Reading the news that almost 40 per cent of our insect species are set for extinction left me feeling sadder than usual about the state of the planet. Insects are completely vital to our ability to produce food, both in their role as pollinators and food sources for many others within the chain. They are also completely vulnerable – report authors noted that intensive agriculture was the biggest driver of insect declines, something that accelerated during the 80s, coinciding with breakthroughs in chemical crop protection. There’s almost a bleak irony in just how effective pesticides have been – turns out they really do what it says on the tin.
But it’s all too easy to fall into a pit of watching and reading about the scale of the problem, as the media wakes up, perhaps a little too late, and finds a goldmine of stories in the unfolding decimation of the natural world. It’s no good just sadly recounting the lack of moths found on windscreens these days and reminiscing over hazy memories of swarms of summer insects.
Instead of just writing about the tragedy, we should be writing about the solutions. In a follow up piece to the initial report, the Guardian spoke to experts who noted that buying organic food means you can “make sure the land is used less intensively”. The strict regulations around organics means that no artificial chemicals can be used on the land and the subsequent benefits to wildlife and biodiversity have been recorded by studies – organic farms are shown to have on average 50 per cent more plant, insect and bird life.
There were other potential home-scale solutions such as growing native plants and mowing your lawn less in the piece, but I can’t help but feel that approach has a touch of the plastic straw about it – don’t be distracted by the thought of an individual’s responsibility. Changing the way farming is done globally and helping farmers reduce their reliance on chemicals must be done at a much wider scale. Tackling a global extinction crisis will take a global effort.
It’s funny that in a week of such doom and gloom for environmental news there was also a glimmer of potential hope. The Soil Association’s annual market report showed that sales of organic are up by 5.3 per cent in the UK. It’s only from a small base, but the report noted that organic does chime with several key trends du jour – namely, mindful consumerism, environmentalism, veganism and vegetarianism.
At the Oxford Real Farming Conference last month, Defra minister Michael Gove was pressed on why there is no legislative mention for agroecological farming methods, such as organic, in the upcoming agriculture bill. For anyone not inside the industry, this landmark policy is the first time the UK will have its own agriculture policy for 20 years and is well worth our attention. Gove, to his merit, has spoken in support of environmental farming, but surely it’s time we spelled out specific commitments to this in a policy-binding format?
Voting with our wallets is always an option, except of course when it isn’t – and it’s all too true that many in this country do not have the choice of buying ethically. But writing and speaking about how there is a different way of doing things, growing food that doesn’t rely on chemicals and endanger our critically-important insect wildlife, is not only free, it may well be priceless for the future of our planet.