Massive insect decline could have 'catastrophic' environmental impact
February 11, 2019 1:52 AM   Subscribe

More than 40% of insect species could become extinct in the next few decades, according to the "Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers" report, published in the journal Biological Conservation.
posted by thirdring (85 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, it's been fun.
posted by iamck at 4:14 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


On the upside, last I heard it was still the case that wasps are speciating faster than we can classify them.
posted by flabdablet at 4:39 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]




At least, we will all have front row seats for this extinction event.

As time goes by, the Great Filter becomes less and less of a mystery.
posted by bouvin at 5:55 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


So - anecdotal, but even approximately 10-years ago when I visited Brasilia I found the complete lack of insects to be very strange. But then, no birds either. Never asked my co-workers about it, but it has "bugged" me ever since.

We lose insects, we lose the entire ecosystem, Black Mirror style robot "bee's" ain't gonna do no good, even without the tech dystopia scariness.
posted by jkaczor at 6:02 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


So... can we start talking about the survival of the species now?

It's pretty apparent that the biosphere is deteriorating rapidly, and that estimates of how bad the damage was going to be and how soon it was going to happen were optimistic. Additionally, it turns out we're more sensitive to the changes than we'd thought we would be. The incredibly intricate biological systems which produce our food and water and breathable air are collapsing, and we have no idea how to stop the process.

We've released millions of years' worth of stored solar energy in a couple of centuries; the effects of that will play out over millennia. It's just going to keep getting worse for a long time.

And we're large mammals with very large brains who require a very particular balance of atmospheric gases to survive and reproduce. The chances of the Earth's air remaining breathable while it transitions to its new state of equilibrium is basically nil. Between the long-term health effects of elevated levels of carbon dioxide and lack of oxygen, the increased ozone and particulates due to rising temperatures, and the heat, at some point we're going to find that we can't gestate and raise healthy infants.

Which means our environment will no longer be habitable. At that point, either we've got another environment in which we can survive, or we die out. The only sentient species in the known universe gone, and everything anyone has ever done, all for nothing.

Unless we can figure out how to colonize this alien world we've made.

We're already thinking about colonizing Mars; we're close to having the technology we'd need to build environments which could support a few thousand people apiece, providing them with everything they need to live, most importantly breathable air.

We don't know how long we've got. We don't understand the feedback mechanisms that are kicking in, and we don't even know what human beings can tolerate when it comes to the atmospheric mix we'll be breathing in the future.

It will take enormous effort to save humanity. We need a deeper understanding of our own biology, of our ecosystem, of materials science and manufacturing techniques and energy sources. It will mean re-thinking government for an environment in which growth is no longer possible. It will take a massive, unthinkable effort, made ever more difficult as the environment disintegrates around us.

But we've tackled problems on this scale before. We're not talking about building colossal machines to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, or figuring out how to de-acidify the oceans; those are orders of magnitude more difficult. This is a Manhattan Project scale challenge, an Apollo Program sized project. If we can build aircraft carriers, this is within our reach.

We fucked up. We broke the only biosphere in the known universe that we can survive in. Either we figure out how to build new ones, or we go extinct.

Let's get to work.
posted by MrVisible at 6:13 AM on February 11 [11 favorites]


Anecdotal and all but, yep. The amount of squished lovebugs (even on older cars that don't fall into the whole "But cars are more aerodynamic these days" defensive kneejerk) even in my 3 decades of lifetime, well 2 decades if you count the ones I can remember, has dropped off by at least an order of magnitude or two. Rolypoly/pillbugs? Gone, can't remember the last time I saw more than one and I used to play with 10 or 20 at a time as I wrangled them into dirt pens. Bees in the wild? Ha, yea right, gone. Ants seem to be going strong, so ants and wasps are doing well then? Great. That's great. Our kids deserve better but maybe they can eat the fire ants once everything else is gone.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:15 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


While we are still early in this thread, i would like to ask us not to go the route of "haha everything is megafucked haha"

I know that this is very, very serious news. I am a researcher in natural science and part of my job is to understand the details of how most ecosystems on earth are experiencing multiple severe stresses at the same time. We ARE currently instigating a mass extinction: overfishing, pesticides and toxins, marine eutrophication, clear cutting rainforests, and of course the linked effects of atmospheric warming on the ocean and on terrestrial weather systems. I am not making this statement lightly: the speed and intensity of our assault on the Earth rivals and perhaps surpasses the asteroid impact that ended the dinosaurs.

And yet, I want to make it very, very clear that everything we can do to soften the blow -- to slow the rate of change -- is absolutely necessary. Doing anything we can to slow down our carbon emissions will give other organisms a little more time to roll with the punches we are administering. Doing anything we can to stabilize a little more ecospace for a few more species will slow down the shock a little bit.

Even when you are in mass extinction territory, there is better and there is worse. The K-Pg asteroid impact was cataclysmic, but there have been worse extinctions in the geologic record. The faster we assault the Earth, the worse it will get. The more we can slow it down, the greater chance every ecosystem has to stanch the bleeding.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 6:15 AM on February 11 [71 favorites]


A good place to start is with encouraging beneficial insects in your own garden or planter(s), if you have them. Also, get this on AOC and other Green New Dealers' radars. Agriculture and land use are fundamental.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 6:41 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


We fucked up. We broke the only biosphere in the known universe that we can survive in. Either we figure out how to build new ones, or we go extinct.

Let's get to work.


This is to me really dangerous thinking - you are (from my POV) justifying the mass wealth that is being accumulated by the global capitalist elite as they self-select for being the ones on the ark. I do not think that the plan now should be working out the technology to keep Elon Musk and the Davos set alive.

And yet, I want to make it very, very clear that everything we can do to soften the blow -- to slow the rate of change -- is absolutely necessary.

Yes, more of this, please. We're all in this together, let's try to keep the planet at least marginally habitable for everyone.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:52 AM on February 11 [8 favorites]


But we've tackled problems on this scale before. We're not talking about building colossal machines to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, or figuring out how to de-acidify the oceans; those are orders of magnitude more difficult. This is a Manhattan Project scale challenge, an Apollo Program sized project. If we can build aircraft carriers, this is within our reach.

I'm afraid I don't understand what it is that you are saying is the task on the scale of Manhattan Project or Apollo. Founding a Martian colony?
posted by thelonius at 6:57 AM on February 11


Fixing the collapse of these ecosystems is beyond anything the 99% can do by peaceful means. Sure, we can help by doing things like eating less meat or planting a garden but that won't solve the problem or even slow it down by a significant margin.

Going "haha everything is megafucked haha" is pretty unhelpful but I'm not seeing a lot of alternatives for most of us.
posted by Memo at 6:59 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Well, we can always leave out the "haha" part.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:12 AM on February 11 [13 favorites]


This is to me really dangerous thinking - you are (from my POV) justifying the mass wealth that is being accumulated by the global capitalist elite as they self-select for being the ones on the ark. I do not think that the plan now should be working out the technology to keep Elon Musk and the Davos set alive.

I think we should be working out how to realistically save humanity with the technology and resources we have at our disposal. It's going to take a huge pile of resources to make this happen, and there are people with huge piles of resources, and I hope they figure this out. I don't care which group of people survives, as long as everything humanity has ever done doesn't just fizzle out here.

I'm afraid I don't understand what it is that you are saying is the task on the scale of Manhattan Project or Apollo. Founding a Martian colony?

Learning to build habitats which can support groups of people in a self-sustaining way, including the generation of atmosphere, food, water, medicine, and all the stuff humanity has evolved to need.

Our planet is about to become uninhabitable. Which means we have to learn to make habitats in which we can survive. Ones that run on minimal resources, that recycle everything possible, that can manufacture every component that might be needed.

It'd be great if we could fix the biosphere, or even slow down the catastrophe we've caused, but it's the ultimate in hubris to think that we have the ability to do so. We evolved in an incredibly complex and delicately balanced system of energetic chemical reactions which happened to be in an unusually stable state for a long period of time, and we dumped millions of years' worth of energy into it over decades. We've caused geological change on a human timescale. We don't have the technology, the resources, or the ability to co-ordinate projects large enough to fix this.

What we do have is the tech to build miniature habitats that enough humans can survive in that our species can survive, and hopefully learn from our mistakes.
posted by MrVisible at 7:12 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


We used to talk about what would happen if all the insects disappeared, in entomology class, as sort of a thought experiment to underscore how important they are. We didn't ever imagine that it might be something we'd face in our lifetimes. We used to talk about how collecting insects was pretty harmless, because the numbers were just so great we couldn't make a dent in the population.

The loss in biomass alone is numbingly scary. It means fewer calories in the food web. It means lean times. Insects were supposed to be the fallback protein. Now what?
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:19 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


On the upside, last I heard it was still the case that wasps are speciating faster than we can classify them.

Nah, that can't be true the way that it sounds like it is. There are far more wasp species than humans can ever reasonably describe, because there aren't enough taxonomists competent to do so and we don't even have the sampling capabilities. But speciation even of wasps isn't something that happens on a human time scale, not really.

And even so -- number of species has nothing to do with number of bugs. That's just diversity. (And to tell you the truth I think those hymenopterists are just a bunch of aggressive splitters anyway.)
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:22 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


While we are still early in this thread, i would like to ask us not to go the route of "haha everything is megafucked haha"

I like this and I don't know if this is kosher Mefi practice but since we already have half a dozen doom and gloom threads (a few of which are still open for commenting upon, and in which I have doomed and gloomed within already), maybe we can steer this in a "what are you doing about it" direction?

In my case:
  • I am lucky enough that I live in the middle of nowhere where land is cheap, so I bought a bunch of crappy old farmland and have been kickstarting it's rewilding by planting a ton of native pioneer species. (And some pears. Which are totally not native but... they're pears! How can you not like pears?)
  • I'm in the process of trying to figure out how to work with my state laws to make any land I rewild conservation area, so that it'll stay that way forever.
  • I have been working dedicatedly for the last few years to reduce our carbon and (especially) nitrogen footprint by controlling where we buy things (and making do with far less if possible, including raising some of our own food). (My household is now pretty close to carbon neutral! At least according to online calculators.)
  • I'm getting involved with local political organizations to try and take control of local government. (I live in Trumpland so it's basically impossible, but let it never be said that I let windmills go un-tilted-at.) Biggest things there would be lifting the antagonism to renewables and supporting local agriculture.
  • I'm doing everything I can to just fucking meet people, break stereotypes (it's easy to hate people you don't know, and harder to hate people you think of as "friendly") and preach the Green New Deal gospel to them. They're generally sympathetic. Even the Republicans, who like the "support family farming" and "support sustainable agriculture" parts. (Just don't mention the keywords "democrat", "liberal", or "socialism.")
Letting my land go to meadow has been particularly spectacular for insect populations, and there's been a local boom of fireflies, monarchs, ladybugs, and dragonflies at least.

It's not enough, but it's something, and it brings me at least a little cheer. There's the old saying, "the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, but the second-best time is today." Get started!
posted by ragtag at 7:34 AM on February 11 [48 favorites]


justifying the mass wealth that is being accumulated by the global capitalist elite as they self-select for being the ones on the ark

Actually, I *wish* they would announce this plan publicly ASAP.

Then, we just need to infiltrate/hack the destination coordinates and designate the one containing them all to become "B Ark", and we can all get to work without them continuing to stop us because it interferes with their wealth accumulation...
posted by jkaczor at 7:35 AM on February 11


What am I doing about it? I don't own a car and I don't buy much new stuff. I guess the next big improvement I can make would be to stop eating meat and to not buy any fruit/vegetables that were shipped in from a long distance.
posted by Automocar at 7:46 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid (late 70s-mid 80s), summer nights in Massachusetts meant dozens of moths around every outside light + screen door - on a recent summer visit, there were none.

I try to be optimistic and get behind talk about Sunrise and the GND for the sake of not being a negative and despairing parent to my kids - but honestly, I have no hope left for us.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:50 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


So, we're sure we can build the giant CO2-sucking machines that can take tens of billions of tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, and we're sure that we can figure out how to store it underground indefinitely. And we're sure that we'll be able to figure out a way to de-acidify the oceans, and to get rid of the heat they've accumulated. And we're sure we'll be able to figure out a way to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to zero, despite pretty much every human activity we depend on for our survival being replete with carbon dioxide emissions. And we're sure that we'll figure out how to develop the world peace that we'll need to implement these solutions on a global scale.

It's good that we're sure, because that's what it's going to take to keep this planet habitable.

But... what if we fail?

Can we maybe talk about that? Seeing as we're about to attempt gigantic projects the likes of which the world has never seen, seeing as we actually don't have the technology yet to make these possible, seeing as the world has never cooperated on anything like this scale... maybe we should think about what happens if it doesn't work.

If we can't build miniature biospheres, if we can't figure out what it takes to build a single, small, self-contained ecosystem, how can we hope to fix a planet-sized one that's spinning out of control after a destabilizing burst of energy and pollutants?

We're talking about the extinction of the only sentient species in the known universe. It seems like it's worth having a backup plan, under the circumstances.
posted by MrVisible at 7:56 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


If we fail I have no interest in ensuring the survival of the human species in some nominal way. Either we all perish, or we all survive. To hell with a privileged few making their way at everyone else's expense. I'm not sure sentience is worth preserving, and most certainly not at any cost.
There's no way we can build biodome thingys for 7 billion people, so I don't think it's even worth our consideration.

While I understand for some of y'all hope may seem to be lost, I can't change that for you but I hope that you at least know to not get in the way of those of us who still think something can be done. Will success still mean a scarred world that bears inumerable markers of what has taken place? Definitely. Just because a pristine world is not within our reach, that doesn't mean we shouldn't fight for whatever we can get.

As for what I'm doing, well, I'm a revolutionary socialist. Also, there's going to be a national student strike for climate action here on March 15th.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 8:19 AM on February 11 [15 favorites]


If we fail I have no interest in ensuring the survival of the human species in some nominal way. Either we all perish, or we all survive.

That's where we differ. There's no crime, including the destruction of an entire biosphere, for which I can condemn every future generation of human beings to death.

Sentencing the only sentient species in the universe to death for using fossil fuels and reproducing past overshoot seems pretty harsh. Perhaps there are other consequences short of genocide that will suit our crimes.

I can't change that for you but I hope that you at least know to not get in the way of those of us who still think something can be done.

I'm not trying to get in your way.

I'm saying, I don't think your plans are at all reasonable, I think they all depend on world peace suddenly breaking out and everybody working together to achieve massive technological wonders the likes of which the world has never seen, and I think there's no precedent in all of human history for the success of projects on that scale. I think it's remarkable that the conventional wisdom is that we're going to do these things, no matter how unlikely they seem, because the consequences if we don't are unthinkable.

I'm saying we need to think about the consequences, because I can no longer believe that humanity is about to come together and solve all our differences and create these incredibly huge machines and it'll be rough but everyone will be okay. Because I've heard all of this for decades, and none of it has happened, and nothing has changed to make me think that this particular set of pie in the sky projects is anywhere near what we're reasonably capable of.

It's time to think about saving humanity with technology that's actually within our reach.

There's no way we can build biodome thingys for 7 billion people, so I don't think it's even worth our consideration.

We can't save everyone. People are already dying from climate change. So, what's your threshold? If we could save six billion people, would that be worth your time? Five? One? Half a billion? A million? If we could get half a million people through this catastrophe, we might have a chance at survival. Surely that's worth at least talking about for a while?
posted by MrVisible at 8:33 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


To hell with a privileged few making their way at everyone else's expense. I'm not sure sentience is worth preserving, and most certainly not at any cost.

yeah, idk why i would want to support the survival of the people whose selfish greedy actions put us here and who are determined to extract every last bit of profit from the remains.

i like that one twitter post that reminds us about how we KNOW precisely which corporations are the most responsible for global warming right now, today, we know who runs them, we know their names, and we know where they live.

anyway we should eat them bye
posted by poffin boffin at 8:35 AM on February 11 [21 favorites]


yeah, idk why i would want to support the survival of the people whose selfish greedy actions put us here and who are determined to extract every last bit of profit from the remains.

The problem with blaming rich people as a group is that they have never, in the history of humanity, been a group. They constantly act in direct opposition to each other, they have different goals and ideologies, they're not even the same people from one decade to the next.

Yes, it would have been great if they had figured out how to get along with each other and not destroy the planet. But what you're wishing for there is world peace. That's not a reasonable foundation on which to base your plans, it's something you wish for when blowing out birthday candles. In the absence of world peace and a means of distributing wealth equitably, we're going to have rich people.

I'm not going to condemn our species to death because we haven't figured out world peace yet. I think that, given a few million more years in which to mature, we might get to that point eventually. And I think it's important that we get that chance.
posted by MrVisible at 8:49 AM on February 11


it's 90 people and we know where they sleep.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:53 AM on February 11 [17 favorites]


I'm unimpressed by the prospect of heroic efforts devoted to the preservation of humanity specifically.

If heroic effort is to be exerted, I'd much rather see it serve the purpose of repairing as much of the damage we've done as possible, and a good place to start with that is to stop doing more.

We need to alter the way we organize ourselves to align better with the undeniable fact that we are part of the biota, not in charge of the biota, and that behaving as if that fact were deniable is exactly how we got into the mess we're in today.

And sure, you can take the position that this is all just hippie dippie airy fairy nonsense and fixing what we broke is going to require massive global cooperation the like of which we've never seen and is therefore impossible, so let's get on with building a better tent and hope for the best. But there are already almost eight billion of us on this planet. We are the planet's least endangered large mammal. There is no fucking way that we will manage to wipe ourselves out completely. We are simply too numerous and too adaptable.

What we will manage to do is crash all the natural resources we rely on to maintain our present excessive population, leaving all the affected ecosystems substantially impoverished; our own population will inevitably crash as a consequence. And this will happen even if we start right now on devoting heroic efforts to creating closed-system mini-biomes for rich people to live in, be those here or on Mars.

Which is a pointless endeavour. If they're on Mars, they're screwed. There is no way that a Martian colony will become self-sustaining inside the 21st century, by the end of which the crash will be well underway and looking after off-worlders will be very very low on anybody's priority list. And if they're on Earth, they will be looted. You can't defend your gated community without weaponry, and if you're rich you won't be willing to do the work required to operate weaponry that doesn't require metals and mining, and you can't put all your mines inside your gated community without fucking it.

If we can't build miniature biospheres, if we can't figure out what it takes to build a single, small, self-contained ecosystem, how can we hope to fix a planet-sized one that's spinning out of control after a destabilizing burst of energy and pollutants?

This is exactly the kind of thinking that got us into trouble.

The planetary ecosystem was never in our control. If anything at all can be said to control the planetary ecosystem, it is and always has been completely non-sentient bacteria.

We can fix what we broke by stepping the fuck off. By doing less. By consuming less. By making less plastic. By using less fuel. By wasting nothing. By making fewer people, especially in the rich countries whose cultures are so slavishly devoted to the maximization of waste, in a principled refusal to fill the earth and subdue it; by returning dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds to the fish of the sea and the birds.

The idea that we should fill the earth and subdue it came out of the Middle East, and look where it got the Middle East. Do you want to live in the fucking Nefud? I don't.

We're talking about the extinction of the only sentient species in the known universe.

With respect, this is bullshit. Every mammal, bird, reptile and monotreme is uncontroversially sentient. What we're talking about is the extinction of culture, and that is a loss that we now simply have no way to avoid. Gated habitats certainly won't avoid it. We're contemplating the extinction of 90% of the species that are not us and the consequent crash in our own population. It won't crash to zero, nowhere near; there will still be at least a billion of us for a very long while. But Millennial bitterness about Boomers will have nothing on what Generation Post-Crash will think about us.

I'm not going to condemn our species to death because we haven't figured out world peace yet.

This is not a Just World. Nobody gets to condemn humanity to death.

Humanity is an algal bloom, currently a fair way along the exponential growth phase and about to make our little pond very, very smelly, and to conceptualize our present circumstances and our choices of responses to it in terms substantially different from this requires roughly equal parts wilful ignorance and hubris.

Look upon our mighty, ye workers, and despair.
posted by flabdablet at 8:58 AM on February 11 [19 favorites]


The problem with blaming rich people as a group is that they have never, in the history of humanity, been a group. They constantly act in direct opposition to each other, they have different goals and ideologies, they're not even the same people from one decade to the next.

The plan isn't to reach out to them and teach them to be better, it's to prevent their existence as a class.

but from a different angle, given that an awful lot of people do think there still is hope if we take sufficiently radical action fast enough, at what point do you say we give up on hope for everyone for Operation Ark? When do we say, we're not putting resources to saving everyone anymore, we're choosing a select few? How do you imagine that goes down? How do you plan to deal with the righteous of ire of those not selected?
and why would I, as someone who both isn't going to be selected and wouldn't go if I was, abandon the hope I still have for all of humanity to save this elect?
posted by AnhydrousLove at 8:59 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


it's 90 people and we know where they sleep.

And once you eliminate them, what happens? Does the concept of being rich go away? Do we suddenly figure out how to keep greedy people from accruing enormous sums of money? Or do the revolutionaries suddenly discover they like money just as much as the next guy, which seems to happen pretty often?

I swear, if someone would explain to me how blaming rich people will help save humanity, I'll be all over it. Or boomers, or whatever group we're mad at today. Tell me how it will help, and I'll be right there hating with the rest of you.

But it seems like a waste of time when we're, you know, facing extinction.

I'd much rather focus on saving as many people as we reasonably can given our current technology and sociopolitical situation.
posted by MrVisible at 9:00 AM on February 11


We can fix what we broke by stepping the fuck off. By doing less. By consuming less. By making less plastic. By using less fuel. By wasting nothing. By making fewer people, especially in the rich countries whose cultures are so slavishly devoted to the maximization of waste, in a principled refusal to fill the earth and subdue it; by returning dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds to the fish of the sea and the birds.

That's what we need to do. I just don't think we can.

And I think we need to plan for that.

This is not a just world. Extinction is the rule, and we're no exception. We need to start realizing how vulnerable we are, how little control we have over this situation, how vast the problems we've created really are, how little chance of success the proposed solutions have, and start planning realistically to save as many people as possible.

It won't crash to zero, nowhere near; there will still be at least a billion of us for a very long while.

It would be unethical to run human experiments to figure out if we can reproduce in the atmospheric conditions that we're expecting to see in 2100. The idea of keeping pregnant women in an environment where the minimum levels of CO2 are 800ppm, with spikes in the thousands happening frequently, high ozone levels, high particulate levels, high background heat and occasional heat waves is abhorrent. Nobody would do that experiment, on any cohort of individuals; it's monstrous to even think of pregnant women being exposed to those conditions.

And every single pregnant woman on the planet is going to be exposed to those conditions within decades.

So maybe we should be a wee bit less certain that we know we'll survive the mess we've made. I think some multigenerational rat experiments to figure out when the CO2 levels are going to start making healthy reproduction impossible would be a good start. In the meantime, I think a little existential terror is appropriate to watching the incredibly delicate webs that make up the biosphere collapsing abruptly.
posted by MrVisible at 9:14 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


"Saving humanity by saving the ultra rich" is such a galaxy brain take that I have no idea how to deal with it.
posted by Memo at 9:22 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


flabdablet, that reminds me of

Maybe the biggest change will come
When we don't have to change much at all
When maniacs holler, "GROW, GROW, GROW!"
We can chose to stay small
The key word may be "little."
We only have to change a little bit
So eat a little food, drink a little drink;
And only have to shit a little shit

Arrange and Re-Arrange, Pete Seeger
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 9:23 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Quite a lot of this comes down to the principle so neatly captured by Frank Wilhoit:
There is no such thing as liberalism — or progressivism, etc.

There is only conservatism. No other political philosophy actually exists; by the political analogue of Gresham’s Law, conservatism has driven every other idea out of circulation.

There might be, and should be, anti-conservatism; but it does not yet exist. What would it be? In order to answer that question, it is necessary and sufficient to characterize conservatism. Fortunately, this can be done very concisely.

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

There is nothing more or else to it, and there never has been, in any place or time.

...

As the core proposition of conservatism is indefensible if stated baldly, it has always been surrounded by an elaborate backwash of pseudophilosophy, amounting over time to millions of pages. All such is axiomatically dishonest and undeserving of serious scrutiny. Today, the accelerating de-education of humanity has reached a point where the market for pseudophilosophy is vanishing; it is, as The Kids Say These Days, tl;dr . All that is left is the core proposition itself — backed up, no longer by misdirection and sophistry, but by violence.

So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.
MrVisible's response to the presently unfolding ecological crisis strikes me as essentially conservative: he seeks to create in-groups in protected enclaves, alongside out-groups that are subject to the full force of the laws of post-crash nature.

But Wilhoitian conservatism is always and everywhere self-defeating. The law cannot protect anyone unless it does bind everyone. Revolutions eventually happen, and the king is eventually decapitated. If we are to organize ourselves in a way that has any hope at all of surviving on geological timescales, the organizational principle must be fundamentally egalitarian. We have to try and be seen to be trying to save everybody, even though we know we can't, because doing otherwise sows the seeds of social destruction. We know this. We've seen it over and over and over again.

So it's not the hippie dippie peace and love brigade being unrealistic and woolly-minded here. Hippie dippie peace and love is what needs to be applied, by as many people as possible, right here right now, even though we all know that the 5% of arseholes who exist in every human population will be doing their best to fuck the whole project the whole time and even though we all know that only a minority of us are going to wind up leaving descendants on this planet.

That's what we need to do. I just don't think we can.

And I think we need to plan for that.


I can't see a way past the fact that any plan not predicated on shifting the dominant culture to the point where we can do what needs to be done amounts to making elaborate plans to fail and is therefore quite useless.

I agree with you that something must be done. I disagree that "this is something, therefore we must do this" is a useful basis for appropriate action.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 AM on February 11 [12 favorites]


And look, we don't need to kill rich people. What we need to do is make being rich enough to own a huge fuck-off yacht a shameful state that's generally understood to call for an apology, rather than something to be aspired to.

We've pretty much achieved that with smoking. Let's get cracking on doing it with wealth-hoarding.
posted by flabdablet at 9:36 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


"Saving humanity by saving the ultra rich" is such a galaxy brain take that I have no idea how to deal with it.

Save whoever you think deserves to be saved. Save as many people as you can.

You'll need to provide them with breathable air, though, as well as food and water and medicine, and you'll need to develop technologies to do that sustainably. So you'll probably have to start by accumulating a large pile of resources.
posted by MrVisible at 9:42 AM on February 11


When people are worried about protecting their families, shame isn't going to be very persuasive.
posted by amtho at 9:42 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


MrVisible's response to the presently unfolding ecological crisis strikes me as essentially conservative: he seeks to create in-groups in protected enclaves, alongside out-groups that are subject to the full force of the laws of post-crash nature.

I wish that everyone could survive too. I just don't think it'll happen. What I'm saying is that we won't be able to survive on the surface of the planet for very much longer and we should probably prepare for that if we want our species to survive.

That... doesn't sound much like a conservative position to me. Psychotic, perhaps, but accusing me of Republicanism is just below the belt, don't you think?
posted by MrVisible at 9:45 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I think a little existential terror is appropriate to watching the incredibly delicate webs that make up the biosphere collapsing abruptly.

Appreciating one's own place in the local ecosystem is a pretty good immunizer against existential terror. Once one fully accepts that one's own personal death is completely inevitable and that nothing whatsoever can be done about it, it becomes possible to train oneself to accept the prospect with equanimity rather than terror. I know this because I've done this.

Having learned to accept the prospect of one's own death with equanimity, it then becomes possible to accept the hard and unalterable fact that every other person, every other animal, every other plant, every other everything with the possible exception of bacteria will die as well.

I don't experience existential terror when watching the progressive collapse of the intricate webs of webs that make up the biosphere. I experience grief. And it's not grief for humanity; it's grief for the loss of beauty and of grandeur, and that is a loss that no pathetic little collection of dome habitats or Morlock tunnels overstuffed with dominionists who refuse to understand who they are will ever or could ever fix.

I know full well that I will die before the planet is once again as good as it is right now, and that makes me furious and it makes me weep, but it does not make me terrified.
posted by flabdablet at 9:50 AM on February 11 [12 favorites]


We have to try and be seen to be trying to save everybody, even though we know we can't, because doing otherwise sows the seeds of social destruction. We know this. We've seen it over and over and over again.

So... the effort to preserve the biosphere is performative, then? Like the TSA checking your shoes? If we act as if what we're doing is going to solve the problem, maybe the problem will go away?

We're not dealing with the laws of humankind now, where if we resist enough we can change the system that's harming us. We're dealing with the laws of nature, and there's no negotiating with them. No matter how good a person you are, no matter how noble your intentions, this catastrophe is coming and we don't know how to stop it. Even if everybody comes together and agrees on a solution, we have no idea what that solution might be. And we certainly have no idea how to get everybody together in the first place; we don't know how to achieve world peace.

I don't care which individuals get saved; I want enough people to survive this bottleneck so that everything humanity has ever done doesn't go to waste. I want us to live to learn from our mistakes. I want humanity to have a chance to truly mature.

Let's stop pretending we're trying to save everyone and start actually trying to save whoever we can.
posted by MrVisible at 9:53 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


This thread has had an interesting morning.

I've flagged ragtag's comment as fantastic. To my mind it is by far the most useful comment that's been made so far.

My advice, which is free and unsolicited:

-If you have any green property, even a planter in your window, cultivate native plants.
-push hard, and I mean PUSH HARD, for the Green New Deal. Call your representatives, then call them again. Ignore the contempt pouring out of Fox News; the political will actually exists for this to happen. In the next couple of years, the political pendulum may reach its maximum leftward swing for a while. That will be our best chance for serious changes.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 9:55 AM on February 11 [8 favorites]


Don't worry flabdablet, bacteria will die too, with the eventual expansion of the sun and the heat death of the universe.
posted by os tuberoes at 10:01 AM on February 11


I want enough people to survive this bottleneck so that everything humanity has ever done doesn't go to waste. I want us to live to learn from our mistakes. I want humanity to have a chance to truly mature.

I want the trees I've grown from seed and planted in the back paddock to get big enough for my daughter and her daughter and her daughter to enjoy sitting in the shade of them. That seems to me an appropriate timescale for the concerns of one human being.

The overwhelming bulk of what humanity has ever done has gone to waste, and maturity is not protective against that.
posted by flabdablet at 10:05 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


More immediately, I am not sure you will be able to get people on board with your 'we have to save someone!' platform when the imperative behind that isn't obvious to everyone. Why do we have to save some people? Why do we have to create a privileged class to do that? Why do you think I (well, someone like me) would want to live in a world with no blue sky, no sea breeze, no peaches in summer, so watching ducks peck at the muck at the edge of a river, no swimming in the sea, no napping in the shade of a tree, no horses, no butterflies, no bees, no flowers? What makes us human is partly our connection to the Earth. . . am I depressed we fucked it up? Yes. Do I want to carry on humanity's sad legacy at any price? No. . . (especially given we are bound for empty nothing in due time anyway. . . )
posted by os tuberoes at 10:15 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


I think I'm pretty safe in assuming some people will want themselves and their loved ones to survive. Given all of human history, that seems like a reasonable presumption.

As to creating a privileged class, if you can figure out a way to make habitats which can provide oxygen and food and water and everything they need to survive to a few thousand people without having a big pile of money first, please, I urge you to do just that. Maybe some nations could build projects like this, and run lotteries to pick who lives. We could start up a cult dedicated to human survival, and if we could get millions of people to contribute, we could save thousands.

But acting like we know what we're doing, acting like everything's going to be fine, or worse, that it's okay to go extinct for some reason, is abhorrent to me.

I can't see a way past the fact that any plan not predicated on shifting the dominant culture to the point where we can do what needs to be done amounts to making elaborate plans to fail and is therefore quite useless.

Well, I think that shifting the dominant paradigm to one where the biosphere gets fixed is incredibly unlikely. So I think we should plan for the eventuality that we will fail.

I mean, you have to admit that there's a chance we'll fail, right? So, since the future of humanity is on the line, shouldn't we talk about that now?
posted by MrVisible at 10:43 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Everyone in the thread seems happy with the proposition that "we" are humanity. That to me sounds like the old myth of human exceptionalism that sees homo sapiens as outside nature, rather than part of it. One way to deal with this looming future is to re-align that sense of "we", from "humanity" (many of whom will, indeed, not do well as they are currently not doing well) to "life". We are "life". The more we feel that, the more responsibility for the biosphere we will have. Technology is not a solution, as technology tries to assert control over things. We need to learn how to settle down and live sustainably within things.
posted by stonepharisee at 10:59 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


It's very hard to remember what other people have lost, and very hard to miss what you've never had. And if you're alive, and surviving or flourishing, you usually have not lost much yourself. Do you experience the present as a diminished post-apocalyptic survival? Or is it just daily life, with its pleasures and losses, hopes and fears? For almost everyone, it's the latter. To put this another way, if there are human beings alive in two hundred years, they will think of us with about as much concern as most people in, say, the eastern United States think about the Native American communities and the now absent plants and animals (bears, buffalo) who were there two centuries before our time, and they will muddle through life in their diminished and polluted world without often thinking of the splendors that have been destroyed. I don't say this to comfort anyone, obviously; it doesn't comfort me.
posted by sy at 10:59 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


everyone in this thread needs to go play horizon zero dawn
posted by poffin boffin at 11:37 AM on February 11 [8 favorites]


I haven't noticed a significant insect decline where I am, but that might be because of the garden. I just filmed some earthworms playing in wet soil the other day, though they're worms not insects of course. I see snails and ants and bees in the spring, butterflies and moths and centipedes and roly polys. Wasps and those lacewing type bugs, dragonflies and mosquitoes (not my favorite) I see aphids in the summer and slugs in the winter. Maybe the solution is plant more, and take care of the earth we have versus building a god damn ark?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:44 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I was full of amazement and hope, watching the wide array of insects return to my little 1/4 acre patch of crappy suburban lawn. I pulled out the grass and planted native plants plus herbs and vegetables and fruit trees. Birds came back too. In 6 years we went from a dirt patch with some crappy crab grass and a couple trees to a paradise of fluttering, buzzing, crawling, chirping, flashing (lightning bugs), digging, flowering, fruiting,pollenating life. Our soil retained so much more moisture that our backyard no longer flooded and our few scraggly trees became gorgeous robust homes for all sorts of creatures.

We can help, all of us can. Go plant things, go compost, go throw out your pesticides and your weed killers, go turn off the lights you aren't using. Try! At least try to help.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:40 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]




[Spoiler for Maddaddam series by Margaret Atwood]

Turns out the Oryx and Crake route to a more balanced natural environment might result in catastrophic cooling. I suppose that wouldn't be great for insects.

'Colonization of the Americas at the end of the 15th century killed so many people, it disturbed Earth’s climate, according to a new study by University College London.'

Could we achieve something similar without the genocide?

Apologies if this has been linked already, I couldn't find anything
posted by asok at 5:13 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I get scared by news like this because insects seem inherently less likely to go extinct. They are small and need less habitat than whales or rhinos or tigers. If insects are on the edge, then things are very bad. On the other hand, even if 90% of species on earth die out, this planet will still be 1,000 times more species rich than the most ambitious Mars colony ecosystem.
posted by snofoam at 6:26 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


But speciation even of wasps isn't something that happens on a human time scale, not really.

Just in the past 200-250 years we've watched the first Great Awakening take place, which led over time to the rise of Southern Baptists AND Prosperity Gospel churches AND the Jesus People Movement in the early 70s AND the Temperance movement (and it's subsequent demise) AND televangelism... only to name a tiny few new self-sustaining species of WASP.

The WASPS are separating into individual groups pretty quickly, as far as I can observe.
posted by hippybear at 6:28 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


But speciation even of wasps isn't something that happens on a human time scale, not really.

I don’t know if that factoid was true, but wasp speciation could happen faster than taxonomists could keep up, even if each individual speciation took thousands of years or more.
posted by snofoam at 6:34 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


If we can't build miniature biospheres, if we can't figure out what it takes to build a single, small, self-contained ecosystem, how can we hope to fix a planet-sized one that's spinning out of control after a destabilizing burst of energy and pollutants?

OK. I'll be as polite as I can. People need to stop basing your ideas off of science fiction. The biosphere scheme as it is, involves a complete lack of knowledge of the sciences and engineering involved.

First of all, we're learning that the smaller an ecology is, the more difficult it is to make it last for any real length of time. Ecological cycles are huge, and depend on massive resource sinks. Artificial environments need constant inputs from the outside, and the smaller they are, the more prone they are to disaster.

Secondly, calculations have been done on the minimum population needed to sustain the range of skills a technological society requires. The bottom end is a million people. So those airtight biospheres of a few thousand priviledged survivors? Would quickly fall apart as things and people break down, and the colonists would lack the necessary skills to fix things. On the other hand, a habitat capable of holding a million or so people? Would be too big and too expensive, and there's no place it could be hidden. And it's ecology would still be too damn fragile and prone to catastrophic failure.

So basically, what's being proposed is a sad joke that wouldn't save humanity at all. At best it would extend our extinction out by a few decades, before the colony inhabitqnts would themselves die, slowly and miserably.

People need to get this through their heads: THERE ARE NO GODDAMN LIFEBOATS.

This is what we have, what we have to work with. We may or may not be doomed, but spouting out ideas from Star Trek won't help.

So get a grip already, and start lobbying.
posted by happyroach at 8:53 PM on February 11 [12 favorites]


Secondly, calculations have been done on the minimum population needed to sustain the range of skills a technological society requires. The bottom end is a million people. So those airtight biospheres of a few thousand priviledged survivors? Would quickly fall apart as things and people break down, and the colonists would lack the necessary skills to fix things. On the other hand, a habitat capable of holding a million or so people? Would be too big and too expensive, and there's no place it could be hidden. And it's ecology would still be too damn fragile and prone to catastrophic failure.

I'd very much appreciate links to the studies you're referencing.

If a million people is what we need, then we'd better find a way to make sure a million people survive. It might be big and expensive, and it might have to happen in public, but those are soluble problems.

The CO2 machines we need to suck tens of billions of tons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere to keep our biosphere stable, well, those strike me as the stuff of science fiction. And all our plans depend on us building them. So... maybe it's time to build some goddamned lifeboats.
posted by MrVisible at 9:07 PM on February 11


The CO2 machines you are looking for are called "trees".

We're chopping them down as fast as we can however...
posted by Windopaene at 9:15 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


Fuck, people, is it possible we could talk about insects instead of this novel length derail Sci fi bullshit that has nothing to do with the topic?

Since we bought our house, I have gone out of my way to plant up our garden with a selection of flowering or berried native plants, and insecticides are verboten, even though aphids are eating my Goddamn lilly pillies alive and my Meyer lemon has leaf miner.

After 5+ years, this summer I have finally noticed an appreciable uptick in the number of insects in our garden. My daughter was overjoyed to find her first mantis last week - I had known they were there as the egg casings are very distinctive.

It's easy to feel powerless in the face of stuff like this, but in my small, local environment I can see the results small changes can make.
posted by smoke at 9:29 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


There's so much CO2 in the atmosphere that planting trees can no longer save us
We would have to cover the entire US with trees just to capture 10% of the CO2 we emit annually.

There's just not enough room on the planet to have the farmland it takes to feed the world plus the space to plant the necessary number of trees.

In other words, many of us would starve if we tried using trees to solve our emissions problem.
And the carbon removal machines I'm talking about are the ones the IPCC says we'll need if we go above 1.5 degrees C.

According to New IPCC Report, the World Is on Track to Exceed its “Carbon Budget” in 12 Years
The report also finds that if we exceed the carbon budget, meeting the 1.5 ˚C goal will require carbon removal, a process where we’re actually taking carbon from the atmosphere and storing it. Almost all of the models used in the IPCC report rely on carbon removal to some extent.

There are a number of different ways to remove carbon, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), afforestation and direct air capture and storage (DACS). Importantly, models where temperature rise exceeds 1.5˚C before dropping back down rely much more heavily on carbon removal.

Deploying carbon removal at the scale that climate models assume is untested. Given the risks and uncertainties related to various carbon removal approaches, scaling would have to be pursued in a safe and prudent manner. If the speed and scale of deployment is limited, this would leave a lot of questions on how much we can rely on this strategy to meet the 1.5 degree goal, especially for those pathways that overshoot 1.5˚C."
So we're relying on untested technology on a vast scale to keep our planet habitable. This strikes me as the sort of plan that could use a plan B.
posted by MrVisible at 10:05 PM on February 11


itd be a lot fewer trees to plant if we also slashed emissions agressively
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:34 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


I'm really not in the slightest interested in a 'moon shot' to enable a few thousand toxic billionaires to live in the ashes of the world they destroyed. Best we all go together if that's the choice. Maybe something will get another, better shot at making intelligence work before the sun starts to expand. Maybe they don't, that's the way it goes.
posted by tavella at 11:11 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


We would have to cover the entire US with trees just to capture 10% of the CO2 we emit annually.

From which fact emerges an evidence-driven plan: cut emissions by 95%, and cover half the entire US with trees to capture the rest. Bonus benefit: way, way more insect habitat.
posted by flabdablet at 11:58 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


many of us would starve if we tried using trees to solve our emissions problem.

And more of us will die in assorted horrible ways if our planetary remediation budget is diverted away from correcting our present course and fixing what we can fix as aggressively as we possibly can fix it toward some kind of Silent Running attempt to invent a kind of ecological parallel to reactor-scale sustained nuclear fusion.

Because ain't nobody got time for that. Worldwide insect decline is telling us that we have an ecological problem. We have an ecological problem not because our technologies have failed us, but because they have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Our technologies are what has given us the raw power required to make it possible for eight billion people to walk this Earth. What our technologies have not done, because they cannot do any such thing, is change what we are in an ecological context.

What we are at present is the world's most successful top predator to date. And what is happening to us and to the planet we occupy is exactly what has been seen to happen, over and over and over, to any local top predator when its numbers exceed its environment's carrying capacity for top predators.

Technology cannot alter what we are, ecologically. Only culture can do that. There is nothing in our biology that requires us to occupy a top predator niche; we could live equally well - better, in fact - as symbionts. And the only way this is ever going to happen is if we talk each other into it.

So let's get talking.
posted by flabdablet at 12:15 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


This is a timely reminder to renew my membership in the local Native Plant Society.

I planted a bunch of native plants in the backyard when we bought this house. Within a few days of the first batch going in, my spouse, standing at the kitchen sink looking out at the backyard, called to me excitedly, "There's a bird on the fence with a.... a THING on its head!"

I came running and looked. "That's a California quail!" We'd been listening to a CD of local bird calls, which told us that the California quail's rhythm sounded like "Chi-CA-go," so we were excited to see one in the flesh. I don't know if it smelled the plants or followed the insects or both. Mostly I was amazed at how fast it showed up. I'd thought it might take a couple of weeks at least.

Sorry to say that I have since had a political-news-addiction/meltdown with the Trumpocalypse and have been neglecting many things, like I have let the yards go to weeds, so not much of the original plantings have survived except the coyote bushes. Which don't look like much. But yay for them, because they're a foundation plant for insects and local ecosystem health generally. I must say that when I have gotten out pulling weeds, the weeds are full of ladybugs. More so, I'm guessing, than many of the sterile manicured yards down the street.

Other things to do... Somebody in the main politics thread linked to this arstechnica article about talking to people about climate change: Cathleen O'Grady, To fight climate misinformation, point to the man behind the curtain
: "“attitudinal inoculation” does show some promise as a strategy—essentially informing people of the facts while also providing a warning of the existence of misinformation campaigns and the arguments and strategies they might use. . . . "

Also, even among people who are concerned about climate change, that knowledge often doesn't necessarily translate into meaningful action. Not without encouragement. I polled my neighborhood Resistance group about how often they contact their Senators/Representatives. Everyone looked uncomfortable, then someone said, "Once every 4 or 5 months." Everyone else nodded.

"OK something one of my friends suggested is, whatever you're doing, could we all consider stepping it up by two, or one? Whatever you can manage. Even here in a blue-blue section of California, we, their constituents, can give our Members of Congress more backbone. But they have to hear from us. You can even call or email them to thank them when they do something right. It makes a difference. They tally everything."

"What can I do to reduce suffering?" is the question I'm focusing on. I am not interested in throwing up my hands and giving up.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:41 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


[Folks, going forward let's call it good on the "kill the rich," "all people should die," and "nothing we can do" stuff. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 2:14 AM on February 12


The report says we need to drastically change agricultural production, slashing the use of pesticides. Planting native plants in your yard is nice, and you are attracting some of the remaining bugs & birds by so doing, but the trend can only be reversed by large -scale, systematic action. Action which will, I suppose, have the result of greatly lowering food production, which means there will be great famines. Maybe there is a way to avoid that, I don't know (literally, not rhetorically).
posted by thelonius at 3:07 AM on February 12


Amsterdam increased it's bee population by 45% by being nice to bees, so maybe let's try that?
posted by asok at 7:06 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


let's call it good on the "kill the rich," "all people should die," and "nothing we can do" stuff

Not sure whether you're going to consider that the point I'm about to make shades over into those areas; I don't think it does, but if you do, please delete it and accept my apology for the work involved.

The idea of keeping pregnant women in an environment where the minimum levels of CO2 are 800ppm, with spikes in the thousands happening frequently, high ozone levels, high particulate levels, high background heat and occasional heat waves is abhorrent. Nobody would do that experiment, on any cohort of individuals; it's monstrous to even think of pregnant women being exposed to those conditions.

I agree with you that it's abhorrent, but "Nobody would do that experiment" is just plain incorrect. Women have been living under conditions pretty much exactly as you describe since before the dawn of recorded history, and hundreds of millions continue to live that way today.

Carbon dioxide won't actually kill you until you're breathing it at above 5% i.e. fifty thousand parts per million. And even though we've clearly blown our opportunity to keep warming below 1.5°, cutting our emissions fast enough to keep atmospheric CO2 below 1000ppm is pretty much inevitable, one way or another.

Either we grow the fuck up and fix our addiction to fossil fuels and ridiculously high per-capita energy consumption generally, or climate change will kill us off in numbers sufficient to render further industrial activity infeasible well before the air becomes actually toxic. Obviously the former approach is preferable.

And once we've stopped actively trying to wipe them out, the insects will bounce back. They won't of course be as diverse as they were before we fucked them, but with only post-industrial-agricultural chemistry to deal with they should do OK numbers-wise and they really do speciate relatively quickly.

Worst-case scenarios are what we'll get if we ignore what is actually happening to us and pour our efforts into a doomed quest to "save humanity" as distinct from the biota as a whole. If we instead do what we need to do, which is to work with our environment rather than seeking to control every aspect of it, to reform the way we live and work, and to stop trying to push back against the tendency for living well to reduce the birth rate below replacement, then we're going to end up saving more people than we could possibly do any other way. More insects, too.

Go that route and there is no way that the air on this planet will end up unbreathable. Engineered habitats are a solution to a problem we would only conceivably have if we can't get past thinking about engineering as our only feasible resource for problem finding.
posted by flabdablet at 7:21 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Amsterdam increased it's bee population by 45% by being nice to bees, so maybe let's try that?

Increasing the amount of ground covered by flowering plants instead of beautifully manicured lawns is a huge help. And they don't even need to be particularly sound flowering plants.

Our back paddocks regularly get invaded by what I believe to be bastard cabbage. Like any weed, this plant is tough as hell; a real survivor. In past years we've put in lots of work to get rid of it: a certain amount of herbicide and a hell of a lot of hand pulling have been our main strategies, but it always finds a way to bounce back.

This year was particularly dry, it was just painfully difficult to pull the stuff up, and I just said fuck it, the bastard cabbage wins this year. So we grew quite a lot of it. And to my surprise, the bees found it and it just hummed with them all through spring and well into summer. Turns out bastard cabbage just keeps on flowering for months on end and the bees really like that.

So somebody somewhere nearby has more than likely ended up with hives full of honey that tastes vaguely sulphurous, but I don't care. I really enjoyed having the bees around in numbers I don't recall seeing them in for quite some years.

Also turns out that the horses will actually eat the stuff once it's completely died back in the heat and all the standing stalks have browned and dried. So I think I'm just gonna one-straw-revolution it for a few years and see how it goes.
posted by flabdablet at 7:40 AM on February 12


The only sentient species in the known universe gone, and everything anyone has ever done, all for nothing.


Not that I disagree that it is sad humans are causing our own demise...but I don't understand the "all for nothing." What is it all FOR? Humans were ALWAYS going to go extinct. The only difference between us and other species is we know how it will likely happen.
posted by agregoli at 8:36 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


I agree with you that it's abhorrent, but "Nobody would do that experiment" is just plain incorrect. Women have been living under conditions pretty much exactly as you describe since before the dawn of recorded history, and hundreds of millions continue to live that way today.

The people you're referring to are still able to go outside and get a breath of air at 600ppm every so often. What happens when the best they can do is 800ppm, or 900? I'd love to see some studies that explore the health ramification of those conditions over multiple generations, but I can't even find lab rat studies.

Carbon dioxide won't actually kill you until you're breathing it at above 5% i.e. fifty thousand parts per million.

But what effect does it have on pregnant women? How likely are birth defects when CO2 is over 800ppm constantly, spiking into the thousands more frequently than it does currently? When indoor levels are 400ppm higher on average than they are today? What effects will that have when combined with high heat and high levels of ozone and particulates?

Pluss, the question isn't whether healthy adults can survive in the environment, but whether we can conceive, gestate and raise healthy children. And I've seen absolutely nothing to convince me that we can do that when the minimum amount of CO2 we'll be breathing is 800ppm.

Even in the short term, 1000ppm of CO2 affects our cognitive abilities. What will the world be like when it's at that level or above all the time?


>Either we grow the fuck up and fix our addiction to fossil fuels and ridiculously high per-capita energy consumption generally, or climate change will kill us off in numbers sufficient to render further industrial activity infeasible well before the air becomes actually toxic.

Unfortunately, CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a very long time, and we've started some feedback loops that will keep things going even if we stop producing it. We really don't know how high it's going to get, but I think even 800ppm will be catastrophic over the course of a few generations.

If we instead do what we need to do, which is to work with our environment rather than seeking to control every aspect of it, to reform the way we live and work, and to stop trying to push back against the tendency for living well to reduce the birth rate below replacement, then we're going to end up saving more people than we could possibly do any other way.

Yeah, but what if that fails? What if we can't change human nature? What if things keep going as they are, and the changes don't get made? What if we can't build the huge carbon-sucking machines that even the IPCC says we're going to need?

You're proposing changes on a scale that the world has never seen before, changes we don't actually know how to make, changes that will require unprecedented global cooperation and massive advances in technology. As well as fundamentally changing the structure of society.

You can understand why I just don't think that will happen.

What kind of plan depends on nobody questioning the plan? What kind of plan requires that there be no fallback plan, and no discussions of failure? What kind of plan makes people get all upset when you suggest that it might not work?

This is the biggest crisis our species has ever faced. We can take nothing for granted, as everything is riding on this.

Here's a selection of links on the effects our atmosphere is already having on us. You can see why I'm concerned.

What if high levels of carbon dioxide indoors impair humans' decisionmaking skills, even as higher concentrations outdoors pose serious warming risks? Scientists ponder yet a new down side to burning fossil fuels.

Global Warming May Harm Children for Life

Climate Change May Hurt Babies' Hearts

Air pollution harm to unborn babies may be global health catastrophe, warn doctors

Climate change is making it harder for couples to conceive

Climate change and respiratory diseases

Ground-level ozone continues to damage health, even at low levels

Ozone exposure at birth increases risk of asthma development

Air pollution rots our brains. Is that why we don’t do anything about it?

Long-term exposure to ozone has significant impacts on human health

Air pollution 'as bad as smoking in increasing risk of miscarriage'
posted by MrVisible at 8:39 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Anecdotally, I have noticed a lot more people making gallows humour-style jokes about human extinction/societal collapse in public the last year or two. Shortly after NYE I was in a home furnishings store and a couple in their mid-20s or thereabouts was trying to decide whether to buy a lamp or not and after a bit of back-and-forth the woman said "Fuck it, we're all going to die soon anyway." And last year a woman I didn't know retired from my library system and sent a strange Everybody email that basically amounted to "enjoy yourself, it's later than you think."
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:37 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


What if...it all fails? It will, is the thing. I'm not being doom and gloom, I swear, when I say that humans will go extinct. What we can do, is try to make the suffering less, and the biosphere hang on longer, but we cannot fix it. There's no do-over, just prolonging the inevitable.
posted by agregoli at 9:46 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Planting native plants in your yard is nice, and you are attracting some of the remaining bugs & birds by so doing, but the trend can only be reversed by large -scale, systematic action.

Yes. That's why I said I've been asking people how often they contact their Members of Congress and pushing them to do it more, because it's one possible action that people know exists but a lot of them need prodding to DO it. The Green New Deal, folks, let's tell our politicians how much we support it and push them to aim higher, tomorrow/this week etc, is the kind of thing I'm saying.

Somebody upthread drew a parallel with how smoking went from being perceived as cool to not-cool. Chip and Dan Heath's book Made To Stick describes campaigns to change public perceptions of things like drunk driving, and littering in Texas, and common principles that made those campaigns successful. In my experience, talking about inevitable doom moves people to huddle down in fear, not act, so I'd rather contribute to large-scale systematic action by keeping on talking to people about ways they can jump up and down on levers of power.

I just refreshed and saw your comment, agregoli, so I want to make sure to say that none of the above was directed at you. My thinking is, what's the point of giving up when I could be helping to reduce suffering?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:50 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


It's not giving up to admit the truth - that humans will go extinct. So much denial seems to go on about that. But that doesn't mean we can't DO SOMETHING in the meantime to alleviate suffering and slow the decline of the Earth. And we should.
posted by agregoli at 9:52 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


[Folks, let's bring it back to insects specifically.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:31 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Effects of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide on insect–plant interactions
The good news, if you grow plants for a living, is that most insects appear to be unable to compensate fully for CO2‐mediated reductions in plant quality. For example, buckeye butterflies on Plantago lanceolata exhibit both higher rates of mortality and increased development time when fed on plants grown under elevated CO2 (Fager et al., 1989; Fajer et al., 1991). Higher rates of insect mortality have been associated with nutritional deficiency that results from reduced foliar nitrogen concentrations under elevated CO2 (Brooks & Whittaker, 1999; Stiling et al., 1999). However, direct effects of changes in plant quality on insect performance are not always dramatic. For example, Lindroth et al. (1995) explored the performance of three species of saturniid moths feeding on paper birch under elevated CO2. Birch leaves were lower in nitrogen (23%), higher in condensed tannin (two‐fold increase) and foliar C : N ratios increased from 12.7 to 28.1. Despite these significant reductions in foliage quality, survival of first‐instar larvae declined only marginally, while fourth‐instar larvae exhibited moderate increases in rates of consumption and decreases in rates of growth, development and food processing efficiency.
posted by MrVisible at 6:33 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Leave weeds to grow in your yard and work to change any HOAs or city ordinances that penalize people for having certain "undesirable" plants. So called weeds are often the best adapted plants in a region, and as such, are usually very important food sources for local insects. Here in the north desert, Silver Leafed Nightshade is one of the few plants that grows without you having to water it. It produces gorgeous blue/purple blossoms that bees just LOVE. And yet, the city will fine you if you have it growing on your property. We need to change people's minds NOW. If bees and other insects like it, let it grow!!!

And wasps are just as important as bees, people.
Stop nuking them, it's unconscionable.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:02 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Anybody got a good way to deal with elm leaf beetles that involves adding yet more insects instead of getting all Monsanto on the problematic ones? If so, I want to make my local shire council aware of it. I like our street elms very much, but imidacloprid is not a substance I'm happy to see flung about with wild abandon.
posted by flabdablet at 5:10 AM on February 13


I'm trying to turn my garden into an insect-friendly green space at the moment, and the trend towards 'low-maintenance' gardens that we have at the moment, here in the UK at least, is making this way more difficult than I'd planned.

My garden is mostly paving stones and gravel, with occasional shrubs and one small tree that my neighbours want me to cut down (no). Pulling out the gravel and the membrane underneath it is heavy and time-consuming, pulling up the paving is going to be even more so. We were going to get a garden designer to come in and scope out the work and give us some idea of what we could feasibly manage ourselves, but all the garden designers locally have these shiny online portfolios full of... gravel, and paving stones, and before-and-afters of how they too can pave over a green space or replace it with the technicolour green of artificial turf. And this is not offered as one potential area they can work in. This is it, this is all they're advertising, this is all their customers want.

I sort of understand why this is a popular trend. Everyone's busy and working long hours, these are easier to maintain than the carefully manicured horticultural show type gardens that look like the only alternative. And they don't get overgrown and weedy because, well, not much is growing. But it also feels like part of a bigger picture where we're distancing ourselves more and more from nature, wanting even the outside world around us to be sanitised and weedkillered and pesticided.

I cannot reverse the global insect decline through my little garden alone, but if I can make it even microscopically less shit then that seems worth persevering with pulling up the paving.
posted by Catseye at 6:01 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Pulling out the gravel and the membrane underneath it is heavy and time-consuming, pulling up the paving is going to be even more so.

Before you even try doing that, grab a tent peg and poke a few holes through the membrane between a couple of the pavers, dump a small pile (a litre should be enough) of a growing medium made from equal parts local topsoil and spent mushroom compost over the holes, and see if you can get some flowering rambly ground cover like English (lawn) chamomile established. If it starts to take off, keep poking holes through the membrane maybe six inches back from the growing tip of each stem and dumping more little piles of growing medium on top to encourage it to throw out more roots.

You might well find that your gravel and pavers make quite a good water-retaining mulch once the membrane underneath is suitably peppered with punctures.
posted by flabdablet at 8:45 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Including white clover in the ground cover will make it self-fertilizing as well as adding additional flowers.

Next thing to add is bulbs. Go mad with jonquils and freesias. Again, these can just be planted right in the gravel as long as the bottom of the bulb has access to the soil via holes poked through the membrane.
posted by flabdablet at 9:00 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


And before buying commercial fertilizers, just try whizzing on a different spot after each good rain.
posted by flabdablet at 9:01 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I asked entomology PhD student Brian Lovett on Twitter for specific, actionable questions to put to our political representatives. He suggested:

"'I'm concerned about the decline of insects worldwide and how this may impact the future of my family. We need to support insect scientists to understand what is happening and how to conserve insect biodiversity. ... I would like your office to reach out to @EntSocAmerica to discuss policies that can empower entomologists to address this threat to our future." If your representatives support the #GreenNewDeal, you can suggest they consult with entomologists. See: Dr. Ryan Gott "I just read the outline of the Green New Deal released by @AOC, and I'm liking it a lot. Very much interested in how entomology plays a role in many of the outlined resolutions. Commitment to support research that advances these goals would be amazing. E.g. discussion of sustainable food: we need to come to a true definition of integrated pest management (IPM), make national standards to advance adoption of IPM, and fund research in IPM/ag pests as well as for training and delivery of these programs to those who will use them."'"

I just sent the following to my MoCs. Please use as a template, share, etc. I punched up the language a bit because I think scientists' academic detachment and professional aversion to declarative generalizations can be counterproductive, when trying to bullhorn "GTFO NOW" to non-academics. There are entomological societies all over the world. Let's push our elected representatives to set up meetings with them.
Dear MoC, "dramatic rates of decline . . . may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world's insect species over the next few decades" (Biological Conservation, April 2019 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320718313636 and Guardian article https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature ). Insect extinctions harm ecologies and food webs that our grandkids and great-grandkids will need to survive. We need to support insect scientists. I am asking your office to reach out to the Entomological Society of America, to discuss policies that can empower entomologists to address this threat to our future. https://www.entsoc.org/

[I included this bit to a Green Deal supporting MoC, but not to the MoC who doesn't:] Entomologist-informed policies might include "national standards to advance adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and funding for research in IPM/ag pests as well as for training and delivery of these programs to those who will use them." https://twitter.com/Entemnein/status/1095080120459689984 Thank you for caring about the future of this planet.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:44 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


But we've tackled problems on this scale before. We're not talking about building colossal machines to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, or figuring out how to de-acidify the oceans; those are orders of magnitude more difficult. This is a Manhattan Project scale challenge, an Apollo Program sized project. If we can build aircraft carriers, this is within our reach.


We certainly have not tackled problems the size of total ecosystem collapse before. Building an aircraft carrier and getting the entire world population to come together to solve this issue are magnitudes away from each other.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:44 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


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