Dave Goulson, Professor of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex discusses this issue.
Professor Goulson starts the program by explaining that insects make up the bulk of life on earth. "Two thirds of all the species that we know of are insects. They do so many things, it is hard to know where to start, but Insects include almost all pollinators, so three quarters of the crops that people grow around the world need to be pollinated by something. Without flying insects we wouldn't have strawberries, pumpkins, coffee, chocolate, you name it, life would be pretty miserable. We wouldn't be able to feed everybody. They do other things. They recycle dung, they keep the soil healthy, they are food for the majority of other animals on earth — so many bird species, bats, hedgehogs, lots of small mammals, all eat insects. So if you take away insects, essentially, life on earth would collapse. "
Professor Goulson says that we should be taking the research very seriously because clearly it does have massive implications for all of us». The evidence is patchy, there are so many species of insects, which for the vast majority of time aren't been monitored by anybody….We do have data for some groups, for example butterflies and we know that they have been in steady decline for many decades. In the UK we know that moths are declining. We know that bees are in decline. But this new study is kind of unique because it looks at all flying insects based on 'Malaise Traps' which look a bit like tents. They basically catch any flying insects. The data refers to the weight of flying insects caught per days in these traps which were set up all over Germany, so the data is restricted to Germany. And that is where we found a 75% drop in the weight of insects caught per day per trap. Whether those results can be extrapolated to other countries is a matter of debate but as far as we can see, Germany isn't profoundly different to the UK or France or wherever."
Professor Goulson says that he thinks that we may not have to wait too long before we see crops failing in the field. "We shouldn't be complacent just because so far things haven't gone disastrously wrong. It is easy to get despondent watching these things slowly disappear. But there are some positive moves. The EU is going to be debating very soon a complete ban on certain types of insecticides….Just recently, Michael Gove, the UK's environment secretary did quite a spectacular U-turn for the British government in announcing, about a month ago, that the UK will be supporting new bans on those insecticides."
But we have a long way to go. Professor Goulson believes that it is not just pesticides that is the problem but the very way that we carry out agriculture. "The big picture is that we have lost a lot of habitat which used to be used by insects and we have turned a very large portion of the earth's surface over to farming, and the way that we farm now using the modern industrial approach, basically makes the majority of farmland inhospitable to most forms of life. Obviously we need to grow food for 7 billion of us, and that will soon grow to 9 or 10 billion. This requires farming, but the way we are farming at the present is one of the primary drivers for the loss of biodiversity around the globe."
Professor Goulson sees a return to smaller scale organic farming, on a community basis as being the possible way forward. "If we take organic agriculture as one possibility, the yields are lower; roughly 20% lower than conventional farming, but if could reduce meat consumption, which is a very inefficient way of feeding people, and if we could reduce food waste, because we waste about one third of the food we grow in the world, then actually feeding everybody by organic farming would be plausible…"
The fact that we are focused on international politics and consider that our own problems of security are only to do with borders and military disputes shows how far away we are from understanding just about anything. If flying insects die, we do too.
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