Walking the countryside is restful and recuperative. It revives the body and the soul.
Getting away from our screens and under the forest canopy and the sky illuminates in ways the metaverse never can. The quiet can seem to us a relief, a calming counterpoint to cities’ noise and confusion.
But that hush is, instead, worrying and alarming. It is not indicative of a balanced natural ecosystem and landscape. A myriad of missing unuttered lost voices and calls are warning us of the dangerous destructive planetary path we have embarked upon, leading us to “The Silent Spring” that Rachel Carson described 40 years ago.
Where are the world insects?
Those of us of a certain age and above remember summer holidays driving down the highway. One could go only a few miles before the windshield was spattered with the tragic carcasses of insects hit by your dad’s speeding car. Today this simply does not occur. Your windshield stays largely clean and clear.
The insects are disappearing, and we are to blame. Insect populations are plummeting. Researchers studying 20,000 insect species – including bees, ants, butterflies, grasshoppers and dragonflies – at 6000 locations found that in areas with intensive industrial – ie pesticide using – agriculture saw a 49 percent drop in insect numbers and a drop in total species by 27 percent . Worrying indeed as insects play crucial roles in pollinating plants we eat.
Insects break down waste in forest soil and are the base of a food chain that all other larger animals rely upon. Insects are the pollinators of 90 of our key food sources – from apples and fruits to onions and staple vegetables. More than 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants require pollinators, and yet we are exterminating them. The unseen work of bees keeps billions fed and nourished. Yet tens of millions of acres of crops are sown with seeds coated with pesticides that weaken and can kill bees and other insects and the ecosystems we all rely upon.
As the sound of insects softens and is lost, so too are the birdsongs and calls of the countryside.
Bird populations are falling, and these avian disappearances have caused a quieting of spring mating calls and songs. A global winged tragedy unfolds. Research shows that among the 11,000 bird species in the world, half are seeing declining numbers, adversely impacted by habitat destruction, the climate crisis, pesticides, pollution and insect declines. A staggering 3 billion birds have vanished from North America and 600 million are gone from Europe.
These swooping, athletic, radiant and beautiful fliers’ deaths are a warning of ecosystem stress, collapse and crisis. As if to drive the terrible scale of the unfolding climate disaster home, temperatures in India are so high at present that birds are literally falling from the sky.
Sadly, the litany of death and human-caused die-offs do not stop at bees and birds.
Our world frogs and reptiles are declining too.
The spring’s frog mating calls at pondside or the darting speed of a sprinting newt or salamander cannot much longer be taken for granted. Twenty percent of the world’s reptile species are threatened with extinction. So far, 31 species have vanished forever, only henceforth to be found in museums or textbooks.
A comprehensive 15-year study published in Nature is upsetting indeed. In America, the decline in reptile populations is estimated at 3.8 percent per year. Do the math. Many of these species will be gone forever within your lifetime.
Sorry to depress you. But silence in the countryside should not be welcomed, but lamented. It is the sound of emptiness and death – not balance and sustainability.
We, as concerned inhabitants of this small planet, voters, consumers and actors must face facts if we are to stop being willfully blind and look at and listen to what is underway. Many more of us must begin to demand action and take action to protect and repair the landscape and its non-human inhabitants, which we are currently actively destroying.
As with so many other aspects of the unfolding climate and environmental catastrophe that is underway, we know what needs to be done. We have many of the behavioral, technological and practical solutions required.
To quote a high school teacher of mine in Scotland when we would whine and complain about a problem – “It’s not that you couldna… it’s that you wouldnae.” It is not that we can not do something to correct the extinction crises we can see unfolding – it is that we do not want to.
For all our sakes, and for the future of our children, grandchildren and the planet, we must shake ourselves and begin to take responsibility and change our choices, policies and practices.
We can start today.
Stuart PM Mackintosh is executive director of the G30 and author of “Climate Crisis Economics. ”