of a distant star, devour bread and cookies, and, for a moment, forget the before and after: we live in the present, love in the present, are in the present. Briefly after, it’s already over – darkness settles, cold air creeps under clothes, and we join the others, return from the moment, and prepare for a new week.

A New Beginning

A New Beginning

Spring ist here! After many days with lots of snow and up to -20 degrees Celcius, spring has arrived this weekend. The snow has melted, flowers are beginning to bloom, and nature is at a new beginning — and so is my little photo project. I am passionate about photography since half a year now and would like to share it somewhere aside from social media: For myself, for friends and family, and for everyone else who stumbles across it.