Bee Bricks and a Kitchen Table Approach to Environmental Conversations

In today’s polarizing political climate, environmental conversations tend to focus on overarching issues that appear abstract. Although big picture topics deserve significant attention, focusing solely on issues like climate change often alienates those turned off by the alarmist rhetoric that dominates environmental issue debates. Oftentimes those that choose to tune out after hearing this doomsday talk are moderates and conservatives—groups frequently characterized as unsympathetic towards the environment.

To the surprise of many in the environmental movement, however, large numbers of Republicans (a majority, according to recent polling) support action to address the environmental issues we face. Without these valuable voices at the table, alternatives to command-and-control policies are rarely proposed and solutions to environmental problems are increasingly one-sided.

One might ask how we alter this disturbing cycle of alienation, which has the ultimate consequence of leading to monopolized policy debates. A great start would involve shifting environmental discussions towards kitchen-table issues and matters that everyday Americans can actually visualize. Topics like climate change are incredibly important, but why can’t we also talk about environmental issues that evoke less of a partisan-fueled response? If politicians and the environmental movement as a whole would recognize and seize upon this opportunity, we could actually move the needle and make progress as opposed to looking on as climate change believers and deniers endlessly bicker and accomplish absolutely nothing.

What are these so called kitchen-table environmental issues? Local land conservation, innovation in agriculture, and public land management – each undoubtedly less polarizing than many overarching environmental issues – all serve as tremendous examples of matters that ordinary people can visualize and notice tangible impacts in real time. That rural Nebraska farmer may express skepticism towards the merits of climate change, but he will certainly notice the impacts of new agricultural machinery that increases production and prolongs the utility of his land. This is how we bring people into the conversation. We do it by focusing on issues across a variety of regions and at a range of different scales, thereby bringing as many voices to the table as possible.

A kitchen-table issue that possesses widespread appeal but is often overshadowed is the matter of bee population decline. Recent times have seen startling downturns in the number of bee colonies, with a USDA report indicating that 44 percent of them were lost between 2015 and 2016. This figure is especially disturbing given that bees pollinate almost three quarters of fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States and help to produce in excess of $20 billion in crops per year. No alarmist rhetoric is needed to heighten the stakes of bee population decline, and the short and long term consequences of this trend are tangible rather than abstract.

Convincing everyday people that bee population decline must be addressed is much easier than asserting the need for immediate action or otherwise the world will succumb to climate change in 2100. Again, this is not to say that climate change or other broad and longitudinal topics are unworthy of our attention, but persuading the masses that improving the environment is a worthy cause and top concern will require emphasizing issues that hit closer to home for them.

How do we get people from acknowledging the environment’s importance to acting on this newly held passion? This involves a huge step, but it can be accomplished through a bottom-up styled approach. With issues like climate change, even those who care immensely about it find it difficult to improve the situation on an individual level, which ultimately leads them to do little and lose hope in the trend ever being curbed. With more refined, imaginable issues like bee population decline, a bottom-up approach will allow individuals to act and watch as they make a tangible difference.

Take Green & Blue, for example. This United Kingdom-based company created the bee brick, a product that contains nesting sites for bees and can be incorporated into a building’s structure or a backyard garden. Given that habitat loss is the leading cause of bee population decline, purchases of this product produce a tangible outcome where users can actually physically see the bees nesting and notice the impact they are making. The bee brick, an amazing product of the innovative marketplace, provides a pathway for individuals to actively engage in this crucial environmental issue in an easy way. By focusing on refined issues and emphasizing a bottom-up approach, people no longer have to feel like they must move mountains to improve the environment at large.

When it comes to the environment, positive change in any amount – however large or small – is beneficial to society, and by placing more emphasis on less polarizing issues, we can affect change at all levels and bring more people into these important conversations.           

Ronnie Thompson