New Report Documents Global Insect Decline and Calls for Reforming Industrial Agriculture
By Andrea Germanos
A new report released Tuesday draws attention to the worldwide decline in insects and calls for global policies to boost the conservation of both agriculture and the six-footed creatures.
The publication, entitled Insect Atlas, comes from two progressive networks: Brussels-based Friends of the Earth and Berlin-based Heinrich Böll Foundation.
"The global loss of insects is dramatic," Heinrich Böll Foundation president Barbara Unmüßig said in a statement.
The report points to various studies documenting that loss, including 2018 research finding 41% of insect species are in decline and that one-third of all insect species are threatened by extinction. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimated that 10 percent of insect species are endangered, and another study cited in the new analysis found that at least one in 10 bee and butterfly species in Europe is threatened with extinction.
While there's no definitive count of the global loss of insects, Insect Atlas says the trend is unmistakable.
Insect Atlas. Bartz / Stockmar, CC BY 4.0
That decline has major impacts on food.
"Three-quarters of the world's most important crops exhibit a yield benefit from pollinators: they contribute directly to around one-third of global food production," says the report.
The methods used for that production have a huge impact on insects.
"Alongside climate change and light pollution, the spread and intensification of farming is by far the most important cause of the global decline in insect numbers," the report adds.
This type of farming is dependent upon expanding pasture—often at the expense of destroying Indigenous land and wild animal habitat—and prioritizes monocultures and therefore insect-killing pesticides, the use of which has steadily increased for the past nine decades, the economic profits of which are predominantly flowing towards just four entities: BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, and Corteva. From the publication:
What is more, the number of chemical products in use around the world continues to increase. And, their negative effects on the insect world are also becoming more and more evident. This is not just because a growing number of chemicals are being applied; the formulations are also increasingly effective and can be used more selectively
Even when some nations ban certain pesticides over concerns, the chemicals' adverse impacts don't disappear; they just change locations.
The developed world is waking up to the risks associated with the use of pesticides. The situation is different in the developing world: chemicals that are banned in Europe and North America are still used routinely to control pests. Stricter controls are needed, along with better information for farmers.
Insect Atlas. Bartz / Stockmar, CC BY 4.0
Dismantling industrial agriculture, says the report, is essential. "There is no alternative: to protect insects, farming must become part of the solution. Not just for the sake of society, but also for the sake of farming itself—because it, too, needs insects."
"The evidence is clear: pesticide use is wiping out insect populations and ecosystems around the world, and threatening food production," Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement.
"A handful of corporations control the bulk of pesticide supply, and if left unchecked will continue to use their immense political influence to lock in a system of industrial farming which will continue to wipe out nature and destroy rural communities," she continued.
One area of reform that would address deforestation and the resulting insect habitat losses is curbing meat consumption and therefore the huge swathes of land on which genetically modified animal feed is grown. "If the developed world were to consume less meat and if agricultural products were no longer used as fuel," says the report, "the pressure on the land areas could be reduced considerably."
Insect Atlas lays out a number of solutions for global policymakers to pursue. They include:
- Gradually reducing the use of synthetic pesticides by 80 percent in EU agriculture by 2030, starting from 2020 and phase out exports of pesticides banned in the EU;
- Radically reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), including the phasing out of harmful untargeted direct payments, setting aside at least 50% of the CAP budget for environmental, nature, and climate objectives and support farmers in the transition to agroecology;
- Phasing out harmful farming methods like growing genetically modified plants or introducing a new generation of genetically modified insects;
- Taking urgent actions to achieve the targets suggested in the European Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies to increase organic farming;
- Reducing the production and consumption of industrial meat and other animal products and supporting plant-based options; and
- Cutting the overall EU demand for agrocommodities in order to reduce global deforestation.
Schimpf spoke about those solutions and the report on Euronews Tuesday:
What are the consequences for our food supply? "If we continue using pesticides so heavily, farmers will lose the… https://t.co/Kiz6VXe6Mc— Friends of the Earth #BlackLivesMatter (@Friends of the Earth #BlackLivesMatter)1591694883.0
Schimpf also drew renewed attention to the Save Bees and Farmers European Citizens Initiative. It's centered on three key demands: a phase-out of the use of synthetic pesticides; measures to increase biodiversity; and support for farmers.
As of press time, the petition has over 355,000 signatures.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Bernice Dapaah calls bamboo "a miracle plant," because it grows so fast and absorbs carbon. But it can also work wonders for children's education and women's employment – as she's discovered.
These are the world's most bicycle-friendly cities. Statista<p>"The reason we use bamboo to manufacture bicycles is because it's found abundantly in Ghana and this is not a material we're going to import," says Dapaah, one of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders.</p><p>"It's a new innovation. There were no existing bamboo bike builders in our country, so we were the first people trying to see how best we could utilize the abundant bamboo in Ghana."</p>
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Supporting Students<p>Besides encouraging Ghanaians to swap vehicles for affordable bikes, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is helping students save time on walking to school so they have more time to learn.</p><p>Each time they sell a bike, they donate a bike to a schoolchild in a rural community, who might otherwise have to walk for hours to get to school.</p><p>Dapaah knows how transformative a shorter journey to school can be to academic performance. She grew up living with her <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb3joGYmx9A&feature=emb_logo" target="_blank">grandpa, a forester in a rural part of the country</a>.</p><p>"We had to walk three and a half hours every day before I could go to school. He later bought me a bike, so I finished senior high and wanted to go to university."</p><p>The experience inspired her to launch Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative with two other students at college.</p><p>"When we started this initiative, I looked back and said, when I was young, I had to walk miles before I could get to school, and sometimes if I was late, I was punished.</p><p>"Why don't we donate bikes for students to encourage them to study and so they can have enough time to be on books."</p><p>To date, they have sold more than 3,000 road, mountain and children's bikes – and Dapaah says they plan to donate <a href="https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/350343" target="_blank">10,000 bikes to schoolchildren over five years</a>.</p>
Empowering Women<p>The enterprise is also providing local jobs. It teaches young people to build bikes, particularly women and those in rural communities, where jobs can be scarce. More than 50% of people they have trained are women.</p><p>Dapaah says they want to boost the number of people they employ to 250 over the next five years and they are looking to partner with NGOs to build a childcare facility so mothers can continue to work.</p>
Reducing Emissions<p>By promoting a cycling culture in Ghana, Dapaah says they're also committed to reducing emissions in the transport sector and contributing to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.</p><p>"I love the idea of reusing bamboo to promote sustainable cycling. People want to go green, low-carbon, lean-energy efficient," she says.</p>
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Melting and crumbling glaciers are largely responsible for rising sea levels, so learning more about how glaciers shrink is vital to those who hope to save coastal cities and preserve wildlife.
Groans, Creaks, Icebergs’ Calving Splashes<p>Oskar Glowacki already knew that melting glacial ice sounds like frying bacon. As ice bubbles burst, anyone nearby can hear crackling and popping, said Glowacki, a postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Using hydrophones, he and other scientists now can make more nuanced measurements of how a changing climate sounds underwater, from the groans, creaks and splashes of a calving iceberg to the changes in whale songs as the ocean warms.</p><p>Glowacki recently used a pair of hydrophones to study the underwater world of glaciers, publishing his findings in <a href="https://www.the-cryosphere.net/14/1025/2020/" target="_blank">The Cryosphere</a>. He and co-author Grant B. Deane measured glacier retreat by <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/07/melting-glaciers-sound-like-frying-bacon/" target="_blank">recording the sounds of ice</a> – from small chunks to enormous slabs – falling off the glacier and splashing into the water.</p><p>During the summer of 2016, Glowacki's team placed two hydrophones near Hansbreen Glacier in Hornsund Fjord, Svalbard. For a month and a half, they recorded sounds, also using three time-lapse cameras to collect images – including the "drop height" (how far the ice fell into the water) – so they could compare photos to the recordings. The team created a formula to represent the relationship between the size of a piece of ice falling from a glacier and the sound it makes underwater, also accounting for the pieces of ice falling from varying heights. (Hear an example of the sound an iceberg makes while calving <a href="https://soundcloud.com/user-248456662/iceberg-calving-hansbreen-glacier" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p>
Unlocking Information About Antarctic Ice Shelf<p>Other researchers also are using hydrophones to learn more about crumbling glaciers. Bob Dziak, research oceanographer with the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory <a href="https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/acoustics" target="_blank">acoustics research group</a>, captured a massive calving event of the Nansen Ice Shelf in Antarctica with a hydrophone. He published the results with colleagues in <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feart.2019.00183/full" target="_blank">Frontiers in Earth Science</a></p><p>On April 7, 2016, satellite images showed a massive calving event had occurred on the ice shelf. The paper described it as the "first large scale calving event in >30 years."</p><p>However, once Dziak and colleagues delved into the data from three hydrophones deployed 60 kilometers east of the ice shelf, they uncovered a series of "icequakes" from January to early March 2016. He and other researchers believe that much of the ice actually broke free in mid-January to February, but it remained in the same location until an April storm – which their paper described as the "largest low-pressure storm recorded in the previous seven months" – broke the ice free.</p><p>"We suspected that the icebergs broke apart but remained in place – kind of pinned in place – until a major storm with high winds passed through the area and, finally, it was that last push that pushed the icebergs out to sea," Dziak says.</p><p>He and his co-authors wrote that "fortuitous timing and proximity of the hydrophone deployment presented a rare opportunity to study cryogenic signals and ocean ambient sounds of a large-scale ice shelf calving and iceberg formation event."</p>
Listening to Songs of Humpback Whales<p><a href="https://www.mbari.org/" target="_blank">Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute</a> studies the ocean, including its acoustics. One of the institute's projects involves examining the soundscape of California's Monterey Bay, including sounds from animals, humans, weather, and geologic processes like earthquakes. The researchers once even recorded an under-sea landslide. They also focus on recording and analyzing the <a href="http://www.mbari.org/humpback-song/" target="_blank">songs of humpback whales</a>. Male humpback whales' songs can be over 15 minutes in length, and they can be repeated for long periods of time – even hours. Listening to these songs and analyzing them can provide unique insights into the lives of these complex animals.</p><p>"Any time we want to study marine mammals, sound gives us a window into their lives because they use sound for all of their essential life activities, really," says institute biological oceanographer John Ryan. "Communication, foraging, reproduction, navigation – depending on the species, of course."</p><p>Previously, scientists had thought singing occurred only during courtship and mating, but now they think whales may also use song while migrating and hunting. They know song has a crucial role in the whales' lives.</p><p>"There's a whole other dimension to humpback whale song," Ryan says. "It is a mode of cultural transmission in this species. They learn songs from each other. They share songs as a population, and when populations mix and mingle, they learn new ideas, they explore with their song, improvise, and it's a real essential part of their culture."</p>
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A number of conservationists claim cats are a zombie apocalypse for biodiversity that need to be removed from the outdoors by "any means necessary" – coded language for shooting, trapping and poisoning. Various media outlets have portrayed cats as murderous superpredators. Australia has even declared an official "war" against cats.
Faulty Scientific Reasoning<p>In our <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13527" target="_blank">most recent publication</a> in the journal Conservation Biology, we examine an error of reasoning that props up the moral panic over cats.</p><p>Scientists do not simply collect data and analyze the results. They also establish a logical argument to explain what they observe. Thus, the reasoning behind a factual claim is equally important to the observations used to make that claim. And it is this reasoning about cats where claims about their threat to global biodiversity founder. In our analysis, we found it happens because many scientists take specific, local studies and overgeneralize those findings to the world at large.</p><p>Even when specific studies are good overall, projecting the combined "results" onto the world at large can cause unscientific overgeneralizations, particularly when <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2015.01.003" target="_blank">ecological context is ignored</a>. It is akin to pulling a quote out of context and then assuming you understand its meaning.</p>
Ways Forward<p>So how might citizens and scientists chart a way forward to a more nuanced understanding of cat ecology and conservation?</p><p>First, those examining this issue on all sides can acknowledge that both the well-being of cats and the survival of threatened species are legitimate concerns.</p><p>Second, cats, like any other predator, affect their ecological communities. Whether that impact is good or bad is a complex value judgment, not a scientific fact.</p><p>Third, there is a need for a more rigorous approach to the study of cats. Such an approach must be mindful of the importance of ecological context and avoid the pitfalls of faulty reasoning. It also means resisting <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13126" target="_blank">the siren call of a silver (lethal) bullet</a>.</p>
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