Ian Whyte, CACOR member expresses grave concern.
The human enterprise is eradicating non-human life on Earth. The WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016 reveals that, worldwide, wildlife populations declined by 58% between 1970 (itself too late for a proper base year) and 2012, with the expectation that this decline will reach 67% by 2020 (WWF, 2016). In Canada, my home, the situation is similar: half of 903 species monitored saw population declines over the same period, and the average for half of these was a population loss of 83% (WWF-Canada, 2017). Recent reports from Germany detail how the insect population there is crashing – with a decline of 76% of total flying insect biomass in protected nature reserves since 1990, and an even higher decline (over 80%) in the summer months (Hallmann et al., 2017). As I write this, reports show that bird populations in the French countryside have declined there by more than a third in just the past 17 years – a situation described by conservation biologists as “catastrophic” (Geffroy, 2018).
Where are the mayflies? In my youth – the 1950s – they were everywhere, clouds of them and all over the lights, windows and clothes lines. In the last few years I’ve seen exactly one, and had to look it up to be sure I was right. Similarly, the once ubiquitous June bugs are largely gone now and a huge number of monarch butterflies are missing. Where are all the rest of the bugs, squashed against car windshields, that used to blot out vision? All gone. What do fish, birds, bats and dragonflies eat now? Nothing, as it turns out: they are largely gone too.
While all parts of our civilization are implicated in this catastrophe, in this editorial I’ll focus on agriculture, and “the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming,” as George Monbiot puts it (Monbiot, 2017).
Before I begin, I’d like it to be clear that I write, unapologetically, as an amateur field naturalist and specifically not as an academic, scientist or environmental professional.
As such, I feel no compulsion to restrict myself to statements that can be ‘rigorously proved’. My personal observations, the weight of evidence, and the precautionary, reverse-onus, creeping-baseline, and leastharm principles are some of my guiding lights. I interpret these through the lens of an ecocentric value system.
I started this editorial as a one page essay on the plight of bumblebees but, no doubt because everything is interconnected, it rapidly ballooned to include agriculture, then paradigm and then, in an effort to keep its size under control, back to agriculture.
A recent major but seriously downplayed scientific study (reported only on page 3 of my newspaper) found that a widely used neonicotinoid agricultural poison is associated with a considerable risk of bumblebee population extinctions (Baron et al., 2017). Two key findings from the study make the point. First, as the title of the study states, pesticide use “reduces bumblebee colony initiation and increases probability of population extinction” and, secondly, “Modelling the impacts of a 26% reduction in colony founding on population dynamics dramatically increased the likelihood of population extinction.”
As one reads the study, it comes across as cold and dispassionate. Away from the emotionless world of scientific reporting, what kind of person, who knows about neonics killing bees in general, and the likely extermination of bumblebees in particular, could react with anything but rage? Their use and the resulting losses are wrong on so many levels.