Search This Blog

Friday, 20 October 2017

Ecological Disaster

Almost certainly, the most important news from Europe this week is the result of a long-term study of insect life in the German countryside. This has shown that over the last 30 years - an incredibly short period in evolutionary terms - up to 84% of the TOTAL of insect life, over almost all species, has declined when the incidence of creatures is counted at the peak of the summer [when the populations of most insects should be at the highest level].

The importance of insects in the crop cycle for most plant types has been recognised by humans for millennia, and it has been re-emphasised as the population of bees has declined over recent decades with a whole series of diseases and alien species destroying the populations of hives and also the survival and reproduction of solitary bees. That this catastrophe has befallen almost all European insects in a very short period is truly alarming. Insects and plants have evolved symbiotically over millions of years; and mammals are utterly dependent on that symbiosis for their foods.

The culprits are well recognised, especially a small range of herbicides and insecticides that are used in massive quantities - particularly in Europe - with the desired effect of protecting crops in the short term. The lobbies for these substances to be banned will grow larger and louder from now on, with many farmers joining in as the risk to pollination of their crops hits their pockets.When the necessary measures have belatedly been taken, nature will almost certainly act as it usually has, and provide the climatic and other conditions in which populations can rebuild themselves quickly. But it may not work that way: the ecological disaster may already have gone so far that the spaces left by the vanished insects could be taken up by alien species that do not support the main farmed crops, and present health hazards to human beings.

There have been many, crystal clear warnings from various ecological pressure groups, not least the ludicrously-named 'organic' movement [who ever saw an inorganic cabbage?], and they have been ignored. The German data are incontrovertible, and are largely replicated across the continent: so something most be done, and will be done, and things may just turn out all right.

A parallel crisis has been reported from the mass use of antibiotics in cattle and other mammalian species of farmed animals and in zoos: the powerful chemicals become dispersed in the waterways and thus return to the life-cycle of which humans are a part: accelerating the rate at which viruses and bacteria evolve to counteract the effects of the drugs on their own ecology. The British medical establishment has warned that when the rate of evolution of bacterial and virological resistance to antibiotics outpaces the development of new and replacement antibiotics, it will become unsafe to perform almost any form of surgery. I include viruses alongside bacteria here because it has become common to give antibiotics to people experiencing virological attacks because in many cases patients find it has a placebo effect: thus they demand antibiotics and doctors often succumb to such demands in order to avoid complaints from patients. This matter has been presented to the media for several years, and the impact of the message has somewhat been muted by the development of more advanced antibiotics; but there is no assurance that the pharmacologists will continue to outpace the evolution of bacteria, and it is irrational for people to assume that science will always triumph.

There is nothing new in the reported decline of insect species: the decline in several bird species has been associated with the decline of their prey for several decades. But nothing adequate has been done about it, and now the 'eleventh hour' has passed and Europe is in the twelfth hour. This is a far more massive challenge than Islam, Jihad, populism, Putin or Trump: and it cannot be avoided.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment on any of the articles and subject matter that I write about. All comments will be reviewed and responded to in due course. Thanks for taking part.