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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Meanwhile in other news…

The end of the world is imminent. The Guardian Observer reports,

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’

Exclusive: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review

Obviously my first thought was “Okaaay, tev. I will believe you believe it if it still keeps Brexit off the front page for, say, the rest of this week.” But given the stakes one should keep an open mind. You guys think there’s anything to this?

50 comments to Meanwhile in other news…

  • bobby b

    From the article:

    “(Professor Paul) Ehrlich praised the review, saying: “It is extraordinary to have gone through all those studies and analysed them as well as they have.” He said the particularly large declines in aquatic insects were striking. “But they don’t mention that it is human overpopulation and overconsumption that is driving all the things [eradicating insects], including climate change,” he said.”

    Somehow I knew I’d find his name in this article.

  • Snorri Godhi

    This brings to mind a quote from Prisoner’s Base by Rex Stout, a novel in the Nero Wolfe canon (one of my favorite canons).
    Nero Wolfe talking about his assistant, Archie Goodwin:

    As you may know, he is not indifferent to those attributes of young women that constitute the chief reliance of our race in our gallant struggle against the menace of the insects.

  • Nullius in Verba

    I suspect the answer is given in the following sentence: “The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline.” Under what circumstances do ecologist rush out to do a population change study on some species of insect? Under what circumstances is it most likely to get published? What sort of politics do population-measuring entomologists tend to have anyway, vis-a-vis environmentalism, planetary doom, Paul Ehrlich fandom, and so forth?

    And on a more technical note, what are the error bars on this study? How accurately do they think they can measure the insect populations studied? How accurately do they think they can extrapolate that to the global population? How much does the true insect population fluctuate, decade-to-decade anyway? If the population bounces up and down by 5% say (which is not a lot, really) from decade to decade randomly, and you see a 2.5% decline over a particular period, what on Earth justifies making a straight-line extrapolation to project total extinction of all insect species in 100 years?

    Every autumn the temperature drops about 10 degrees C. If you extrapolate that for a hundred years, we’d hit -4000 C! This is the same quality of science as that.

  • A statistical study of the accuracy of Professor Ehrlich’s predictions over many decades suggests that any prediction endorsed by him is very very unlikely to be fulfilled. I am sad about this: the glorious time when Scottish gnats no longer rival Scottish natz as causers of misery in my native land is not imminent (so I think I can profess to be quite unbiased in my assessment, since I’d gladly believe that either were on course for extinction 🙂 ).

  • bobby b

    Normally, I’d be a skeptic, but personally – anecdotally – I’ve noticed that, in the last six months, the number and variety of outdoor insects here has dropped drastically.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Strangely, bobby, I’ve noticed the same thing here. 😕 ❓

    To change the subject entirely, I see it’s snowing again.

  • Yep, for the past two or three summers, there has been a distinct lack of bug splat on my windshield. And I do a lot of driving through countryside in summer.

  • Craig

    Another anecdote I heard, cross country truck drivers in North America who saying their windshield use to be cake with dead insects not so much now.

  • bobby b

    “To change the subject entirely, I see it’s snowing again.”

    6″ today. 10″ more tomorrow. I think it’s coming your way. It’s gonna be a bad week for snowflies.

  • Fraser Orr

    Hmmh, anecdotes aside, I suggest that whoever wrote this get someone with a high school level of mathematics education to help them. The numbers simply don’t add up. For one if you lose 2.5% every year the total is never zero, not even after a thousand years. And the claim that for the past 30 years we have lost 2.5% of insects is ridiculous. It means that half of all insects have been lost in thirty years.

    Moreoever, it completely misses the dynamic nature of the natural world. Loss of one species in one area is, what the insect world call an “opportunity”. New species grow to fill the void.

    NIV has some great comments on this above.

    Which is to say even if there is a problem you’d never hear it over the cacophony of hysterical grant proposals. It seems like “we are all doomed” and/or “humans are a scourge” is now a prerequisite to get a grant from the NSF.

  • Agammamon

    Is there anything to it?

    Undoubtedly not. Almost guaranteed its either misrepresenting a metric (for example – a plunge in the rate of new insect species discovery) or a bunch of reporters glomming onto a new study’s results before those results have been confirmed by others – relying solely on the fact that the peer reviewers found no obvious flaws in the study’s methodology to mean that there were no flaws in the study at all.

    Or we’ll find that its the information coming out of a new computer model.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Yes indeedy, bobby. Per Weather Underground, we’re to have 4″ tomorrow night. I should probably make sure to put out the citronella candles or something tomorrow — would hate to have the skeeters suffer hypothermia, when they were clearly planning on basking in our newly tropical climate.

  • Mrs. Davis

    I live near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the most productive unirrigated county in the US for agriculture. I have driven through it for 15 years. The amount of windshield splat from insects does seem to have decreased.

  • bobby b

    I note that the Daily Mail published almost the exact same article back in 2017.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Could be, I suppose. At least the D.M.‘s not blaming it on AGW.

    I ran across a headline a week or two ago that said the bee collapse wasn’t, after all.

  • Mr Ed

    Bees in the UK are always dying out, if it’s not some varroa mite, it’s nicotinoids (bees are notorious vapers, I understand). It’s not that they are good for fundraising for campaign groups, surely? Who gives a fig about bluebottles? (If you find them, please don’t nuke them from orbit, far too unspecific a response).

    Like others, the maths bugs me, but this wording (emphasis added) does too:

    The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline.

    By what criteria are those the ‘best’? Let me guess, the most lurid?

    On the other hand, I am aware anecdotally (yes, really)of some studies done on bug splat on car number plate done in the English West Country in summer to assess insect populations. Every vehicle is a mobile bug swat, and scraping off the residue has led to studies of insect mortality. I’ve not seen any data yet.

    I have also seen pied wagtails hanging around car washes to pick up the insect debris washed off cars, a steady snackfest. Nature sees adaptation.

  • Eric

    Another anecdote I heard, cross country truck drivers in North America who saying their windshield use to be cake with dead insects not so much now.

    Well, obviously the truckers kilt ’em all.

  • pete

    I’ve taken the same journey to my mother’s house in a very rural location for 31 years. The number of splattered insects on my windscreen has decreased greatly.

    I have also noticed a great reduction in small birds in my Manchester garden. Birds like to eat insects.

  • John Tee

    Regarding counting insects based on vehicle bugsplats: Increasing numbers of vehicles on the road = less bugsplats per vehicle for a steady insect population?

  • Mr Ed

    Well, a quick search has found something, but in the North West of England from 2004, run by the RSPB (as pete notes, (lots of) birds live off insects). Headline, one bug for every 5 miles driven.

    The Big Bug Count was organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

    Motorists were asked to count the number of insects squashed on their number plates after a journey.

    But despite reports of a boom in swarming wasps during the summer, the study revealed just one squashed bug for every five miles driven.

    The idea for the survey was based on anecdotal evidence that the number of insects squashed on cars has declined in recent years.

    With the help of an RSPB “splatometer”, more than 1,200 people from the north-east of England took part in the survey, with around 40,000 taking part nationwide.

    But the RSPB says it was surprised to find that a total of 324,814 insects were recorded – an average rate of only one splat every five miles.

    and

    Mr Bashford added: “Because this is a new survey we can’t show for sure that insects have declined.

    “However, in order to see if there are any changes in insect populations in the future, the RSPB will repeat this survey.

    “In time we will be able to compare these results with those from our bird monitoring to see if there are any links.”

    Theories for fewer insects include habitat loss and pesticides.

  • John B

    Just a second.

    Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago we were all being urged to stop eating cows and start eating insects to ‘save the Planet’?

    If insects are declining won’t eating them hasten their distinction, and… is it wise to rely on a diminishing food source?

    The chief operatives in Doomagheddon should communicate to get their stories straight.

    But reality check. The variety of insects is so great, their numbers so enormous that only certifiably mad people would believe they could count them and get a meaningful number.

  • John B

    Bug splatter. Anecdotal like childhood summers were warmer and longer, winters colder and more snow?

    Noise, vibration, air movement can be detected by insects. Those insects which respond and thus avoid being splattered on cars survive and are therefore more successful at reproduction than those which are less responsive and get splattered. Therefore more ‘smart’ bugs are born who know how to avoid being splattered… blame evolution.

    Insects are attracted to vegetation at roadside and warmer air around paved areas. Birds figure this out so the habitat around roads are a smorgasbord for birds. More insects getting eaten, less to be splattered.

    Do LED lights attract insects the same as halogen?

    Are more streamlined cars producing an airstream that pushes bugs over the car body so they do not splat on windshield or number plate?

    There are so many variables that simply counting bug deaths is meaningless and misleading.

  • Will Sheward

    I’m expecting a follow-up story which shows that within the EU there’ll be plenty of insects (I can believe this) but that they won’t be able to come to the UK under WTO terms.

    WillS.

  • Frank S

    The GWPF are on to it:
    ‘London, 11 February: The scientific paper behind newspaper claims that insect populations were threatened with extinction was based on data known to be unreliable. That’s according to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which today called for the paper to be withdrawn.

    The paper, by US scientists Bradford C Lister and Andres Garcia, claimed that a rapid decline in insect populations in a rainforest in Puerto Rico was the result of rising temperatures. The Washington Post called the study “hyperalarming”, while the Guardian discussed climate change causing “insect collapse”.

    However, the authors’ evidence that temperatures had, in fact, risen turns out to be based on a single weather station, which was known to be unreliable because of undocumented changes to equipment and location resulting in a substantial and abrupt increase in recorded temperatures in September 1992.

    Since 1992, temperatures at this station have actually declined.

    The Global Warming Policy Foundation has issued a formal complaint to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the journal that published the article, asking that the paper be withdrawn.’

    https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2019/02/PNAS-Complaint_010219.pdf

  • MadRocketSci

    Apparently farmers are having some difficulty keeping their apiaries alive. Bees seem to be dying at an alarming rate. It isn’t global warming though, it’s some sort of bee-parasite. (It’s also something I hope (and suspect) they can fix eventually with a treatment or immune strain.)

    The problem with environmentalists is that there are real environmental problems, some ‘nautral’, some manmade. But we can’t trust the environmentalists.

    The emerald ash-borer is an example of an insect that pretty much killed off a species of tree here all across the United States, and the zebra mussel killing off a good fraction of the ecosystem in Lake Erie. (The zebra mussel has since acquired a predator that eats it, and life is returning to the lakes.)

  • bobby b

    “I ran across a headline a week or two ago that said the bee collapse wasn’t, after all.”

    I’ve been brewing mead for years, which keeps me attuned to the honeybee populations and the honey production levels.

    The bee collapse wasn’t. Back in 2010 or so there was an issue with a growing population of varroa mites – which eat bee larva – but that had to do with them developing a resistance to the miticides in use at the time. Since then, production has been growing yearly. Which is good, as it takes 80 pounds of honey to make 20 gallons of strong mead.

  • jay

    It must be the increase in the Polar Bear population. Thanks to our efforts to mitigate climate change (e.g. by reducing hunting), their numbers are up wildly.
    Funny thing is, I didnt know they ate insects. I always thought their diet was mainly seals and Canadians.

  • Albion's Blue Front Door

    Forgive my ignorance on small, irritating things buzzing round but one aspect of car windscreen/windshield splat decline is possibly partly to do with improved air flow of modern car design?

    I know all modern cars look the same but there is a desire to lower resistance and hence fuel usage. Anyway, I’d like to think gnats, etc, are skipping merrily over cars in a ‘wheeeee’ rush of wind.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby, as soon as you’re done shovelling the latest 10″ of GorebalWorming, why not come on down here and visit me.

    Bring mead. :>))

    Seriously: I’m glad to hear that the bees’ problem has been corrected.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Crikey, he’s still alive. He’s the one who lost a big commodities bet against Julian L Simon, who had challenged Ehrlich’s Malthusian views.

  • Ian

    The amount of windshield splat from insects does seem to have decreased.

    Having scanned the comments, I can’t see any mention of the design of windscreens themselves. My impression (unevidenced — could probably be googled) is that they have evolved to be more streamlined. I note this because I have observed that when driving my car in summer, I don’t get any bug splatter till I get to about 100-110mph, after which point the windscreen gets coated in bug goo. This would suggest there are bugs out there, but that they don’t always hit with enough force to cause the splatter, possibly because of the angle of incidence, etc.

    Secondly, from my armchair I would note that with respect to insects as a whole, populations always go through peaks and troughs, so a straight-line forecast based on the current observed rate of decline (as proposed in the Observer article) is really daft. There may be important changes afoot, and perhaps a new equilibrium is being sought, however it would seem premature to suggest this is necessarily apocalyptic.

    When it comes to insecticides (for example), it seems far more likely to me that insects will adapt to these changes, rather than be wiped out by them; however we should perhaps adapt too, and it might genuinely be a problem. However, we’ve heard so many stories predicting worldwide catastrophe from the likes of the Guardian/Observer that it’s now utterly impossible for me to credit them.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Everyone, be of good cheer. Should today’s scare stories fail to come true, you can still sleep soundly tonight, tossing, turning, fretful and worried just as usual, because tomorrow we will be apprised of the new catastrophes that are coming for sure. They’ll be here day after tomorrow, right on schedule.

    *Snore, yawn, whistle when it gets dark. Lather, rinse, repeat*

  • Bruce

    Plummeting insect numbers in the middle of a serious scow-decorated Winter?

    Who’da thunk it?

  • Fraser Orr

    @Ian
    Having scanned the comments, I can’t see any mention of the design of windscreens themselves.

    Ian makes some great comments about what may have caused a supposed decrease in bug splat. Another he didn’t mention is good old Charles Darwin. Perhaps insects have evolved to be less likely to get bug splatted. The genes predisposed them to fly over warm black areas could well have been deselected by the fact that all the ones that did that are dead. And of course increased traffic means that the density of bug splat per vehicle would be lower.

    Of course, again if the goal is to prove some apocalyptic point one tends to only talk about the causes that support your case rather than considering any others. Like I said before the NSF kind of requires “Doomsday scenario”, “Humans are a scourge”, “only a big government program can fix it” as a prerequisite to getting a grant these days. One might argue that there is a kind of evolutionary process going on in the science grant application community.

    He who pays the piper calls the tune.

  • Paul Marks

    Ten thousand Pounds says that most of the people who believe that “Climate Change” will wipe out the insects, are also “Remainers” supporting the United Kingdom remaining under the rule of the European Union.

    Does anyone want to take me up on this bet?

    There is nothing so superstitious and wrong headed as a “modern educated intellectual”.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Paul Marks
    Ten thousand Pounds says that most of the people who believe that “Climate Change” will wipe out the insects

    In fairness I think the claim is not that global warming is killing the insects but that roundup and the evil Monsanto (whose products feed the world) is killing them.

    We should, after all, get rid of pesticides much as we did with DDT. Sure, the consequence will be the same: millions of children will die in agony. But at least we will feel righteous that we are saving the gnats, bees and birds’ eggs.

    It is easy to be righteous when someone else pays the price.

  • Fred Z

    Windshield design, car design, airflow…

    I ride motorbikes. There has been no decline in bug splats on my face shield and wind shield. None. Zero. De nada. Nichts. Plus, I still hit the same number of bees and they still hurt.

    Upright bike riders have the aerodynamics of a brick.

  • Doug Jones

    Disasturbate, v.
    To idly fantasize about possible disasters, without considering their actual likelihood or the prospects for preventing them. Disasturbation, n.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    I think what this comment thread demonstrates is that we have become so weary of one scare story after another that even if there is a grain – or more – of truth, the default response is one of scorn. Which is a pity, because insect loss on a major scale is nothing to be happy about.

    Species can vary a lot. On my father’s East Anglian farm, we used to have a lot of sparrows, and then, about two decades ago, they vanished. I see them on the continent and some other places, but the sparrow is conspicuous by its absence up here in Constable Country. It is sad.

  • Ian

    I think what this comment thread demonstrates is that we have become so weary of one scare story after another that […] the default response is one of scorn.

    Or worse — that at this point we’d rather be annihilated in some leftie armageddon fantasy than have to listen to their pseudo-scientific drivel.

    However, I don’t dismiss this one as complete fantasy. The thing is, though, that if you look at the RSPB State of Nature 2016 (referenced in the Telegraph’s 2017 article on the subject), they seem effectively to admit (when talking about Hope Farm, Cambridgeshire) that this is reversible, although probably at the expense of crop yields or at greater labour cost (I’m not a farmer). That means it’s really just a cost-benefit equation and not quite the Ragnarok we’ve been promised.

    I’d suggest the weariness we all seem to exhibit on these topics is really just one of “I can’t be bothered to look into it to find the evidence that inevitably exists to contradict their claims.” But I’ve saved everyone the trouble.

    No need to thank me 😉

  • Bruce

    Regarding insects splattering on car windshields:

    Has anyone thought of comparing the airflow over a modern, aerodynamically-efficient car, with Detroit Iron of yesteryear?

  • Mr Ed

    You can see where this is leading can’t you, to raise insect numbers, the Lefties will be aping Chairman Mao’s Anti-Sparrow Campaign, his extolling the entire Chinese Communist nation to rise up and chase sparrows, as they ate seeds from crops (harvests plummeting under socialism naturally enough).

    The government also declared that “birds are public animals of capitalism”.

    It ended badly:

    By April 1960, Chinese leaders changed their opinion due to the influence of ornithologist Tso-hsin Cheng[2] who pointed out that sparrows ate a large number of insects, as well as grains.[8][9] Rather than being increased, rice yields after the campaign were substantially decreased.[10][9] Mao ordered the end of the campaign against sparrows, replacing them with bed bugs, as the extermination of the former upset the ecological balance, and bugs destroyed crops as a result of the absence of natural predators. By this time, however, it was too late. With no sparrows to eat them, locust populations ballooned, swarming the country and compounding the ecological problems already caused by the Great Leap Forward, including widespread deforestation and misuse of poisons and pesticides.[10] Ecological imbalance is credited with exacerbating the Great Chinese Famine, in which 20–45 million people died of starvation.[11][12]

    But the Lefties won’t mind about that.

  • Rob Fisher

    bobby b, I’d really like to get to the bottom of the bee thing.

    “production has been growing yearly”

    But here it says prices are going up, and production is down:
    http://spendmatters.com/2015/02/23/the-rise-and-rise-and-rise-of-honey-prices/

    Holds true here:
    https://www.honey.com/honey-industry/statistics/wholesale-honey-price

    Not sure about inflation, though.

    This Canadian report seems to agree with bobby b, though:
    https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-630-x/11-630-x2016004-eng.htm

    So for now I suppose we can say: it’s complicated; it varies by region; there are other factors and feedbacks; people cherry-pick data.
    http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

  • Paul Marks

    Frasor Orr – the BBC implied it was “Climate Change” (the outrage of the Goddess Gaia is also the cause of my baldness).

    And my offer stands – ten thousand Pounds says that most people who believe that insects will be gone by the end of the century (due to evil human capitalism) also believe in the rule of the European Union over this land.

    I repeat there is nothing more wildly superstitious and wrong headed than a “modern educated intellectual”.

    As Cicero pointed out – there are some things so utterly absurd that no ordinary person will believe them, a drunk lying in his own vomit on the street will still have enough of his brain left to dismiss such nonsense as nonsense. But a “philosopher” – NOTHING (nothing at all) is too absurd for some of them not to believe.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan — Which is why my *expressions* list ended with “Whistle when it gets dark.*….

  • bobby b

    Rob Fisher
    February 12, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    “bobby b, I’d really like to get to the bottom of the bee thing.”

    Good luck finding consistent data. It’s not the best-documented area of agriculture.

    I get my info about honey primarily from Bee Culture Magazine (“The Magazine Of American Beekeeping”). It has tended to be the source that matches what I hear from beekeepers.

    The reporting of honey production has become highly politicized, as it provides a (supposedly) compelling indicator for climate change and pesticide advocates. The industry has undergone huge consolidation from twenty years ago, when the “experts” stopped recommending that every farmer must have bee colonies in order to get their crops pollinated, and when the number of small farms dropped drastically – small farmers being the most likely people to run bees – but the remaining producers have been getting bigger and bigger since then. Honey consumption per capita has steadily risen for twenty years, as have prices.

    It’s a very weather-dependent industry, so we see large yearly variations in yield, but using standard averaging and flattening techniques, we get a trendline that slowly rises (aside from the periods when mites wreaked havoc.)

    It’s also a very trendy crop – the organic and locavore and quality-foods movements have all worked to boost honey consumption and prices. One result of this has been a rather huge rise in honey sales at venues such as farmers markets and roadside stands to the eager trendy eaters willing to pay higher prices – and those sales aren’t well-recorded.

    As someone who normally has about 300 pounds of honey in my brewroom cupboards, I’ll opine that bees are in great shape.

  • Paul Marks

    bobby b.

    You normally have about 300 pounds of honey in your home…..

    My inner Pooh Bear is interested – greedily so.

    Check your home security.

  • Ian Bennett

    pete said:

    I have also noticed a great reduction in small birds in my Manchester garden.

    Is that because the birds have starved to death due to lack of insects, or because there are so many insects that the birds don’t need to visit your garden.

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b’s honey store? Perhaps he is really Beorn from The Hobbit? How else could he bear the Minnesota winters?

  • bobby b

    Bobby b’s honey store? No – bobby b’s meadery! Picture a slightly tipsy Winnie The Pooh asking, in a wavering voice, “what’s a bear to do?

    (I don’t sell it – it goes to family and friends and me, but the South Dakota Mennonites are always willing to trade great beef and chickens for good mead. So I can’t shape-shift myself, but I have been known to turn a bunch of abstemious Mennonites into drunk dang-near-Lutherans.)

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