Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
[dupe] Alarming study shows massive insect loss (washingtonpost.com)
273 points by dschuetz on Oct 16, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 83 comments




You're right :O I wonder why the submission wasn't merged... EDIT: Different URLs, oh well.


This is devastating. Surely our dumbass (monoculture) agricultural and (monoculture) development methods bear blame for this. Surely our obsession with hierarchical power structures is a driver.

There is also a mass microbial extinction occurring right now: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2094423-microbial-mass-...

I'm exhausted of this consumer society that quashes all appreciation for the dynamic, the non-linear, the relationships of the micro to the macro, of the individual to the mass, of ecologies.

Words can't express my irritation for the blindness of techno-utopians who think we should aim to be happier on Mars. Get a clue! This is our chance to terraform earth back to health! If we can't do that now, there really isn't a chance in hell we could do it with Mars. We need to fall in love with earth again, with all of its creatures, including humans, and even mosquitoes. By perpetuating that live-in-space fantasy, you're sealing the fate of peoples' hearts, crushing the precious seeds of hope and trust in earth's fragile life system, and in humans' potential to bond with earth sustainably.

(Sometimes I do wish ignorant power mongerers and unrepentant rapists would go take a long time-out in the void of space. Maybe that would catalyze the spiritual realization we desperately need them to have. The risk, of course, is alienation.)

Okay... So everything you and I do and say right now matters tremendously. We are at a critical point. It's all that ever has mattered but it especially matters now.

I saw someone below talking about rewilding some spent grazing land. That's real stuff, thank you.


> I'm exhausted of this consumer society that quashes all appreciation for the dynamic, the non-linear, the relationships of the micro to the macro, of the individual to the mass, of ecologies.

I used to work as a microbiologist / geneticist. One of the standard exercises that beginning microbiology students perform is to

* take a small number of bacteria

* inoculate the bacteria into a sterile container of liquid "food"

* measure bacterial growth in the container versus time

Once the bacteria get going, there's an exponential explosion in their growth. "Exponential" growth continues until they begin to exhaust their resources (food). I used to think about that a lot ("How dumb the bacteria are. They can't plan for the future. They're unaware of how they fit into the larger picture and they just 'race' w/ each other until they deplete their own resources.").

Collectively, I'm not sure we are much different.


I did the same experiment, and often have the same thought. We might be intelligent, but collectively we do seem to act in the same manner.


There is an old lecture that draws this exact parallel: "Arithmetic, Population and Energy" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O133ppiVnWY


>Collectively, I'm not sure we are much different.

I'm sure we're not. Individually we can recognize the a problem. However the problem is there's a lot of people and they all have different ideas about what the problem is, how serious the problem is, how immediate or drastic any action needs to be taken etc. Not to mention those who deny there's even a problem at all. Or people believe we don't need to do anything because the big brains will magic the problem away with some science if we throw enough money at the problem. Try to get anything meaningful done with that mish mosh of characters running the show.


I've always seen GDP used as the measure of that speed.



It's easy to forget that the same "dumbass (monoculture) agricultural and (monoculture) development methods" are responsible for century-long world-wide decline of abject poverty and hunger in the face of unprecedented population growth.

Scaling things down and making them really sustainable is not nearly as obvious and easy task as some people make it out to be.

The only thing I can recommend without reservation: try not to eat meat, unless you need it for health reasons. Most people can easily do that and it does have a significant impact on a lot of things.


If maximum-short-term-return monoculture is as you say - responsible for alleviating abject poverty etc. and there was/is no viable alternatives, then diet is all that's left to improve on.

I dont share that view of the modern history of agricultural development - that it is the best that could have happened and as good as it gets. Without having the time to refute that outlook, I'm just noticing that your appeal to not forget it made or linked no cases to support it.


It is probably a lot easier and cheaper to colonize the Sahara desert than Mars, but since there are less incentive to do it we won't.

Mars surface area : about 144.8 million km²

Earth Desert area* : about 44 million km²

[*] including Antarctica & Arctic


There is actually an international attempt to do that, but I don't know much about it.

https://www.saharaforestproject.com/


> but since there are less incentive to do it we won't.

I dunno about that, but I agree with everything else: we could easily end up “terraforming” the deserts (including Antarctica) just to prove the tech for a Mars colony is viable. Putting a full city, complete with self-sustaining farms, on the top of Mt Everest or at the south pole is technically easier than Mars, though perhaps not politically.


My neighbors reported me to the governing major because I have a somewhat wild garden (by choice and design).


> Okay... So everything you and I do and say right now matters tremendously

No, not what you say (it has all been said before), only what you do.

So what are you doing? Hacker News is full of angry comments about the environment but the only discussions of action are in regards to what other people or the government should do.

Isn't it telling that all we can muster is angry internet posts?

The typical HN reader probably has a disproportionately negative impact on the environment while simultaneously being disproportionately vocal about the need for change...


Key paragraphs:

> The food web appears to have been obliterated from the bottom. It’s credible that the authors link the cascade to arthropod loss, Schowalter said, because “you have all these different taxa showing the same trends — the insectivorous birds, frogs and lizards — but you don’t see those among seed-feeding birds.”

> Lister and Garcia attribute this crash to climate. In the same 40-year period as the arthropod crash, the average high temperature in the rain forest increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures in the tropics stick to a narrow band. The invertebrates that live there, likewise, are adapted to these temperatures and fare poorly outside them; bugs cannot regulate their internal heat.


Seed-eating birds spend a lot of time gathering insects to feed their young. I presume also seed plants are dependent on pollinators. Certainly this is just an armchair comment but I would have expected the effect to show up across the board.


The reason it isn't is that this study is based in Puerto Rico, where the bugs don't have the option of migrating north. In the US mainland, yes, this is happening, and it's harming insects, but the main result is migration, not extinction.


This is absolutely horrifying. Insects are mother nature's sex organs!

In 1945 after world war 2, the US had an abundance of ammunition supply and decided do make use of it in other means than warfare. They used that ammunition supply to make Chemical NPK fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and rodenticides. This was the onset of commercial farming and - not so ironically - exactly when the world insect popluation started decreasing! Now we are just seeing it in its most drastic potential.

Pesticides not only destroy the detoxifying organs in our body upon consumption, they also destroy the basis of every ecosystem on Earth!

They don't stop at just killing insects though. Ever hear of the phrase of war "Salt the earth", where countries would pour salt over airable land to knock out the enemies food supplies? Pesticides are salts! They destroy the Humus of the soil which contains all of the microfungi and microorganisms which have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the plant to send filaments of nutrients through the roots and receive sap from the roots in return.

When you realize that the food you're getting is so much less nutrient dense than food that was farmed organically which actually obeys the laws of nature, you begin to realize that this commercially farmed food literally takes more energy and nutrients out of your body in the processes of digestion, metabolization, assimilation, and elimination than you get from the food!


>Pesticides not only destroy the detoxifying organs in our body upon consumption

What? Do you mean by direct consumption or residually on food?

> you begin to realize that this commercially farmed food literally takes more energy and nutrients out of your body in the processes of digestion, metabolization, assimilation, and elimination than you get from the food!

Confused by this too. By this logic those of us who rely on commercially farmed food (most of us) should be continually wasting away and soon dying, which is not the case


As i mentioned, commercial farming leads to less nutrient dense food.

The processes of digestion, metabolization, assimilation, and elimination each take energy and nutrients to work. Foods grown in low-vitamin dense soil inherently have less nutrients to provide the organism which consumes them.

Be cautious in your assumption that everything is great with commercially farmed food. Widespread disease, reliance on stimulants like coffee, energy drinks, and even as extreme as ADHD medicine being given to children - even though the effects are almost identical to those of people being on cocaine - are becoming more widespread the more prevalent commercial farming becomes.

The rate of cancer in 1900 was 1 in 30, 1980 it was 1 in 5, 1990 1 in 4, 1995 1 in 3, 2000 1 in 2.

Correlation? causation? It's impossible to tell, but the idea that engineering mother nature to make her work more efficiently than the way she has engineered life over millions of years has yet to ever work in our favor each time we have tried throughout history.


> Foods grown in low-vitamin dense soil inherently have less nutrients to provide the organism which consumes them.

Even taking this as a given, "less nutrient dense" is far from "so nutrient poor that digestion literally takes more energy than the food contains", which is what your original comment claimed.

> The rate of cancer in 1900 was 1 in 30, 1980 it was 1 in 5, 1990 1 in 4, 1995 1 in 3, 2000 1 in 2.

Ok. The cancer diagnosis rate has skyrocketed. That's a different point. In many ways this is good -- it means more people are living long enough with medical care to get a diagnosis.

> the idea that engineering mother nature to make her work more efficiently than the way she has engineered life over millions of years has yet to ever work in our favor each time we have tried throughout history

What? GMOs have worked out on a massive scale, improving billions of lives through new drought/pestilence/act-of-God-resistant strains.

I'm with you that agribusiness has many problems and bad actors, but the claims you're making go really far.


Ever hear of the phrase of war "Salt the earth"

You mean the entirely symbolic ritual after an area is conquered? Or did you mean the myth that this was actually done to actually render the land infertile? 'cuz that didn't happen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salting_the_earth

I normally wouldn't be this pedantic (oh, who am I kidding?), but when I got to this: you begin to realize that this commercially farmed food literally takes more energy and nutrients out of your body in the processes of digestion, metabolization, assimilation, and elimination than you get from the food!

...I realized we'd wandered off to fantasy land, so a little pedantic banter couldn't make it worse.


What's so hard to understand here? The processes of digestion, metabolization, assimilation, and elimination each take energy and nutrients to work. Foods grown in low-vitamin dense soil inherently have less nutrients to provide the organism which consumes them.


What’s so hard to understand, you ask? The part where you say that most of us run an energy deficit from the food we eat, yet don’t reconcile it with an obesity epidemic in the U. S., just for starters. But I’m not going to further engage such silliness, so have the last word.


You're assuming that obesity and a lack of energy are mutually exclusive when, in fact, they're very much related. In fact the main reason people become obese is that their liver must shuttle the massive amount of toxins into fat when it gets overwhelmed with toxins because it takes, get this, a lot of energy to detoxify your body.

Look at commercially farmed meats. How do you make the most money as a meat farmer? You sell meats by the pound so your goal is to get the heaviest animals possible. How do you get the biggest animals the fastest? You make them fat instead of muscular because it happens quicker. How do you do that? It turns out that you feed them garbage and treat them like garbage.

Cement powder, plastic chips, dead animal parts and even sewage are approved by the FDA to be fed to animals in commercial farms.


I am currently trying to buy a few acres of land. It's currently grazing land, but I'd like to rewild most of it. By any chance, can someone suggest a good source for learning how to do so in a way that encourages insect, bee, and bird populations? It's near a bog so I'm hoping it can have a bigger impact than it would in isolation.


You can go as deep as you want, but the basic checklist could be (for case when you don't want to have productive farm land):

- make sure there is some type of water on your property, shallow pond would be ok

- build different biotopes: leave some pasture area, plant patches of different bushes.

- plant some fruit trees and few solitair trees (depending on your geography it might be oak, linden or whatever. Ask at your garden center)

- build/buy and place different insect hotels in various parts of property

- when mowing the grass always leave some part (say 1/3) intact

- I am not familiar with situation in US, but in Europe you can find mixes of wild species seedings for given geography. You can use those to speed up biodiversity growth in the area.


Thanks! As it turns out I went sale agreed about 30 minutes after my comment.

It's in the Irish midlands and I'll be living there as well in a 210ish year old cottage, which will certainly be a shift. For dealing with the grass I had some idea that sheep might be friendlier than mowing, but sheep also tend to destroy everything in their path and stop seedlings.

I was thinking I might try to grow food in this model - http://www.themarketgardener.com/book/ - but that would be on less than half the space.

Clearly I have lots of research to do.


May I recommend "Practical Self Sufficiency"? A few years ago they even made a British TV-series "It's not easy (being green)": https://www.amazon.co.uk/Practical-Self-Sufficiency-Complete...


The British TV-series that came to mind for me was "The Good Life" ("Good Neighbors" in the US). Wouldn't be much practical help however.


Given your location, this might be of some peripheral interest...

"Restoring the ancient Caledonian Forest Alan Watson Featherstone TEDxFindhorn"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAGHUkby2Is


Yes, good catch, grazing from sheep & such are a big part of why the british isles have lost much of their forest.


... oh and welcome to the club.

For more inspiration you can listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast with Jason Fried (CEO of Basecamp)[1] somwhere at the end of the pocast he is talking his hobby of restoring prairie.

[1]https://tim.blog/2018/07/23/jason-fried/


You want to look into permaculture. You should check to see if there's any permaculture groups in your area. They will have the best localized experience and will be a huge help.


I don't know where you live but the USFS has guides on the native species of plants that live in various parts of the US.

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/public...

https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/CNAP/RevegetationGuide.pdf

Edit: fixed the links


Both of those links are broken for me.


Fixed, sorry.


Check out this farm in the UK. https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-proj...

This is a great book wrote for the british isles, the design principles it covers would be very useful in a rewilding project https://www.amazon.co.uk/Earth-Care-Manual-Permaculture-Temp...

And this is a great book if you want to farm sustainably https://www.amazon.co.uk/Growing-Green-Organic-Techniques-Su...


The more I learn about the Anthropocene (aka a global ecological collapse in the making), the more I think it's critical to reduce human footprint. I might consider buying some land (in France) and let nature does it thing. Would that make sense? I wouldn't be able to manage it, does anyone know if there's an organization that could manage the project for me? Perhaps a NGO to which I could donate the land, actually, with the promise to maximize its usefulness not for humans but for the biosphere as a whole?


There are many local land trusts that you can donate to. My father and a local group in Ohio have protected a large amount of land over the last 10 years.

Google for land trusts in your area.




This is a truly awesome project! (It's just a few miles from where I live.)


Nature Conservancy in North America, you can try Rewilding Europe in the EU.


I think you should look up Shubhendu Sharma. He is growing forests in 10 years.


That’s awesome! Consider putting a conservation easement on the land so future owners also can’t develop it. https://www.google.com/search?q=conservation%20easement


I'm curious what that does to the value of the land. I'd guess it drops it dramatically; the bit of information I found sidestepped answering that question, just mentioning that you'd pay much lower taxes... which I suppose is a roundabout way of saying yes, it kills the value.

That may not be a bad thing, of course. But definitely something to keep in consideration.


Thanks - though that appears to be a US concept? This is in Ireland and tbh its location makes development in the near future unlikely, though it's actually pretty close to rail...

Given that there's a thatched cottage from ~1800 on the land it's already subject to a fair number of restrictions, incidentally, though those are all related to heritage.


If you are in California try rbennaton@ucanr.edu


Generally, Mother Earth News is decent.


Ask someone over 50 who drives, do you remember bugs on your windshield? Having to run the wipers because it was that bad?

Ask them when they last remember that being an issue. I'm guessing some time in the 1980s.

There are kids who drive these days and never had bugs on their windshield. They don't realize it's not normal.


Windshield aerodynamic have also improved a lot over the years.

I used to have an 1988 Volvo 240 that was a magnet for bugs just a few years ago.

Went to south Florida about three weeks ago... my windshield was almost completely covered in dead lovebugs.


You used to be able to see them in the headlights as you were driving, now you don't. Love bugs have a breeding season in Florida, that's not a normal volume of love bugs and is only one very different data point that doesn't speak the the macro trend of bugs disappearing globally.


Aerodynamic of cars has changed, but I noticed almost the same reduction in number of insects on myself during my motorbike trips. 30 years ago after some hundred kilometers you had to wash the jacket, now there are just a couple bugs. To be honest, in the last year or two I've seen a bit more bugs (Italy here, may be the EU rules on bugskiller help). (yes, I'm over 50)


Aerodynamic of cars has changed

Not on my '81 VW camper, it hasn't. Still the barn door with wheels it was thirty-seven years ago (we have not owned it the entire time). I clean the windshield to get the dirt off, not bugs. Similar vehicles ('77 Chevy full-sized van) I've owned in the past were bug magnets back in the day.

I have the same experience as you here in the U. S. on the motorcycle. The same areas of Oregon I'd ride through twenty years ago at the same time of year would leave me covered in bugs, and I'd carry a can of spray cleaner for the face shield, because waiting to clean it at gas stops wasn't soon enough.

Now the big can of spray cleaner stays on the workbench in the garage. I still carry a small can in the tankbag, but I think I've had the same can for a couple of years now. I still get bugs going through Oregon, but it can wait until I stop for gas now.


To play devils advocate, could this partially be that cars now have aerodynamics optimized partially for keeping things from hitting the window? Windows are more sloped now than the were 30 years ago, and the curvature of the hood leads into it more.


Drove from MA to FL this summer with a very un-aerodynamic truck. Plenty of bugs.


I own a Jeep Wrangler. It is still very much the case that my windshield is covered in bug guts. It has the rake of a mid 80s american sedan.


Try riding a motorcycle and tell me your visor, jacket, and bike don't get full of bugs on any out-of-the-city trips.


> Ask them when they last remember that being an issue. I'm guessing some time in the 1980s.

Or May/September in Florida when the love bugs are out. Or anytime the big mayflies (hexagenia limbata) are hatching in the midwest.


I still get plenty of bugs on my cars... those kids that you are talking about probably only drive in the city (lower speed) or are strictly using Uber. In fact, they are still spraying poison in the streets at night to kill mosquitoes and I still have bees on the flowers in my yard.


I don't know about that, my car is covered with bugs on any trip along New York's interstate.


I drove across the country a couple years ago. Driving across South Dakota in May was awful for bugs. I had to stop multiple times at gas stations to clean them off. But otherwise, yeah, there aren't too many bugs on my windshield normally.


I remember driving 6 hours from home back to college during August in the midwest and having to stop every couple hours at a gas station just to clean the windshield. Now its rare to hit an insect on the road.


What car were you driving then? What car or cars have you driven recently?


For you, when in retrospect do you remember it changing?


I've noticed the same thing when driving


What? When did it stop being an issue? Here in Ohio you most definitely still end up with bugs on your windshield.


When was the last time you cleaned your windshield with the squeegee at the pump? It used to be something you'd do every fillup in the summer.


A few weeks ago?

I drive a small SUV (Mazda CX-5), maybe the angle of the windshield in relation to the hood increases the chances of catching bugs?


> the catch rate in the sticky ground traps fell 60-fold.

This sentence made it hard for me to take the article seriously. What does a 60-fold decrease even mean? I understand what a 60-fold increase means: it means that there is now 60 times more than before. But it's not possible for there to be 60 times less than before for a quantity that cannot be negative. So we are left to wonder. Does it mean that there is now 1/60th as much as before? That is a peculiarly precise number. Is it really 1/60th i.e. 1.67% and not, say, 1/59th (1.69%)? Whatever the truth is, this sentence is obscuring it.

I don't mean to cast any doubt on the proposition that there is a serious problem here. This is a criticism of the journalism, not the science.


I think the natural interpretation is that the January 1977 numbers showed a value 60 times greater than the January 2013 value.

  (the dry weight of all the captured invertebrates)
Here's a direct link to the relevant graph:

http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2018/10/09/1722477115...

Full publication:

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/10/09/1722477115


That would indeed be a not-entirely-unreasonable interpretation except for two things:

1. Why not just say that the numbers went down by 98% (i.e. 59/60)?

2. If you look at the graph, the numbers clearly went down by less than 98%.


I wish we could loose mosquitoes and ticks...


That's the thing, it is not like all bugs disappear in equal proportions, more like some (agricultural related) go, some other -- come. And those are not necessarily nice ones.


And cockroaches.


It seems we've already lost cockroaches in Europe, I haven't seen any since the end of the 20th century. Whatever, I don't really mind them as they don't bite.


There are still a lot of them in southern Europe.


Barcelona is full of them


So, we have one study in Puerto Rico, and one in Germany. I think we really need to figure out whether this effect is real, if it is global, and what is the cause. I guess I'd advocate not panicking until we know more- this isn't on the level of certainty of climate change yet, where we are absolutely certain that the Earth is warming.


Paywall-free article from The Independent:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/insect-population...




Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: