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Ignoring Insect Armageddon
Last year, German entomologists revealed the results of a twenty five year study. They had discovered that there had been a seventy five percent loss amongst the flying insect population in that country. The studies had been carried out predominantly in nature reserves and it is feared that the problem might be worse on agricultural land. What shocked me about this study was just how un-shocked most of the world was. The results were widely reported, but it seemed that most people were happy to just shrug their shoulders and carry on as normal. There were, of course, the usual debates as to whether this was caused by climate change, pesticide use or habitat loss, but the environmental outrage I had hoped for never materialized.
The Germans are not the only nation to have discovered that a large part of their natural wealth has simply vanished. Many other European countries are noticing steep declines in their insect populations but lack the long terms studies that the Germans have just revealed. Along with a decline in insects, there have been startling falls in the numbers of insect eating birds, which is where the insect decline often first reveals itself. In the US, insect numbers are down, and even in Puerto Rico, a country that long ago recognized that it was better off pumping money into the environment than into a standing army, mass casualties are being reported. Although they have reduced pesticide use by eighty five percent since 1969, scientists who have been recording animal numbers in their forests for many years are warning of unsustainable losses among insect eating frogs, lizard and birds.
Foolishly, I had hoped that the German study would be a turning point — a sudden slap in the face that would cause politicians to finally admit that something was amiss. Insects do, after all, make up two thirds of the living creatures of the earth and are responsible for at least thirty five percent of all crop pollination. The silence was deafening. It is easy to put the blame on the shoulders of the politicians, but although they ought to be at the forefront of any remedial action, we are all complicit in this issue.
Politicians are creatures who survive by sniffing the wind. They are experts at detecting where popular sentiment is heading and then tailoring their policies in that direction. Unfortunately, on this matter, they have recognized that the environment is not where the voter’s hearts really lie. Voter’s hearts are far more closely aligned with their finances. Given the choice of a percentage point or two cut from taxes, or a healthier planet that will demand a large chunk of the national budget, we vote for the tax cut every time. We pay lip service to the environment, but it is, at best, a secondary priority. Who can blame the vote hungry politicians for taking advantage of our lack of real commitment?
In order for change to be achieved, the industrialized world is going to have to lead the way. Poorer countries lack the financial capacity and, let’s not forget, it was the richer countries that created most of the current degradation in the first place. Change will certainly not come about without a major shift in mindset, and many people are going to have to accept that ‘having more’ is simply no longer an option. Yes, that does mean the likes of you and I having smaller cars, smaller homes and probably, smaller bank balances.
Unfortunately, as our insect numbers plunge, our oceans and climate degrades and numerous species hover on the brink of extinction, we continue to turn away from these problems. There seems to be a mistaken belief that somewhere, at some time, someone else will fix it. There is a possibility that the one good thing, the only good thing perhaps, to emerge from the fires that are currently raging in California, is that it will finally put to bed the belief, still held by some, that climate change is just a myth. However, given what little attention the study on insect decline in Germany generated, I think this may be just one more environmental problem that many will simply continue to pretend is not happening.