Some days I really wonder about the future of people. We appear to be really obtuse about a lot of things. It seems we never leave our five-year-old, greedy, selfish, ignorant, temper tantrum throwing selves too far behind, no matter how old we are. I present the daily news as proof of this theory. Just as little children make messes, both of themselves and their immediate environments, we do the same in our homes and communities.
Recently I was casually watching television and by the end of an hour I was totally overwhelmed and disgusted with the ads. A Jeep shown racing over fragile ecosystems for fun selling for over $60,000, medicine that will kill you with side effects worse than whatever disease you may have, food and drink that isn’t on any reasonable list for keeping us healthy, and endless poisons and fertilizers to make your lawn look like a Photoshopped magazine cover. It was very discouraging to think these advertisers were paying millions of dollars to put these ads in front of me but mostly to think they were working, that people were buying what they were selling, all of which were actually against our best interests.
As a culture we seem to have lost our minds, and our compasses. Where do we think we’re going? In the last week several people have told me they have about a quarter of the birds in their yard they used to have, that they never see a bee or a butterfly anymore, and that they don’t drink the water coming out of the tap because they don’t trust it. They live in nice neighborhoods here on lovely Cape Cod. When asked they said their neighborhood is filled with landscaping trucks, leaf blowers, and hundreds of little flags warning children and dogs to stay off treated lawns. Hmm, there is probably a connection there.
Reports from scientists and biologists from around the world were grim when I was a child and they’ve only gotten grimmer. While we have our eyes on piping plovers, whales, and polar bears, which need our attention and help to survive, we are forgetting that our own backyards and neighborhoods need protection, too.
Insect populations are crashing. Some of you may be thinking, yay! I hate bugs. Bugs kill people with diseases. Bugs should die. And to be fair, some insects do kill people. They also eat crops, causing famine and death in some areas. Insects are not all benign. Some, however, are not only helpful, but necessary. Most people now know about pollinating insects, those that carry pollen from plant to plant, helping the plants to survive and thrive. These include bees and butterflies, which are easy to feel benevolent towards. What we may forget, though, are all the insects and other arthropods that feed on detritus, the decomposers. These include the worms, beetles, fly larvae and more that chomp their way through the garbage, the dead animals, the fallen leaves and tree boughs, and the bodily waste we all leave behind every day. Without them the world would look and smell very different. They may be tiny, but they are necessary.
The problem with pesticides is that they kill insects indiscriminately, not just the species they target. A friend recently told me that spraying for ticks in her backyard was okay because she used a company that uses an organic compound and they told her it only targets ticks and insects with exoskeletons. This is a smart woman who cares a lot about the environment, but she somehow didn’t realize that all insects have exoskeletons. ALL. This reminded me of the ad I once saw where a man swore his pesticide only killed Lepidoptera, not monarchs. Apparently he didn’t know, or he hoped we didn’t know, that all butterflies and moths are in the order Lepidoptera. He may have missed his science lesson that day, or he may have thought we did.
We are living through a time of hard choices, mostly due to bad choices our society has made over many years. The consequences of things once thought harmless are now coming to light. Tiny plastic particles are found everywhere now, even in breast milk and our own bodies. I’m sure plastic manufacturers back in the day didn’t know that was even a possibility but they’ve known it for years now and they persist in making it and we, the consumers, still buy it.
There aren’t any easy answers here, but we do need to talk about these things. Growing your lawn like a meadow may help you think you’re helping pollinators, but your next-door neighbor’s lawn treatments are probably negating that the same way two voters of different parties cancel out each other’s vote. This doesn’t mean we should give up. On the contrary, we need to help educate each other as best we can.
Pesticides aren’t going to go away and probably shouldn’t. Some insects carry diseases that really will kill us or strip harvests that feed people and it probably isn’t provident to allow them to proliferate. Many companies are studying ways to better target these problems.
We can help reduce unnecessary poisonings by becoming educated consumers. Read labels. Look up words you don’t know. Do some research before pouring that poison. Use less toxic ways to solve your garden problems when you can. Most of us aren’t feeding the masses and can stand to lose some produce if we must.
In the meantime, get out there and smell some flowers and listen to some birds sing and bees buzz. Let’s give nature a chance. After all, when we poison her, we poison ourselves.