Climate skeptics and anti-vaccine ideologues reject scientific knowledge.
Their tradition is old. If your groundbreaking book, was released in 1962, Rachel Carson was abused. Chemical companies accused her of spreading heresy, but at least she was not burned at the stake like Giordano Bruno or exhibited instruments of torture like Galileo.
In 1981 the US Post issued a stamp in Carson’s honor. Their ideas about the adverse effects of pesticides were accepted, but only partially. Insect populations are still being destroyed around the world. A third of the species is threatened with extinction. The extinction rate can be eight times higher in insects than in reptiles, mammals and birds.
We rely on insects to pollinate the flowering plants that provide much of our food. “When the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, humans have no more than four years to live,” Albert Einstein is said to have said. It’s unlikely he did, but it’s not fake news. What goes around comes around: when we kill insects, we dig our own graves.
Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. So there is something people can do to help our little friends? In a recently published opinion piece, Akito Kawahara of the Florida Museum of Natural History and colleagues believe this is the case. “The combined action of millions of people is necessary to address global problems,” they say.
US biologist and natural history writer Rachel Carson. Image: CBS via Getty Images
Kawahara asks us to convert our lawns into nature reserves. Delay mowing and let so-called weeds like dandelions grow. If you can’t resist the social pressures of keeping a short, potty-trained sward, leave at least an area of your demesne wild. Even a window box is better than nothing. Every little bit helps.
“Insects have close ecological relationships with these species” (weeds) that go back millions of years. So, get local and get local. “Increasing evidence shows that growing native plants gives native insects more benefits than growing non-native ones.”
Follow Rachel Carson’s advice. Reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides “could be of great benefit to both terrestrial and aquatic insect communities,” says Kawahara.
Gardeners aren’t the only bad guys either. Car washing is a suburban addiction. Deadly chemicals in soaps harm invertebrates. If you need to scrub your car, use biodegradable soap.
Richard Collins: “The rate of extinction in insects can be eight times higher than that of reptiles, mammals and birds.”
Light pollution changes ecosystems. Turn out the lights or at least turn them off. Night-flying insects, disoriented by lights, circle around them drunk until they fall exhausted to their death. Street lights provide bats with abundant, easy-to-catch prey, but bats also have to make sacrifices.
Too often insects are associated with misery and disease. Roaches, mosquitoes, rat fleas, and Scottish mosquitoes give their species a bad name, but the vast majority of these small creatures are completely harmless. Carson wrote, “The clearer we can focus our attention on the wonders of the universe above, the less taste we will have for destruction.” She died in 1964. If she were still alive today, she would surely have approved of Kawahara’s recommendations.
- Akito Kawahara et al., “Eight Simple Steps Individuals Can Take to Save Insects from Global Decline”; Procedure of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021.