Fresh out of the U.K.’s Bournemouth Film School, Tristan Copley Smith joined Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as their resident documentarian. In 2010, he chronicled their work on the Iraq War Logs and continued through the massive release of U.S. diplomatic cables in September 2011.
Years later, his aim remains the same: to disrupt companies that control knowledge so we can collaborate more effectively, flip a finger at merry-go-round politics, and get down to the business of actually solving problems.
“In one camp there are the believers and upholders of trademarks and copyrights,” says Copley Smith. “In the other camp there’s the new generation of consumers and users who don’t believe that culture should be limited by the restrictions of the huge corporations that suffocate us.”
Freedom may lie in beehives — and the access they can grant to pollinators, the real masterminds behind our food supply.
So Copley Smith and his team have a plan – a fairly simple plan: They want to get everyday people engaged in the Great Fix to save our planet. As co-founder of the Open Source Beehive Project, he and his team manufacture flat-packable wooden beehives for your backyard and provide downloadable DIY plans for anyone who wants to do their own assembly. Not only does he want you to erect a beehive in your own personal space; he wants you and your hive to contribute data that could help solve and remedy Colony Collapse Disorder.
LW: Are we ready? Will we all have beehives in our backyards?
TCS: I think so. It’s called Citizen Science. It’s a developing movement. It’s one of the most important movements of our time. Ecological, astrological (sic), social, environmental. It’s citizens realizing that, by working together, we can start to understand our world better and build solutions.
LW: We leave a lot of the doing to for-profit corporations. We deal with some efficiencies, and then we also deal with a tremendous amount of fallout. Which makes us feel powerless and pissed off. How can we be more effective than corporations? And how can we contribute in small ways that don’t require us to quit our jobs or live in tents or “disrupt” the system in ways that seem insanely rebellious when we have bills to pay? In other words, how can we change the matrix when we’re already so deep in it?
TCS: Take the Congo, for example. They have all these debts, so they’re selling off their rainforest. To obtain a certificate, they had to avoid a certain area of trees. Instead of having a large corporation go in and survey the land, which it wouldn’t know anything about, the government built a smartphone application and handed phones out to their citizens who could then designate sacred trees by pressing a button to map out target locations. This is an example of how to strategically employ people to participate. It’s collaborative.
And with bees it’s a collective effort. We need to build hives that build data – hard data – about what is causing the colony problem. We need to work together and build solutions.
LW: So you started to design a very specific type of hive. You worked with Lenny Wayne Patterson, a beekeeper in Denver. Can you tell us about that?
TCS: Lenny is a hobbyist beekeeper, and he helped us design the first and second iteration of the hive. He really helped us get started. And now we’re on design 5.2 since starting the project in September last year.
LW: How does your beehive use sensors to monitor bees and regulate their habitat? And what about pesticides?
TCS: Essentially, there’s an existing software platform called the Smart Citizen Kit with Wi-Fi and GPS. It can sense ambient urban environments for things like audio and carbon monoxide and humidity. It’s online with geolocation. So you can log on and see a map and track it around the world.
We’re developing a new sensor board that will connect to the Smart Citizen platform, but ours will distribute data about beehives. Our sensors will be looking at volatile organic compounds, newly developed neonicotinoid compounds, humidity levels, and audio to get the mood of the hive. There will also be a camera.
LW: Appropriately, you have a crowdsourcing method to make this happen.
TCS: We’re taking resources from our Indiegogo campaign. We’ve exceeded our goal, but we’ve also extended the campaign.
LW: People are enthusiastic and they want to support a more sustainable approach to bees, health, and food.
TCS: Also, one of the most important things about the project has nothing to do with bees. The project is meant to inspire other people to take what they know or an issue that they care about and try to figure out a way to work together with other people to find a solution. People will respond to these kinds of projects. People are sick and tired of having to wait for corrupt organizations to sort out our planet. It’s not going to happen; because these are the same people who run the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA and all the regulatory agencies. We have to do something ourselves.
Photo of a beehive from Open Source Beehive Project