Category Archives: Maurice Maeterlinck

If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live

Albert Einstein? Charles Darwin? Maurice Maeterlinck? E. O. Wilson? Apocryphal?

einsteinbee03Dear Quote Investigator: A dramatic quotation about the dangers of environmental upheaval is attributed to the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein. Here are two versions:

If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.

If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live

Some commentators are skeptical about this ascription. Could you examine this expression?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever made a remark of this type about bees. Alice Calaprice, the editor of the important collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein”, placed the saying in the “Probably Not by Einstein” section of her reference. 1

The earliest evidence known to QI of a connection between Einstein and disastrous environmental scenarios caused by the disappearance of bees was published in the “Canadian Bee Journal” in 1941: 2

If I remember well, it was Einstein who said: “Remove the bee from the earth and at the same stroke you remove at least one hundred thousand plants that will not survive.”

QI has located no supporting evidence that Einstein made the remark above. Instead, QI has determined that a statement of this type was made by the major literary figure Maurice Maeterlinck in his work “The Life of the Bee” in 1901. The saying was widely disseminated in the decades afterwards. Details are given further below.

In 1966 “The Irish Beekeeper” published a comment ascribed to Einstein that presented the grim four year time limit for humanity. The journal cited a 1965 issue of a French periodical for beekeepers called “Abeilles et Fleurs” for justification of the attribution. This is the earliest evidence known to QI of a connection between Einstein who died in 1955 and the dire time limit: 3

Professor Einstein, the learned scientist, once calculated that if all bees disappeared off the earth, four years later all humans would also have disappeared.
Abeilles et fleurs, June, 1965.

Below is a selected chronological sequence of citations that attempt to roughly outline the evolution of this expression and its conceptual formation. Because this task is difficult and the available information is fragmentary this entry is lengthy. QI is indebted to the pioneering research of Bonnie Taylor-Blake and Ray Girvan who explored this topic and located many important citations including the two given previously.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Page 479, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1941 January, Canadian Bee Journal, Volume 49, Number 1, Comments From Quebec by Ernest A. Fortin, Start Page 12, Quote Page 13, Publisher: J. and M. Atkinson, St. Catharines, Ontario. (Verified with scans; Great thanks to Terry Garey and Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system)
  3. 1966 April, The Irish Beekeeper: An Beachaire, Volume 20, Number 4, Section: News From Abroad by Mrs. G. V. Poulton, Which Queens Are The Best? Quote Page 74, Column 2, Published by The Federation of Irish Beekeeping Associations. (Verified with scans; thanks to John McChesney-Young and the University of California, Berkeley library system)