Silent Earth


Dave Goulson




Date Reviewed:

January 15, 2023

ave Goulson is a British scientist who studies insects, primarily focused on bees. He begins Silent Earth by describing why insects matter - they are basis of the foodchain, they eat parasites, they pollinate our plants, they chew up dead wood or animal dung. Without insects, our ecosystem would collapse.

Germany ran a study where it measured insect populations. The insects were caught in net traps and sticky traps and compared the numbers from 1989 to 2014. They determined that insect populations had declined by 76% over the twenty-six year span. Further studies were made to ensure that this was not just a localized phenomena. It was not. Insect eating birds show an similar decline. Our biosphere is collapsing, yet the decline is almost unnoticed by humanity.

What is killing all of the insects? Many factors! Goulson spends time addressing a wide variety of damaging practices that humans routinely do that harm our environment and imperil our rich natural world.

Pesticides - farmers douse their fields repeatedly with toxic chemicals that kill all insects, including beneficial bees and wasps. It is true that DDT is not used in our first world nations any more, but it is still manufactured and sold to poorer nations. Instead, first world farmers use neonicotinoids to kill everything. Of course, these chemicals don't just stay on the land where they are sprayed, they get into the water supply and drift on the wind to nearby landscapes, poisoning everything they encounter. And of course, the pests are adapting to these pesticides, and so heavier and heavier concentrations are required to kill them off.

Weedkillers - is not just pesticides. Our industrial agriculture uses weedkillers such as glyphosates (Roundup), herbicides and fungicides to destroy invasive weeds. These kill of all undesired plants, creating sterile monoculture fields that leave nothing for insects to eat. Just like pesticides, these toxic chemicals are now found in almost everyone. When Monsanto tests Roundup, their studies claim that it is not a carcinogen. But when independent studies are performed, two thirds of them report that Roundup causes cancer. How can this be? Monsanto only performs tests on the active element in Roundup, whereas the independent studies including the binding agents.

Over Fertilization - our industrial farmers also soak the land with phosphates, potassium and nitrates. This greatly increases yields, but of course the excess pollutes everything around it, filling our waterways with toxic algae blooms.

Habitat loss - it almost comical how fast we are destroying our remaining wildspaces. Between 2000 and 2012, 2.6 million square kilometers of forest were destroyed. Only 6.2 million square kilometers of forest. remain. And its not just forest - bogs are drained, wildlands are tilled, pretty much any open space is used for development, mining, farming or drilling. The remaining spaces form little islands of nature that are too small to support sufficient populations with a diverse gene pool.

Invasive species - native species everywhere have to face aggressive newcomers with no natural enemies, whether it is killer bees or rats or Burmese pythons. Species are vanishing at an alarming rate. Our ancestors will inherit a world of cockroaches, rats and pigeons.

Light pollution - this is a factor in messing up insects who use the moon as a guide. As human development stretches further and further, we take our night lights with, confusing more insects who rely on moonlight.

Climate change - by the time Goulson gets around to mentioning climate change, it is almost irrelevant, given all the other destructive behaviors of human civilization. But climate change is warping the natural environment faster than plants and animals can adapt. Flood, fires, warmer temperatures, droughts - species already battered by the other factors will not be able to withstand the climate changes.

Goulson admits he has three children and he is quite concerned about the future that they face. He points out that if only we didn't waste one third of the food that we grow, we could abandon the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. We would only produce two thirds as much food without using the toxic chemicals, but two thirds of our food supply would be sufficient to feed 8 billion humans if we didn't waste anything. If only we didn't use 60% of our arable land for cattle ranches or for growing grain to feed those cows, then we could use that land to restore forests and wild landscapes where nature could thrive.

Goulson sounds so naive it is laughable. Of course humanity is going to only focus on short profit. We are just like the Easter Islanders who cut down every tree on their island, and then found that they could no longer catch enough fish from the ocean. The result was a collapse of the Easter Island civilization, civil war ensued, the population dropped sharply. Archaeologists examining the trash heaps of the Easter Islanders discovered that they had taken to eating rats. And each other - there was cannibalism. That grim future looks to be in store for our descendants.

Humans everywhere will look only at short term profit and screw the next generation. Powerful political forces will ensure that all resources are exploited to the maximum even to the point of destruction of our natural world, but at least the quarterly earnings reports are maximizing share holder value!