counterpunch.org · by
The world is experiencing a massive loss of insects. In turn, this threatens ecosystems with utter total collapse, and, by way of direct association, loss of human civilization. Zap, it’s over! Insectageddon!
Insect populations around the world are under massive attack and dropping like… well… like flies. The negative implications run very deep, indeed, especially for the foundation of ecosystems, and thus for the survival of all life. Ironically, insect death equivalence becomes human extermination as ecosystems crumble. It’s already happening, and the evidence is compelling, in fact, overwhelming. What can be done has no ready answers, although begrudged solutions are out there, like stop pesticides and industrial-scale monoculture crop practices.
“Scientists cite many factors in the fall-off of the world’s insect populations, but chief among them are the ubiquitous use of pesticides, the spread of monoculture crops such as corn and soybeans, urbanization, and habitat destruction. A significant drop in insect populations could have far-reaching consequences for the natural world and for humans.” (Source: Christian Schwagerl, What’s Causing the Sharp Decline in Insects, and Why It Matters, Yale Environment360, July 6, 2016)
Many, many studies of insect loss are extant; nevertheless, the issue is seldom, if ever, mentioned by mainstream journals or press.
Therefore, in toto, society is at risk uninformed of inherent dangers behind anthropogenically driven biodiversity loss. It is unimaginable that this escapes far-flung public focus, as well as a strong universal mandate to fix the problem.
In contrast to and dissimilar to global warming COPs (Conference of Parties), which have already captured the world’s attention; there are no conferences of parties to fix this most immediate threat of insect loss and ecosystem collapse, which spells the death knell of society, as it stands. Something different along the lines of a dystopian society will likely replace it within decades, maybe sooner rather than later. But, realization will likely be sudden, when it is already too late. After all, the dramatic falloff ~45% in insect populations has already happened within decades. The ongoing collapse is not dilly-dallying.
“We live amid a global wave of… declines in local species abundance… 67% of monitored populations show 45% mean abundance decline. Such animal declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning…. Defaunation is both a pervasive component of the planet’s sixth mass extinction and also a major driver of global ecological change.” (Source: Rodolfo Dirzo, et al, Defaunation in the Anthropocene, Science, Vol 345, Issue 6195, pp. 401-406, July 25, 2014.)
By way of an analogy, what if 50% of the population of America disappeared? Noticeable, yes! Scary, oh-yeah! But, the nearly 50% loss of insect population worldwide barely registers. In fact, it does not register at all because, aside from academic studies, there is little public mention of this imminent threat. Whereas, on a timeline basis, it is truly an imminent threat beyond any other known existential threat.
What is a world without insects? For starters, insect-eating creatures would starve, including frogs, birds, lizards, and spiders. Also, the natural recycling process would end, a process that reintroduces nutrients into soil, creating new topsoil to grow crops. And, the world would turn horribly foul from all the waste/trash without beetles and their larvae and other creepy crawly creatures naturally disposing of waste. Crop yields would plummet due to lack of pollination for 80% of plants. Just the honeybee alone is responsible for pollinating almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon, and more. Significantly, almost all flying insects are pollinators. And, finally, insects fertilize the soil with nutrients from their own droppings.
“Biodiversity Loss and Its Impact on Humanity” is the title of a major paper based upon 1,000 ecological studies over the past 20 years; it’s the first study of such far-reaching scope, since the famous Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, twenty-five years ago, which at the time was unprecedented for a UN conference. That special conference in 1992 focused on (1) toxic compounds (2) alternative sources of energy to replace fossil fuels (3) more reliance on public transportation (4) water issues and included a Convention on Biological Diversity. Forlornly, regarding all categories addressed at the summit, each category has subsequently turned worse, only worse.
As of today: “Twenty-five years and a thousand studies later, what the world thought was true in Rio in 1992 has finally been proven: Biodiversity underpins our ability to achieve sustainable development.” (Source: Bradley J. Cardinale, et al, Biodiversity Loss and Its Impact on Humanity, Nature, Vol. 486, Number 7401, pp. 59-67 Nature, 2012)
Because people no longer connect with nature like years past, the general public takes little notice of how ecosystems change. After all, based upon today’s standards, insects are exterminated, not studied for clues about the viability of civilization. Other than scientists, who’s to know the ecosystem is threatened with total obliteration because of insect loss?
When the last Monarch butterfly flutters to the ground and the last bee inserts its stinger into the arm of a naïve youngster running and playing in a meadow, and the last cicada, an insect prominently mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, tips onto its side in lonesome isolation, and the last ant colony collapses onto itself, expending a little dust cloud, it will not be noticed, if only because, by then, ecosystems around the world will no longer fulfill all-important life support.
Those random causalities will be nothing more than outliers. By then, crop yields will be less than 20%, but mostly zero, and society will have splintered into warring factions of bloodthirsty nomads. Amusingly, and lastly, the NRA will finally be justified. On the other hand, the food chain will have already collapsed.