An insect hotel in the garden, extra wild flowers at farmers’ houses, urban jungles on the roofs of buildings: there is a lot of attention for insects, while at the same time they are not exactly what people are waiting for. The wasp that buzzes around the picnic table, the mosquito in the bedroom and the dirty woodlice when you pick something up in the garden: we often prefer to see them dead than alive. Careful what you wish for is the motto here: an insect apocalypse can be dramatic for people. Disastrous even.
50% of native plant and vertebrate species are confined to about 36 biodiversity hotspots covering only 2.5% of the Earth’s surface. If we continue to put so much pressure on our planet by wanting to cultivate a lot, the little natural vegetation we have could probably be reduced by half. Deforestation, agricultural expansion and urbanization are all causing the natural habitats of animals to disappear and with them the animals themselves. This does not only apply to the cute, cuddly animals we know from the zoo: it also applies to insects and indirectly to us.
A paper from several scientists indicates, we should be concerned about how our activities affect the nature around us. The number of insects would decrease by 1 to 2 percent per year in some species. Now that doesn’t seem like much, but it’s going very fast. Especially because we as humanity are also making it more and more difficult. There are now 8 billion of us and we use more every year than the earth can give us. All at the expense of nature, which is so important for insects. The three things that cause problems for insects are climate change, the disappearance of their habitat and degradation.
For our excessive consumption is problematic. Farm life is becoming so industrialized with its machinery, pesticides and massive emissions that insects have no good places to live. Even though insects are not so cuddly and sometimes even seem to be able to withstand nuclear disasters, there are certain living environments that benefit them. It is precisely where many people are active that insect populations are declining. According to researchers, that area will only continue to expand until there is also massive insect death in the mountains and forests.
Fortunately, the insects do not die in all categories. For example, a study in Puerto Rico shows that it is not the case there that insects are generally decreasing in numbers. Moreover, according to that study, it would not be the case that global warming is the problem: that would be storms that regularly rage over the country. Anyway, should we be so happy that certain animals can withstand that warming? Those are probably just the cockroaches and bed bugs of this world. They thrive in warmth and will only increase in quantity: not very nice for cities. Moreover, as winners of the misery, cockroaches still face a very large decrease in all kinds of other insects on the other side. Insects that we really can’t miss.
They’re all useful, really
Each type of insect has its own use. The most famous is the bee: it provides honey, but also for the fertilization and therefore reproduction of all kinds of flora. The quality of crops increases enormously when bees are around. In addition, there are also many insects that, for example, ensure that fallen leaves compost, such as moths. They may not be the most loved animals, but they are incredibly useful and we don’t want to lose them. And that other not so popular insect, the wasp, which ensures that our vegetables are not eaten by the larvae of all kinds of other flying creatures. It sounds cliché to talk about these kinds of things, but they do play an essential role in our ecosystem. We need insects for our food: so concluded the United Nations. As long as we, with such a large population, demand too much from the earth, many ecosystems will no longer be able to restore themselves, which in turn will lead to insect deaths. Massive insect deaths to the point of extinction.
The special thing is that precisely the climate change that we cause also causes more climate change. Not only do we lose insects and the fight against global warming, we also lose the diversity in our world, the biomass and the special histories and stories associated with it. Even if none of this matters to you, it should still concern you: in the end, all this leads to the death of people. Without insects, the ecosystem is completely disrupted and we will have food shortages as a result. There are perhaps 5.5 million different species of insects, of which we probably only ‘know’ about a fifth, which is rapidly declining. The red list of insects going extinct has gotten longer and longer since the industrial revolution (by 5 to 10 percent), so maybe 500,000 species.
Even more expensive living
It will cost us a lot of money if we have to do all the services that are now provided by insects ourselves. They help us with medicines, new chemicals, water flow, disease control, oxygen production and much more. In terms of money, scientists estimate the amount at 33 trillion euros, which we would then have to cough up annually. You can already feel it coming: we will never succeed.
Is there anything else we can do? Is it already too late? Certainly we can do something. One thing is education: teach children from an early age the consequences of our destructive behavior. But also: tackle that behavior. Less pollution, less food waste, more space for animal habitats and growing vegetables in a natural way, without pesticides. It’s all becoming a bit of a cliché to say, but do what you can against climate change. Be thrifty, don’t throw away food, take a shorter shower, take the bike instead of the car: it’s hard to adjust your lifestyle once you get used to it, but if we continue as we are now, then you will soon be complaining about the prices of food every day in the supermarket. If there is any food…