What does it take for people to see their effect on the environment?

May 30, 2018 by Joshua
in Nature

The Silence of the Bugs by Curt Stager in the New York Times

The Silence of the Bugs by Curt Stager in the New York Times

The Silence of the Bugs, an opinion piece in the New York Times by science professor and author of many books, Curt Stager, started by saying:

Fifty-six years after Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” warned of bird die-offs from pesticides, a new biocrisis may be emerging. A study published last fall documented a 76 percent decline in the total seasonal biomass of flying insects netted at 63 locations in Germany over the last three decades. Losses in midsummer, when these insects are most numerous, exceeded 80 percent.

It covered the apparent collapse of bug populations—an Armageddon, in his terms—we’re sleepwalking through, to complement bats, coral, and many other species. Given how much we depend on bugs, his term may be more prescient than we like.

I saw on a forum people searching for and suggesting technical solutions or other single causes to blame. I responded:

What does it take for people to see that for all the problems technology and markets have solved, they have unintended side-effects that, after enough time, can become global problems?

Pesticides and population growth expanding into more and more territory helped a lot of human problems in the past, but created new problems. Expanding into new territory escaped problems of poisoning, desertifying, or overfilling the land . . . until we populated the whole planet and the environment reached toxic levels of pollution.

You might say the environment isn’t yet toxic to us (though some places are), but it appears so for some essential symbiotic life. If experts in the field don’t know what’s happening, then people who estimate carrying capacities for the planet don’t either, raising the error bars downward for their estimation.

Systems perspectives predict outcomes like this and suggest systemic solutions, not technology or market solutions alone (though they are important), which are likely exacerbating them. A key leverage point I see are they system’s beliefs and goals. They’re hard to change, but such changes have happened before.

Not that I know the cause of the bug population collapse, but the point stands in many areas even if not here.

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