Conservation and Science, cause for conflict?

Conservation, by its very nature is largely driven by emotion. Science on the other hand is driven by quantifiable, verifiable fact. Both generally start with an observation. This often leads to a conflict and a difference in opinions.

Man, sadly by his nature is prone to want to kick the can down the road. We have an almost inordinate need not to take responsibility, to be part of the herd. We have an attitude that if everybody else is inclined to do something then we will too. Otherwise we are content to bury our heads in the sand and allow the few others to forge ahead. Sadly, very few of us are inclined to critical thought and logic and when we do, most of us are inclined to prejudice in our thinking. We tend to believe in that which reinforces our already preconceived ideas. We see this played out frequently when it comes to things like climate change and insect collapse.

The alarmist, normally conservationists, cry the end is near. Science becomes clouded and it is often drowned out. The reality is conservationists want to be heard by the widest possible audience. Most scientists are academic and their careers very often dependent on the quality and the number of papers they publish. They pick what interests them in their field, whatever they can get funding for and publish a paper. It is these papers that further their careers. Some will climb on the coattails of a popular cause and ride it for what it’s worth. Few are both environmentalist and scientist.

Climate change is a classic example, if we apply logic and critical thought to the topic, with over seven billion people on the planet, burning fuel, practising agriculture, manufacturing and everything else that has occurred. From the start of the destruction of the forests in the medieval age to the Industrial Revolution, it is an undeniable, indisputable fact that man must be having an impact on the climate. You would be a fool or at least naive and ignorant to profess otherwise and cry fake news. Climate change is not in dispute. What is in dispute is how much is natural and how much can be attributed to man. Even in scientific circles this is still largely under debate. Environmentalists often would have us believe the end is here. The one truth we can obtain from this debate is that we do not know enough, more data is needed. We do not have enough history, enough data, enough verifiable proof to close the argument.

Recently there has been a lot of noise about insect Armageddon. I recently put an article on my Facebook page, from certain quarters it was branded hype, fake news and alarmist. Yes, to some extent true. To brand it Fake news is to bury one’s head in the sand and display ignorance. Think about it. Insects in general have an incredibly fast life-cycle. If conditions are unfavourable, there will be a huge crash in populations. By the same token, if the conditions are favourable, there would be a veritable population explosion, after all, nature abhors a vacuum.

Nature will fill the vacuum, she does not care to maintain the balance as we know it, she will adapt, evolve and happily let entire species and classes of life go extinct. The most glaring example being dinosaurs. Life goes on with or without us. we cannot blindly yell fake news because someone raised the alarm. We can say that we have made an observation. We do not have enough data, information or history to draw a conclusion. If we look at keystone species and species in general, those with longer reproductive cycles tend to be at a far greater risk of extinction. Try wiping out fruit flies, not so easy. Yet we could wipe out rhinos in a few years.

If we take our house, a crack may appear in the wall. This is an observation. The alarmist yells the house is falling down because the foundation is subsiding. The fact is we do not have enough information to definitively state the house is collapsing. The statement could be both true and false, an observation was made the rest is supposition. If there is a crack in the wall, the doors do not close, the floor is sagging and all the windows are cracked, it becomes more likely that the house is falling down. But only once the structural analysis is done can it be stated as fact. It is true the house will fall down, but when? tomorrow, in 10 years or in 5000 years. So when it comes to insect Armageddon, are we doomed? We do not have enough information to make that assumption. Should we be concerned? Of course! it is a smoke alarm that has gone off. It may be burnt toast, it may be an inferno. We do not know until we investigate.

As a tobacco farmer in my earlier years, I have used some of the most evil insecticides known to mankind. So bad that even the 20 litre containers that have been washed and burnt to sterilise them, have proven lethal when used to store drinking water. The insecticides result in an almost total insect population crash in the fields where they are applied. This is a fact, the knock-on effect is all the way down the food chain. The bats disappear, the rodents disappear, the owls disappear. Yet when these fields are left fallow for three years as was my practice, the population quickly restores itself. The fertiliser regimes quickly wipe-out earthworms in the soil, vital to the health of those soils. Yet when left fallow, they restore themselves. The threat is when there are wide spread population crashes over vast areas, recovery is complicated.

While walking down the coast I have had endless hours immersed in my environment. I was struck by a distinct lack of butterflies, bees and other insects. Even on the tidemark that shows the insects that drowned at sea. When I walked the section from Cape Saint Francis to Port Elizabeth, the heart of the lucrative “chokka” (squid) industry. I noticed hundreds upon hundreds of bees washed up on the tide. Why? I cannot state that the bee’s are doomed, yet the tiny carcasses are a fact. The bees were dying. Chokka boats use powerful spotlights that literally turn the night into day. I can only make the supposition that the bees were becoming disorientated by the lights and flying out to the boats. Tired and lost they eventually fall to their doom in the sea. This cannot be stated as fact until the research is done and the proof furnished. Yet, it is a reasonable assumption.

If we consider how large our population is, how much light pollution there is, how much intensive farming, the destruction of wild habitats, the devastation and pollution of our aquatic environments. The paving over in concrete of nearly six-per-cent of our land mass. We must draw the conclusion that we are having an impact on the insect population. This is a certainty and while we continue to use modern practices and put more land under human use, we will continue to exasperate and compound the problem. The sad truth is the environment needed for these populations is diminishing, therefore population slumps will increase. The reality is we don’t have enough information or data or comprehensive studies to declare Armageddon.

Should we be concerned? Absolutely! Can we declare it as false news? only if you’re an idiot. Right throughout our planet we are placing our environment under extreme stress. Smoke alarms are going off all over the planet. Insects, bees, pollution, warming of the seas, diminishing water resources, plastic, destruction of sharks, shellfish, reefs, forests, altering climate patterns. These are the cracks in our building. If we do not start to repair them, the house will fall down. Nature is lining us up to kick us off the evolutionary scale.

David Attenborough is a conservationist and at times an alarmist. He has made very alarming statements, yet he has arguably done more to raise conservation awareness and conservation issues then all the scientists put together. Conservationists ring the alarm bell, scientists prove it. It’s up to the rest of us to put it right. So the next time you jump up and yell fake news, because your ignorance and narrow-minded views short-circuit your ability to think critically. Just remember you become part of the problem. Rather look at the broader issue. Individually the issues may be small and unlikely to cause catastrophe, collectively catastrophe is guaranteed.

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