This news is really bugging me. It’s a wake-up call.
Scientists have recently estimated that for every person on the planet, there are 2.5 million ants.
That sounds like a lot but, in reality, insect populations have fallen dramatically — something I discovered for myself this summer on a drive through Germany.
A sticky situation
Earlier this year, I drove with my son from our home on the North Sea to visit my mother in a town near Frankfurt.
After a lovely week of visiting petting zoos, I began preparing the car for our journey home.
As I packed the trunk and made sure my son’s car seat was secure, I realized something was ‘bugging’ me.
My windshield, although covered with dust, had very few splattered bugs on it. For a nine-hour drive, there should have been a lot more tiny sticky smears.
As a kid in the 90s, I was so used to seeing the remains of insects streaked across the windshield of our family car that their absence was conspicuous.
As it turned out, my observation reflected a much broader picture.
Death by a thousand cuts
The journal, Biological Conservation, reported in 2019 that 40 percent of all insect species were declining globally and that a third of them were already endangered.
In my native Germany, a 2017 report found that there had been a 76 percent fall in insect biomass since 1990.
But how can we explain this change that occurred in just three decades?
According to the ecologist, David Wagner, there is no single factor responsible for the decline. He describes it as ‘death by a thousand cuts’.
This includes habitat destruction in the form of
- the replacement of natural habitats with agricultural land
- the use of pesticides and herbicides
- climate change.
Nature’s recycling plant
“If bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” — Quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein
The decline in bee populations tends to grab all the headlines, and rightly so.
Bees are involved in pollinating a third of the world’s food crops. Without them, some crops will fail altogether, while the yield of others will be impaired.
With a global human population expected to reach 8 billion in just a few months, a collapse in the bee population could result in famine and global instability.
We’d be knee-deep in excrement and corpses
Spare some sympathy for other six-legged species, which also do their fair share of pollination.
Furthermore, insects break down waste so that it can be turned into soil. Those flies you see congregated on a dog poop are providing a vital biological service.
Without them, we’d be knee-deep in excrement and corpses. They are, effectively, nature’s recycling plant.
What can we do?
“This should… be a wake‐up call to all those with the power to do something to mitigate the decline in biodiversity worldwide… The current attitude of governments to think in terms of the outcomes of the next election is no longer a viable one for the planet.” — Simon Leather, Etymologist at Harper Adams University, UK
The best way to reverse the fall in insect populations is to reinstate their natural habitats and to stem the use of toxic chemicals.
In 2019, the German government announced a €100 million action plan to protect insects. The plan includes granting protected status to insect habitats such as meadows and hedges and the phasing out of the weed killer glyphosate (commonly sold under the brand name Roundup).
Glyphosate is a killer
Glyphosate has been shown to kill bumblebees when sprayed directly on them, as well as killing insects indirectly by destroying the habitats they depend on.
Following multiple legal challenges, Bayer-Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup last year agreed to stop selling its glyphosate-based herbicides for US residential use from 2023. However, there are apparently no plans to discontinue glyphosate use commercially.
As global citizens, it’s important that we make sure our governments are introducing policies that favor nature and that they challenge corporations and industries whose activities are destructive.
You can contact your representative directly to see what they’ve been doing to address the problem.
Globally, 40 percent of insect species are declining with a third already endangered.
The causes of insect decline include habitat destruction, pesticide, and herbicide use, and climate change.
Governments need to take immediate action to prevent a total collapse in the insect population.
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