The world is in the throes of an extinction crisis unlike any throughout paleoclimate history: the Sixth Mass Extinction, keeping in mind that the normal “background rate” for extinction is 1
to 5 species gone per year. But, what if it’s five every 24 hours?
Answer: It’s a lot more than that.
The current worldwide extinction rate is more than 1,000 times the normal background rate, or, in the simplest of terms, instead of 1 to 5 species extinct per year, it’s alarmingly somewhere between 25 to 250 (maybe more) species of plant, insect, bird, and mammal extinct every 24 hours.
In fact, crucial resources for sustaining life have already been severely weakened, as demonstrated in studies of mass loss of arthropods and other key elements of biodiversity happening all over the planet from Australia to pristine European nature preserves to uninhabited tropical rainforests, as the Anthropocene (the current geological age during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment) haphazardly destroys and poisons life-sourcing ecosystems.
For example ecosystems are negatively impacted far and wide by chemicals to such an extreme that chemical toxins are now found in Mt. Everest’s snow at 29,000 feet as well as in deep-water squid at 3,800 feet, proving that what’s ordinarily considered “hard to believe” is in fact “almost beyond comprehension.”
Meanwhile, the world has started taking notice, and it’s Germany where the Age of Enlightenment has fortunately been resurrected by enlightened skeptics, known as “liberals” back in the 18th century, challenging current societal values and exposing false truths.
This quasi-enlightenment surge is happening in Bavaria, Germany’s most conservative of 16 federal states, led by the Christian Social Union (CSU) ever since 1946, as this powerful bastion of political conservatism responds to grassroots citizen campaigns and a recently passed referendum to “Protect Nature,” primarily via major changes in industrial farming.
As one conservationist remarked upon passage of the referendum: “The times when it was enough for politicians to pay lip service to biodiversity are over.” (Source: Christian Schwägerl, In Conservative Bavaria, Citizens Force Bold Action on Protecting Nature, Yale Environment 360, April 25, 2019)
Henceforth, Bavarians will implement a sweeping set of conservation measures, including: (1) Setting aside 13% of state land in special ecological zones, inclusive of ecosystem infrastructure of hedgerows, meadows, and wetlands; (2) Organic agriculture must be practiced in 1/3 of Bavarian farmland, as well as cutting out fertilizers on all state-owned farms to reduce nitrogen pollution; and (3) Protection of wetlands, waterways, and threatened insect populations by eliminating insecticides as much as possible.
Already, three more German states are considering biodiversity referendums, as well as inquiries from Sweden and Australia. Another proposal would divert large portions of EU agricultural subsidies for protection of biodiversity.
The motivation behind Bavarian citizens reacting so strongly in the face of opposition by the ruling political establishment was awareness that native landscapes had turned monotonous, overly developed, and strikingly “empty of life.”
Another motivating catalyst was the landmark 2017 Krefeld Insect Study conducted by German researchers, as well as citizen scientists, that clearly delineated a mouth-dropping 75% loss in biomass of flying insects in a large number of nature reserves over a period of 25 years.
Krefeld Entomological Society, established in 1905 in Germany, trapped insect samples in 63 nature preserves. They consistently found massive declines of up to 80% in every kind of habitat sampled.
For example, data for hoverflies, a pollinator often mistaken for a bee, registered 17,291 trapped in a reserve in 1989. Twenty-five years later at the same location, it was 2,737 or a whopping loss of 84%! That number is well beyond classification for an extinction event. Thereafter, the only question going forward is whether species comeback is possible.
Today’s Sixth Extinction is so prevalent that scientists prefer to designate species loss as “functional extinctions,” which means functionally extinct animals and plants are still present but no longer prevalent enough to affect an ecosystem. A shortage of insect pollinators in the Maoxian Valley in China forced farmers to hire human workers at $19 per worker per day to replace bees. Each worker pollinated 5 to 10 apple trees by hand per day.
Scientists from Bavaria’s leading research institutions are hopeful that their referendum will trigger a massive worldwide reduction in the use of insecticides and herbicides in agriculture, which should, in turn, boost insect populations.
According to the renowned Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson, without insects and other land-based arthropods, humanity would last all of a few months.
It’s been nearly six decades since Rachel Carson wrote: “The more I learned about the use of pesticides, the more appalled I became. I realized that here was the material for a book (Silent Spring). What I discovered was that everything which meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened.”
Well, finally, Bavarians discovered that fact 60 years later (whew!)