Posted on 12 April 2024 in anthropology, climate change, news

How Honeybees Can Teach Us How to Live During the Climate Emergency

By exploring the impact of climate change on the remote mountaintop village she calls home, Larisa Jašarević’s research finds surprising and revelatory connections between beekeeping and Islamic teachings.

Adam Smith

Universal Impact Writer

Image via Unsplash.

This article was written by a team member of Universal Impact.

Drawing on her experience working as a beekeeper in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Larisa Jašarević’s research provides a unique insight into the devastating impact of climate change.

Larisa lives in a remote mountaintop village, keeping bees on land which was once tended by her grandparents. But she has noticed that “honey’s vanishing” amid the “strange new weather” of recent years.

In her new book, Beekeeping in the End Times, Larisa describes how this phenomenon is affecting the country’s traveling beekeepers, mostly Bosnian Muslims, who since the 1990s, have helped reinhabit the devastated frontlines of the Yugoslav Wars.

In March, the ISRF held a launch event for the book, which also draws on Islamic texts to suggest how to live with hope in the face of ecological disaster.

Speaking at the event, Larisa said:

What beekeepers like myself can do is describe the things we’re seeing on the ground – and what we’re seeing is changes in the quality of the seasons and also in the relationships between plants, elements and the bees.

Oftentimes, beekeepers don’t know what exactly is happening but they see oddities, they see blooming trees and no bees visitings, or they see bees visiting in scores but there’s no honey.

Larisa, who has a PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago where she also taught for a decade, started conducting field research in Bosnia in 2014 and has received funding from the ISRF.

Her book is accompanied by a documentary film, currently in production, which records Larisa’s experiences keeping honey bees in a remote part of northeastern Bosnia, which she describes as a “sweet spot on the broken planet”, far from industry and pesticides.

During the launch, at Queen Mary University of London’s BLOC, she showed an excerpt of the film which details how, despite living in such idyllic surroundings, the bees are “nearly starving” due to summers which are so hot that they have nothing to forage on.

Larisa added:

This book is my own back to the land story. I settled in the village when research on honey bees made me so attuned to the direct climate that I had a very hard time carrying on a life in a metropolis such as Chicago.

My back to the land story, however, was not born of a naive hope that the village excludes me somehow from the world going to wrack and ruin. If anything, I feel more exposed to the weird weather.

Years of research with honey bees and their beekeepers have made me ever more alert to the signs of trouble. Beekeeping of the non-industrial kind is nothing if not a life-stoking practice, it entails care and commitment to an amazing insect.

In 2021, Larisa was named as one of six researchers who would be supported through the ISRF’s eighth Independent Scholar Fellowship competition, with a proposal aiming to secure funds for her films’ post-production and distribution.

The launch of Larisa’s book – published in hardcover, paperback and ebook by Indiana University Press – is the 31st event of this kind to be hosted by the ISRF, which is dedicated to advancing the social sciences through the promotion of new modes of inquiry.

Speaking at the event, ISRF Director of Research Chris Newfield said the book offered “a unique way of thinking about the climate emergency that we must understand fully if we are to forestall our common apocalypse”.

He said:

Beekeeping here is a series of small acts of restoration in a time of climate crisis in which major human entities are still making the crisis worse.

And beekeeping is also tied to islamic eschatological lore, as Larissa puts it, teachings, contemplations and mindfulness about living in the light of imminent death and the world’s ultimate ruination.