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Gardening & Agriculture Gardening & Agriculture Pest control

Everything for our children, except leaving them a healthy planet

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by: Cindy Westland
Everything for our children, except leaving them a healthy planet

We do not survive without insects - and within ten or twenty years it is a crisis

With many insects it does not go well, due to mankind. What would happen if they all died out? No one who can tell it exactly. Biologist Dave Goulson makes an attempt: we head for an 'ecological armageddon'. The deterioration of the insect position is a disaster in the making, science warns time and time again. Prompt German research at the end of last year points to a dramatic decrease of 75 percent of flying insects. The causes are also known: loss of habitat and lavish use of pesticides in intensive agriculture. In the European Union it was decided to ban the biggest culprits, the neonicotinoids that make a whole plant from the roots to the nectar mortally toxic to insects. The harmful effects of neonicotinoids are now known in detail. What the consequences will be if insects disappear completely, much less is known. But that we are heading for an 'ecological armageddon', Dave Goulson is convinced. Insects and other undesirable animals are of vital importance for the formation of fertile soil.
Goulson is professor of biology at the University of Sussex in England and author of popular science books in which he underlines the importance of insects time and time again. We ask him to look into his 'glass bulb' to predict what the consequences might be if we lose the insects. An appeal to the imagination to imagine the unimaginable. Goulson: Even though we do not have a lot of data, we can logically reason to outline a plausible scenario so that we know what comes our way. 
Bee, yellow flower

The pollination crisis: fruit for the rich

Bees and other insects pollinate the crops we eat. Without bees we lose that food. It is about more than just honey. But its hard to tell exactly how it will be," says Goulson, but I would think that fruit from orchards is the first to come into the danger zone: apples, cherries, pears, but also strawberries, and beans that depend mainly on bumblebees.

a man in an orchard

A beekeeper takes care of pollination © Hollandse Hoogte / Marcel van den Bergh

The crops we grow worldwide benefit from pollination by bees, some of which you can grow without pollination, but then you get lower yields, you get smaller tomatoes and deformed strawberries, while the other quarter are crops whose pollen is transmitted by the wind. Cereals, wheat, barley will be still there, so we can continue to eat bread, porridge and tortillas, not really a nutritious diet to fall back on if fruit and vegetables are becoming scarce.

Will fruit become a luxury for the rich?

It is cold economic logic that scarcity will push up prices. Will fruit become a luxury for the rich? We already see that the people with the lowest incomes have an unhealthy diet: if fruit and vegetables become too expensive, that problem will increase. Public health will deteriorate. In the United Kingdom, we are already spending some 47 billion pounds annually. Loss of health and economic loss of production, due to poor eating habits.

Critical threshold 

Goulson emphasizes that these effects are going to occur long before the last one has left life: "It is enough when populations fall through a critical threshold.The demand for insect-pollinated crops increases, while the insects disappear. Do those two trends meet and then the pollination crisis is a fact.

Are reducing yields already noticeably?

We see that the yields of insect-pollinated crops are more variable than those of wind-pollinated crops, sometimes it is not so bad, at other times it is disappointing, which could be an effect of declining bee populations." We do not know for sure.
I was recently in India and there the farmers around Kolkata appeared to have to pollinate their squash, a kind of pumpkin, by hand.
Yellow flower squash by hand

Pollinating by hand

There are not enough bees anymore. In China, they do the same thing with apples and pears - countries with cheap labor can keep up with it for a while, but then only with crops with a high profit margin, which can not be done for the western world. It is difficult not to damage the flowers. Bees have been fertilising for over a hundred million years, we are not going to do that better.

The ground crisis: a land full of dead things

Bees and pollination get all the attention, but just as precarious is the formation of fertile soil. Insects and other invertebrates are of vital importance for this. Goulson: Worms, woodlice, millipedes, ants and a whole list of creatures that are so obscure that I will not even mention them." They break down organic material and make it available again as food for plants and trees. Infertile soil with trapped nutrients, a poor structure and little oxygen, this is already the case on many agricultural lands and we are throwing more and more fertilizer into it, which in turn has all kinds of adverse effects on nature.

The Walking Dead

That sounds like an episode of 'The Walking Dead'. I know. But it is plausible. An end to the decomposition of garbage produces frightening scenes. "Dead bodies will stay there much longer if there are no more fly larvae and carrion beetles to digest them. Dead trees will be left standing for a long tme. The landscape turns into a compost heap that hardly rot. In this compost heap pathogenic bacteria will thrive, which sounds like an episode of 'The Walking Dead', I know, but it's plausible. And that comes on top of existing problems with the soil, such as erosion and pollution.
We lose about 100 billion tons of fertile soil per year, as calculated, says Goulson. According to a report that was presented at a UN conference at the end of March, three billion people are already experiencing the consequences of land degradation.

Slash and burn
Slash and burned landscape with 2 men
The impoverishment of the soil plays mainly in agriculture. I'm afraid that at some point we will start claiming the land and cutting down the remaining forests, and you'll get a kind of slash and burn-activity around the world on the few good soil that is still there. Can we create a realistic alternative for that soil ourselves?
Hydroponics are being experimented with, where you grow in water with artificial nutrients, but it seems unlikely that such a thing will ever be successful on the scale we need.

The humanitarian crisis: 700 million migrants

Add up the pollination crisis and the soil crisis and you see that the food supply is far from safe in the future. Hunger is already a problem in the world and that will escalate, the rich countries will initially notice the least, they will seize the harvests and import food - a matter of money and later of arms. A future of violence, war and terrorism, because the people in the poor countries are the first to deal with food shortages will not starve to death in a silently, everyone is going to fight to survive.
Already many armed conflicts are going on with already in the base about resources such as agricultural land and fresh water. The afore mentioned UN report also points to the links between land degradation, armed conflicts and migration. The authors estimate that between 500 and 700 million people can be driven out of their homes.
Fleeing people on a road, lorry
Goulson: We are going to experience migratory flows where the numbers of now are pale.

Another beneficial effect of insects on humans is that they eat each other: predator insects keep species in check that could otherwise form a plague. Parasitic wasps, hoverflies, ladybirds that eat aphids ... If the predatory insects disappear, we will not immediately notice that, for the cynical reason that we have the pesticides that started this whole story, but you can of course forget about organically grown food. There are no more natural pest control insects, we will be condemned to pesticides, with no alternative, while the pest insects themselves become slowly resistant, and we can only dream of food that has not been soaked in poison.

The natural disaster: biological loneliness

We tend to look at our own plate only if we try to predict the consequences of insect mortality. But the rest of nature also relies on the insects. 87 Percent of the wild plants need pollination by insects to propagate, and when the pollinators die, no one will stand up to pollinate the wild plants by hand, and a flowerless landscape of grasses will remain. Whith a loss of 87 percent, the whole ecosystem will collapse and we can talk about the end of life on earth in the form we know today. There will be soon no longer buzzing bees, no chirping crickets on a sultry summer evening. France lost one third of its birds in the last 10 years
The disappearance of insects triggers an ecological chain reaction that is already noticeable. Insects are the main food for the majority of birds and of bats and frogs. An alarming investigation has just appeared showing that France has lost one third of its birds in the last ten years.
The situation in the Netherlands and other European countries is just as bad: we have much more data from birds than from insects, and the picture is clear: they are being swept away, especially meadow birds, but also swallows. When I was young, you could see everywhere the gray flycatcher, which has been reduced by 89 percent over the last forty years in the United Kingdom.
The American nature writer David Quammen predicts that we only have 'weed species' left. The current biodiversity is reduced to a group of opportunistic, generalist plants and animals that you will see everywhere: rats, pigeons, dandelions.
According to Quammen, they are facing a 'future of soul-withering biological loneliness', a heart-rending biological loneliness. A world without butterflies Call it the aesthetic, perhaps even the spiritual side of living together with other species. We will soon no longer be buzzing with bees, no chirping crickets on a sultry summer evening, maybe not even a fly that taps behind the net curtains on a lazy Tuesday afternoon.
Goulson: What I'm afraid of above all is a world without butterflies, or that my children will never see a flower meadow again or wake up in the morning with a choir of singing birds, if people can survive in such a world, what kind of life will that be? A gray, depressing life, without joy. For most people, the approaching catastrophe manifests itself only in petitions on Facebook and ominous stories in the newspaper. But within ten or twenty years, it is a crisis, the fate of the insects is part of a flood of extinction, soil loss, water scarcity and climate change that is coming at us, but you rarely hear a politician here." There is a staggering lack of interest. For this problem It is bizarre: it seems we want to do everything for our children, except leaving them a healthy planet.
Does Goulson think we will be in action in time? To be honest, I do not fear, we're very bad at long-term thinking, we'll first have to feel the crisis merciless, and only when millions die, we will come to action.

By: Paul Q. de Vries

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Financial spider in the web. WhatsOrb is a company with stakeholders and interests in the Netherlands and abroad. Cindy continuously monitors the administration of the company and addresses in-and external issues. It’s done with panache and great enthusiasm. Gardening is one of Cindy’s activities when having free time.
Financial spider in the web. WhatsOrb is a company with stakeholders and interests in the Netherlands and abroad. Cindy continuously monitors the administration of the company and addresses in-and external issues. It’s done with panache and great enthusiasm. Gardening is one of Cindy’s activities when having free time.
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