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Olivia Williams on declining bee colonies and emails from Obama
by Olivia Williams
12:15PM BST 27 May 2014

In her monthly column, Olivia Williams considers declining bee colonies, and applauds President Obama for installing solar panels on the White House

I am still shooting in New Mexico where my character, in a series about the invention of the nuclear bomb, keeps bees. This happily coincides with my love of bees and the work of my friend and eminent bombologist Roselle Chapman. Her title would suggest that she could advise us on explosives, but the “bomb” bit refers to the genus Bombus or bumblebee, her speciality.

She patiently took me through some bee basics: that her declining bumbles are undomesticated solitary bees whose furry coats make them brilliant pollinators; that honey bees are domesticated bees, rubbish at pollinating due to their leathery rather than furry coats; and that a reference in the script to a “wild swarm of Apis mellifera” would not mean the bees were undomesticated, just that they were very, very angry. I was grateful that she saved me from at least one solecism.

It turns out many of my prop books in the show are manuals for commercial beekeeping from the Forties, which describe the practices that have led to the collapse of bee colonies all over the world. Pesticides, loss of pollen sources, overcrowding, over-medication with antibiotics, loss of all the natural barriers to disease transmission. I keep on forgetting to say my lines because I have become absorbed in the props…

I tried to escape the alarming truths during a trip to Los Angeles, but there at the farmers’ market was another reminder of the legacy of the Los Alamos scientists — a campaign to draw attention to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster turning up in the organic honey of California.

President Obama sends me emails. They might be a secret signal from him that he knows I still love him, or a generic White House update sent to millions across the world. He told me this week that he and Michelle have put a solar panel on the roof of the White House. As I fly into Los Angeles I see flat roofs and warehouses and malls stretching to the horizon, dazzling under the California wildfire sun, and wonder why we are contemplating fracking New Mexico and Cumberland County into smithereens, and building precarious new nuclear reactors, when this resource is bouncing off every flat surface of our overheating planet. One panel per rooftop on every commercial building. Ten if your CEO got a bonus of more than a million.

Maybe I can run it by my friend Bobby Shriver, who is campaigning to be an LA county supervisor, over lunch at the Ivy. As one political dynasty falls in India, another one rises from the California flames.

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