Children and the Insect Apocalypse

What’s Natural?

Guest post by Jim Steele

The American Psychological Association reports young people are suffering from “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. A recent national survey reported “eco-anxiety” is causing 43 percent of our youth to feel hopeless. Psychologists warn such hopelessness leads to suicide, drug addiction and anti-social behavior. Why such eco-anxiety?  Their hopelessness is driven solely by media narratives. Young people lack the scientific knowledge, lack years of observation, and have yet to acquire the critical thinking skills needed to detect any ecosystem collapse. Its headlines like the Guardian’s, “Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature”, that induce paranoia that “insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, and threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”.

In contrast, most scientists studying insects readily admit science lacks the data to make such apocalyptic claims. Science has only identified about one million of an estimated 6 to 10 million insect species worldwide, and only a small percentage of those named species have enough data to evaluate their biology, behavior, or changes in abundance. Nonetheless “the last 3 years have seen a global outbreak of media headlines predicting a global insect apocalypse” and scientists are concerned that such “confusing and inaccurate science” will negatively affect support for insect conservation”. Many have published critiques exposing “the insect apocalypse myth.” 

Worse, apocalyptic myths are damaging our children’s mental health. Competing for readership with supermarket tabloids, the New York Times announced, “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here”. The Guardian fearmongered, “Insect apocalypse’ poses risk to all life on Earth”. And despite her lack of the requisite scientific knowledge, the United Nations invited 16-year old Greta Thunberg to lecture the world that “entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction”. 

How do we protect our children from succumbing to bogus  “chicken little science”? We must teach them to be good critical thinkers. My parents always warned, “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” The world’s oldest scientific motto advises, “Take no one’s word.” To maintain objectivity, us scientists were advised to entertain “multiple working hypotheses”. Likewise, adults must teach children to question all fearful claims. But due to the politicization of science, many adults refuse to read anything outside their beliefs. Many indiscriminately share catastrophic headlines without any critical analysis. For the sake of our kids’ mental health, many “psychologists warn parents and guardians against being climate change alarmists.”

The apocalyptic NY Times headlines were prompted by a severely flawed German study claiming 75% of flying insects declined in 27 years. That study surveyed insects at 69 different locations, but 37 locations were surveyed only once, and 20 locations were surveyed just twice. Such snapshots of abundance at one location in just one or two years can never determine a meaningful  trend. Never! That’s bad science. Yet the media eagerly elevated a flawed study from just one small region of Germany to suggest a global insect Armageddon.

The media simultaneously highlighted another single study by Dr Lister in a Puerto Rican forest to implicate a “global climate crisis”. Researchers claimed higher local temperatures devastated insect abundance and collapsed frog and bird populations that feed on insects. However the media ignored longer term research in the same forest that refuted the temperature claim. It reported that after a destructive hurricane new and more edible vegetation began regenerating and enabled an abnormally higher abundance of opportunistic forest insects, frogs and birds. Unfortunately, Lister’s first survey happened in the 1970s when insect populations had spiked. His second survey happened in 2015 after the forest had matured and insect abundance dropped to normal pre-hurricane numbers. Lister had misinterpreted half of a natural population fluctuation as a catastrophic decline driven by climate change.

Giving less attention to optimistic studies is not unusual. Where were media headlines that moths more than doubled in Great Britain over the past 50 years? Why no media fanfare for the 2020 peer-reviewed study that found no change in US insect abundance since 1980?  That study evaluated a network of Long-Term Ecological Research sites established by the National Science Foundation. They found at some sites insect abundance and diversity increased or was unchanged, while at other locations there was a slight decrease. The result? No net change.

Although transforming natural habitat into agricultural land greatly benefitted people, it did reduce insect populations. However due to better conservation efforts and efficient farming practices, agricultural lands that once covered 63% of America in 1949 were reduced to 51% by 2007. (Unfortunately, due to biofuel subsidies, agricultural land increased in the Corn Belt.) Additionally, genetically modified plants continue to reduce the indiscriminate spraying of insecticides once practiced in the days of aerial crop dusting.

To trust the science, we must examine all the science. We can then honestly tell our children why there’s great hope for our future.

Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

101 thoughts on “Children and the Insect Apocalypse

  1. The “Great Dying” end-Permian event was the largest and probably only mass extinction of insects.

    Not happening now.

    This largest group of arthropods has endured for about 400 million years, through climatic and climactic change far beyond the trivial fluctuations of the Holocene interglacial. Descendents of marine crustaceans which took to land, then the air, are just about the last animal class liable to decline any time soon.

    Their demonstrated reproductive abundance and evolutionary adaptability make them practically indestructible. Like teenagers.

    • Ah, but teenagers mature, molt, and become adults. They undergo behavioral modification too. They become less obnoxious to people older than themselves in order to advance at work. Insects don’t. The cockroaches in my apartment show me no respect.

    • Back in the Seventies and Eighties, when the most prominent fear was the Nuclear Holocaust, many “experts” suggested that insects had the most chances to survive. Apparently they can thrive with several Gray of radiation, but not with a zero point something °C increase.
      Interesting.
      Maybe it’s because they don’t read the NYT or the Guardian

    • In the 70-ies lots of horror movies where made of insects getting revenge on humanity for being extincted etc, it was bees and spiders usually- Bees are the most popular since they are a part of plants sexual procreation and without them we would die. Theres this famous story of someone visiting a village with lots of flowers and he concluded they must have cats in the village since there was so many flowers. The reasoning was that cats kept down the population of rodents who in turn fed on larva of pollinating bees.
      The spider movies are probably just because we hate spiders, from millions of years back.

    • Why would a First World Kiddling need their own BS Meter?

      Can’t they just download an Ap that can do all that analysis and thinking for them?

      Maybe we should get Greta onto it?

  2. “A recent national survey reported “eco-anxiety” is causing 43 percent of our youth to feel hopeless”. This is just abusive. Wicked, evil people fill the kids with scare stories to serve their political purpose. We live in absolutely the best time to be alive. The only thing we are short of is good behavior. If people would stop lying about the dangers of low levels of radiation we could replace all our dams and coal burning power plants with nuclear power. If people would stop saying that ‘natural’ is a synonym for ‘good for you’ then we could almost eliminate agriculture and eat proteins and starches grown in vats. If people would stop acting like anything that makes our genes better is nazi, then we could eliminate congenital defects. It is only some really bad people who stand in the way of the future.

  3. Although transforming natural habitat into agricultural land greatly benefitted people, it did reduce insect populations.

    I won’t even accept that as a given.

    The natural ecology of England was uninterrupted and rather boring forest. Humans replaced the forest with an artificial landscape of grassland and moorland, fields and farms, with a much richer variety of plant and animal species. Quite recently, only about a thousand years ago, we introduced rabbits, a non-native species which had a profound effect on the ecology. Rabbits opened glades in the forest where flowering plants now flourish. There is no wilderness in England, and yet there is plenty of room for wild-flowers and birds and butterflies as well as a high density of humans. Perhaps that is why I am a humanist. Freeman Dyson

    I’m pretty sure my suburban neighbourhood has greater biodiversity than our nearby forest.

  4. The American Psychological Association reports young people are suffering from “a chronic fear of environmental doom”.
    Well then it’s bloody high time more groups started speaking out against the Prophets of Doom and their “reset”.
    It never was about climate and it’s time to realize this and take action before it is too late to prevent the complete erosion of our freedoms so hard fought for and won.

      • That was another giant bug movie.
        Another one was The Black Scorpion. Some of the special effect shots were pretty bad. You could see the background right through it!
        Getting back to THEM!, they reused the giant ant sounds for the giant scorpions.

    • I was going to say something similar but to add, the ants grew in to giants after being contaminated with nuclear waste/toxins/testing IIRC. A great classic 50’s sci-fi movie.

    • Latitude,
      You seem to be right.
      THEM- “ The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilisation”.
      This promo from the script writers for THEM is no less credible than the authors of the German paper.
      However it is true that ants can survive a nuclear Holocaust and live cockroaches were found in the ruins of Hiroshima so Hollywood doesn’t get everything wrong.
      But the mutation……. And the Sixth extinction?

    • Hey, I LOVE that movie. First time I saw it was on a black & white TV and I never forgot it. It was a scream!!! Well, okay, it was funnier than a cat in a bag with a jingle ball, but still…. (gigglesnrrtttt!) It was fun!

    • You had nightmares because it showed Spock without his ears or because it showed Davey Crockett without his coonskin cap? 😎
      (Or maybe it was seeing Kris Kringle without his beard?)

    • Note the small revolver in the man’s right hand. A mere popgun.
      In the 1950’s, every real man who had served in WW2 had a surplus M-1 Garand in 30-’06 caliber in their closet.
      That would do some damage to that socialism-loving ant.

      • I think that’s Marshall Dillon holding the gun.
        Probably wished he had his Colt ’44.
        If I remember correctly, “Brooks” emptied a Thomson a point blank ranch and still died.
        (Lot’s of familiar actors had parts in “THEM!” before they “made it”.)

        • A Tommy gun at 45 ACP puts a hurt on humans. But on Bug Game or a 10 meter long Ant??? A 45 ACP round is a subsonic round that would barely penetrate big game, probably wouldn’t even get through a giant ant’s carapace.

          In 4 billion years of evolution, there has never been a deadlier creature on Planet Earth than a Man equipped with a high powered rifle of large caliber. A 460 Wetherby Magnum could easily take down even the largest of dinosaurs were they still around today.

  5. “Why no media fanfare for the 2020 peer-reviewed study
    that found no change in US insect abundance since 1980?”

    He who pays the piper picks the tune.

  6. It’s even worse, we need our disappearing parasites!! Parasite biodiversity faces extinction and redistribution in a changing climate https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-world-s-parasites-are-going-extinct-here-s-why-that-s-a-bad-thing?utm_source=pocket-newtab
    https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/9/e1602422
    “We discourage the unqualified interpretation of our results as an estimate of the underlying global patterns of parasite diversity.” Didn’t mind using a model, strange type of paranoia, disappearing parasite niches going to be filled with worse things, maybe more insecticide resistant zombies?

    • I didn’t read the article so don’t know whyat they might be pulling their hair out about but, for example,
      if certain parasites keep rat or mosquito numbers significantly lower than they would be otherwise, is that a bad thing? If disappearance of the parasites allow those populations to greatly expand, is that a good thing?

    • Parasites have NOT gone missing..

      Apparently a whole heap, real or imaginary, voted for Biden !

      The house is more than half democrats

      Parasites are alive and well !!

    • After flying privately a few years back the airplane would be covered with a variety of insects. Probably in the thousands. I used Pledge to clean the leading edges of the wings tail and windscreen. The joke was that they were pilots too.
      Same with cars.

  7. “Not so sure about termites”
    It seems to be mostly brute force with termites. Two events I have witnessed. The first was a small puncture hole in termite mesh embedded in concrete. Termites got through, up to the ceiling in a 2-storey house. They ate the paper lining of the gypsum board. First sign they were there was the ceiling falling down. Second was the house and street lights flickering. Electric company lifted a connection box, termites were eating the paper wrapping around the underground electric cables. Strong smell of fried insect, but they had travelled about 40 metres along the conduit and showed no sign of stopping.
    While we are on the subject of intelligence (or lack of):
    many “psychologists warn parents and guardians against being climate change alarmists.”
    I followed the link. They do nothing of the sort, are fully in lockstep with the climate alarmists, but do encourage parents to employ psychological services if their kids are threatening suicide because they have no future. No sure how to define this type of activity. Carpetbaggers?

    • Martin, What are you talking about. The very first sentence states “Psychologists warned parents and guardians about being climate change alarmists, noting an increasing number of children who are being treated for “eco-anxiety.”

    • A primal termite knocked on wood,
      And tasted it and found it good.
      And that is why your Auntie May
      Fell through the parlour floor today.

      Can’t remember the author, though.

  8. Oh the irony. Germany’s insect numbers have plummeted in the last 20 to 25 years.

    Haven’t they got more wind turbines than any other country? That’s what attracts the birds and the bats. Dead insects.

  9. Kids need more exposure to this sort of advice –

    “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
    ― Mark Twain
    tags: inspirational, positive

  10. Has no one else not noticed that vehicle windscreens this year have not required de-bugging? Have flying insects evolved harder shells/less blood or is it perhaps fewer insects?

    • ghalfrunt, I really doubt you have made a systematic survey of windscreens and you are just echoing a climate made earlier by the alarmist media. Last year traveling over Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada an irruption of Tortoiseshell butterflies carpeted the Interstate 80 . I witnessed a outbreak of Mormon Crickets along the California Nevada border a decade ago during which shop keepers stationed an employee at the door to sweep out the hordes every time a customer opened the door. Traveling through Joshua Tree Natl Park 3 years ago , an outbreak of Sphinx moth larvae were devouring the desert annuals. You could see where they were concentrated by the numerous slime trail they left when being run over by passing cars when they crossed looking for more plants. Right after the first rains swarms of sexual winged termites take flight. Huge locust swarms have been known to irrupt every so often devastating crops. Different cicada species have life cycles where they remain underground for 2 to 20 year then dramatically emerge to the surface.I

      Insects irrupt episodically in huge numbers, then settle down to their normal low populations. The “windshield evidence” is alarmist BS that ignores the natural cycles that happen in different places on different years

    • It would be hard to fall into a deeper logical fallacy than what you just posted … your personal experience is not evidence of anything but your IQ. It goes along with Global warming is a hoax because my refrigerator is still at 4 degrees celsius inside.

    • I live in the country ghalfrunt, I own a white car. Would you like to come over and wash it for me. You might need a few hours.

  11. When I was a kid in the fifties and started reading the daily paper my dad said don’t believe anything I read in the paper. I think he was trying to help me learn to be skeptical. These yo7ng people need to learn some old fashioned skepticism.

  12. From the ”Guardian”

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

    If I’m still around and insects vanish within a century, the luvvies at the Guardian are welcome to cut out my liver and eat it with some fava beans and a nice chiante.

  13. Jim,
    Perhaps if you were as skeptical about “national surveys” as you are about peer reviewed scientific literature you would not have to worry so much about the nation’s kids.

    • Izaak, I am not sure what your point is.

      Indeed I have no way of knowing if the survey arguing 43% of our youth feel hopeless. However I do know from talking to many kids and seeing movements like Sunrise, that kids are increasingly feeling “a chronic fear of environmental doom” and that is driven by alarmist media narratives. Are you saying you disagree with that qualitative assessment?

      • Jim,
        The kids I know (and I have two teenagers) are all extremely socially aware and motivated to create a better future. None of them have a “chronic fear” but rather think they can change the world for the better.

        But I wouldn’t put any faith in either my unrepresentative sample or an unverified “national survey”.

        • Of course there are kids who, driven by bogus fears and “chicken little science”, find comfort in believing they can change the world for the better.

          So how are your teenagers gone stop a mythical “insect apocalypse”?

          • how are your teenagers gone stop a mythical “insect apocalypse”?

            Stop using fossil fuels, of course!

        • “Izaak Walton November 17, 2020 at 8:38 pm

          Jim,

          The kids I know (and I have two teenagers) are all extremely socially aware and motivated to create a better future. None of them have a “chronic fear” but rather think they can change the world for the better.”

          That is one of the saddest statements I have read by a parent. Two words to fear from a teenager are “socially” and “aware”. Walk away, walk away! They are not even cognitively mature to understand those concepts!

    • Izaak, It also appears you are being a bit disingenuous regards my skepticism of “peer reviewed scientific literature ”

      My articles are clearly skeptical of some “peer reviewed scientific literature ” but that is based on better methods and analyses by other peer reviewed scientific papers. So again what is your point??

      • Jim,
        You start your article with the claim that a survey said that over 40% of young people are feeling
        hopeless due to “eco-anxiety” and then jump from that to a completely unrelated issue of claims about insect die-offs. Did you ever think that the survey (which doesn’t appear to be published anywhere obvious) about youths was as flawed as thepublished surveys of insects? I would be
        very surprised if the survey was anywhere near as valid as the insect surveys you dismiss.

        Futhermore you do not show any link between popular or scientific articles regarding insect decline and the youth feeling hopeless. Did anyone ask if the people in the survey had heard about any of those studies? Have the issue of insects entered the popular consciousness? Or do most people just not care about insect numbers?

        • Izaak,

          It is telling you attempt to obscure the fake media issue, and you are giving the distinct impression you are probably telling your kids bogus science to make them think the world is a bad place that they can fix. I am concerned you dont tell your kids the truth.

          You have not addressed any of the peer reviewed studies I link to that show the insect world is doing well and ecosystems are not collapsing. Instead of being angered by fake media is telling bogus stories, you pivot to focus on the survey.

  14. I think that there are a lot of kids contemplating suicide over all this doomsaying, and I think there needs to be legal recourse over this.
    At minimum, parents should be directing their anger at those who caused their kids to end their lives

    This has become a crime against humanity

  15. “A recent national survey reported “eco-anxiety” is causing 43 percent of our youth to feel hopeless. ”

    Youth, in my experience, are generally anxious about something or other. I think it also depends on the type of parenting that they are experiencing as to how they cope with that anxiety.

    Children in rural environments, I would suggest, fair better psychologically than their city dwelling peers in respect to this problem. My own tribe have grown up with nothing but green all around them and have a very real appreciation of nature from their own first hand observations, this would be nigh on impossible for kids on an inner city estate to emulate.

    From the kaleidoscope of butterflies around the buddleja, to the swarms of grasshoppers and crickets that leap out of the way as I walk down the field, I find these stories of “insect apocalypse” hard to reconcile with my own day to day reality.

    I’m no fan of these media click bait conglomerates who warp opinion on many subjects daily, but I don’t know any kids who sit down to read the New York Times or the Guardian (or Le Monde in our case). Come to think of it I don’t know any adults who do either, thankfully.

    The anxiety, I would humbly suggest, is being generated first and foremost by their parents, and the schooling which is becoming more and more politicised. Critical thinking is not on the agenda.

    • Climate says “he anxiety, I would humbly suggest, is being generated first and foremost by their parents, and the schooling which is becoming more and more politicised. Critical thinking is not on the agenda.”

      I totally agree. But it is the media that brainwashes the parents and school teachers. Teachers are always looking for scary stories to hold kids’ attention. I’m sure those same bogus stories have influence Izaak which he then passed to his kids.

  16. Leftists have utterly destroyed man’s ability to use logic, reason, and empirical evidence to determine reality through their extensive use of disinformative/fake propaganda.

    Because Leftists currently control: the MSM, bureaucracy, most world governments, academia, K~12 public education, the peer-review process, the Internet, most of the music industry, Hollywood, newspapers, magazines, most book publishers, most of the arts, and most rent-seeking large corporations, they’re able control the public narrative and brainwash the majority of the population to accept obviously false and absurd notions as though though they were realities.

    Humans are genetically hardwired to be social creatures whose very existence depends on social interaction and conformity.

    As the Asch Effect experiment (see below video) clearly showed, most humans are willing to accept even obvious, incoherent, and blatant lies to avoid cognitive dissonance and social nonconformity: 2 + 2= 5, “97% of all scientists agree with the CAGW hypothesis”, “Socialism works”, Trump is an evil and bad orange man, insane Russian conspiracies, Trump wanted to cause 250,000 COVID deaths, MSM political polls are accurate, etc.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRh5qy09nNw

    Rational humans with healthy skepticism, and who determine reality based in empirical evidence, must take back or create alternative institutions to replace the aforementioned Leftist-controlled institutions if humanity is to survive.

  17. I cannot find the reference, but I read that the start of the increase of depression and suicidal tendencies among young people correlates roughly with the start of the social media craze and ubiquitous smartphone use. I know there are many factors at work here, more than just “if it bleed it leads”.

  18. Where are all the insects? Right here, at our place in Nth Central Vic in Aus! That’s where! The insect life here includes myriads of bees…

  19. The German study stats modelling cannot overcome the fatal shortcoming of that study for modelling long term trends of only measuring 26 of the sites out of 67 sites in more than one year, and even those had only 2 or 3 years of measurement. The hugely dominant size of the “unknown” marginal effect in their Figure 5, I strongly suspect is due to failing to fit the obvious term they left out of Model (4) that incorporates random site trend coefficients i.e.(Beta[s]*k). Unfortunately 41 of those coefficients are not estimable so they would have to throw out 2/3rds of their data. If you try and measure change using a mix of cross-sectional and longitudinal data you need a very large representative and random sample of once-measured (i.e. cross-sectional) sites across all years which they did not have. Trying to model your way out of it is a lost cause if one is honest. They made very strong inferences from a very weak dataset that was not fit-for-purpose and the complex mixed modelling was just a band-aid to cover-up the above fatal flaws.

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