By way of The Guardian we now know three quarters of German insect life seems to have disappeared over the past 25 years. Since the survey was held in wildlife reserves, it’s probably even worse; and it’s hardly likely things are better in the rest of Europe. This is equivalent to reading the Apocalypse starts tomorrow at 9.15 AM. So, who are we going to sue?
Thing is, even though it sounds like a fun question, it really isn’t that funny. The earth is a rather finely tuned system, with insects pollinating plants, getting eaten by birds; birds spreading seeds and getting eaten by bigger birds, and so on. Of course, we already knew about the bees, and we have no qualms about murdering far bigger animals; but without them, we’re all royally screwed. We know all this, but somehow it seems impossible to act on it.
To get a glimpse of what we’re talking about, in the recent survey, hover flies – important pollinators often mistaken for bees – show a particularly steep decline. In 1989, the surveyors in one reserve collected 17,291 hover flies from 143 species. In 2014, at the same locations, they found only 2737 individuals from 104 species (read more in this article).
The causes for the decline are uncertain. Could be pollution, could be global warming, could be certain herbicides and insecticides; and possibly a combination of all of these. Most of all though, it’s clear that these days even for insects their habitat is shrinking. Vast swaths of farm land have become insect deserts and graveyards.
It used to be we could always blame Monsanto. And fair enough, Monsanto has been called the anti-christ for a reason: as a corporation it has little to no redeeming qualities. However, Monsanto has recently been acquired by Bayer, the German conglomerate, so now we can also point to Bayer.
How effective can a court action be? After all, a single cause can’t be established, and the use of these herbicides and insecticides is legal. The latter needn’t be a problem, if one thinks of the analogy to corporations using asbestos, or of the Tahlidomide (‘Softenon’) scandal in the 1960’s. When it became clear serious harm had been done, companies could be sued for damages. When no single company may be held liable, they may all be held liable collectively.
However, in earlier cases it was always clear there were human victims as a direct result of these substances. But who is going to sue on behalf of insects, and when the damage has been done to all of us, through various causes? Can we sue our governments for being negligent? Farmers for having sprayed poison? Supermarkets for selling products that are cultivated at the cost of destroying our environment? Should we just sue all of them?
And no one is innocent. We, the public, are well aware that corporations are destroying the earth, and yet we work for these companies and buy their products, while we let ourselves be distracted by an endless stream of mind numbing entertainment. Many of us prefer to talk about Game of Thrones, laugh about Donald Trump, heap scorn on Harvey Weinstein, or worry about women not wearing bikinis. When we get serious, we wonder where to buy a shiny electric car. There are actual wars raging as our world is being made uninhabitable, and yet we continue to act as though it’s business as usual. We act as though we have all the time in the world to play a game of chess with The Grim Reaper.
It seems clear that what we need is a revolution, but not of the heads-will-roll variety. The way the system works is incredibly flawed and the destruction it causes is no longer theoretical. Therefore, the entire system needs to change. It’s no longer sufficient to say we have to adapt a little something here or there, it is the big picture that needs to change. However, for now, we might use the legal system such as it is to try to blow up the system from within. After all, if we don’t act now, soon we’ll be driving our shiny new electric cars through deserted landscapes on our way to the Apocalypse.
Update: I’m not the only one saying ‘sue for life’. Read this: ‘We should be on the offensive’ – James Hansen calls for wave of climate lawsuitsVeteran climate scientist says litigation campaign against government and fossil fuels companies is essential alongside political mobilisation in fighting ‘growing, mortal threat’ of global warming
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