Jonas Salk, the man who developed the polio vaccine, once said "If all the insects on earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on earth would disappear. If all humans disappeared, within 50 years all species would flourish as never before." There would be some debate as to the precise figures and outcomes here but the point is well taken I think. No reason to despair either, but humble pie should probably be a regular part of our diet, and here's chance to gain some more IQ points from taking this new perspective.
The earth without people
If you're curious about a scenario of the earth without humanity, check out "Earth Without People, an essay by Alan Weisman in the February 6, 2007 issue of Discover magazine. Weisman describes some possible scenarios. His article includes the the chart shown here, which lays this out on a timeline.
His essay concluded with the following:
"During that same span, every dam on Earth would silt up and spill over. Rivers would again carry nutrients seaward, where most life would be, as it was long before vertebrates crawled onto the shore. Eventually, that would happen again. The world would start over."
And one bit of good news to some is that if all humans were to disappear, so too would some other species that have become dependent upon us, most notably the cockroach! But for all of you cheered by this thought, remember that it requires that we leave first!
For more on this perspective, as well as a good read, I'm recommending you consider reading Alan Weisman's book The World Without Us. To help you decide if it's worth your time see Starting Over, the recent review (Sept.2, 2007) by Jennifer Schuessler who describes Weisman's book as
"wherein he imagines what would happen if the earth’s most invasive species—ourselves—were suddenly and completely wiped out."
"When it comes to mass extinctions, one expert tells him, “the only real prediction you can make is that life will go on. And that it will be interesting. Weisman’s gripping fantasy will make most readers hope that at least some of us can stick around long enough to see how it all turns out."
Next up for your reading consideration and taking us back to insects, check out Buzz: The Intimate Bond Between Humans and Insects. For some "decision support" with this one, read the excerpt and review in Discover called "Bzzzzzzz: Why insects are vital to human survival."
Let's do another one of those "inverted thinking" flips we covered in my posting "New Perspectives: The Benefits of Looking Up!" Rather than consider our elimination, imagine what would happen if all the insects were to disappear? According to Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson:
"If all insects were to suddenly vanish overnight, it’s likely humans would be endangered. All the plants that insects pollinate would disappear. All our detritus would pile up to colossal heights. Even the oceans would be affected. Nutrients would pour down off the increasingly denuded land into the sea, triggering massive algal blooms, which would exhaust the water of oxygen and threaten fish. And the impact on terrestrial ecosystems would be enormous."
“If insects were gone, you would break a large part of the terrestrial food chain. A number of birds would starve in no time at all. Those birds and other animals that depend on birds for food would disappear. Small mammals in the soil that depend, in part, on insects would disappear. It would be a catastrophic chain reaction around the world.”
Not to be confused with extinction which is the much more gradual decline, does it sound too far fetched that entire species could suddenly go missing? Well, as you may have read, this is exactly what has been happening in the past two years to the honeybee. Millions of bees all over the world, representing in some areas over 70% of their population, have have been disappearing. They leave their hives, never to return nor to be found. In the USA, the wild honeybees have all but completely disappeared. This been labeled "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD) and remains an unsolved mystery.
BTW, don't be distracted by the erroneous reports that linked the disappearing bees to cell phone radiation! However the research into this very serious problem of CCD may also be leading us to even greater understanding. For example it has been noted that just as industrial agriculture has created problems with pollution, antibiotic resistance, mad cow disease, etc., colony collapse disorder may be a result of a number of poor practices, including the fact that they've bred a superbee and most of the bees hauled around the country for pollination purposes are genetically identical, making them more susceptible to a bacterial or viral attack. On the plus side, InfoShop News has a related article "Organic Beekeepers Not Affected By Colony Collapse Disorder", which goes on to say:
“The problem with commercial operations is in pesticides used in hives to fumigate for varroa mites and antibiotics that are fed to the bees to prevent disease,” she said. “Hives are hauled long distances by truck, often several times during the growing season, to provide pollination services to industrial agriculture crops, which further stresses the colonies and exposes them to agricultural pesticides and GMOs (genetically modified organics).”
Even if the biology side of a world without bees is of less interest to you, consider the economic and human perspectives. In just the USA alone, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has estimated that CCD has the potential to cause a $15 billion direct loss of crop production and $75 billion in indirect losses. CCD has caught the attention of Fortune magazine with three articles in the past few months including this quote from "As bees go missing, a $9.3B crisis lurks";
"We wouldn't starve if the mysterious disappearance of bees, dubbed colony collapse disorder, or CCD, decimated hives worldwide. For one thing, wheat, corn, and other grains don't depend on insect pollination.
But in a honeybee-less world, almonds, blueberries, melons, cranberries, peaches, pumpkins, onions, squash, cucumbers, and scores of other fruits and vegetables would become as pricey as sumptuous old wine. Honeybees also pollinate alfalfa used to feed livestock, so meat and milk would get dearer as well. Ditto for farmed catfish, which are fed alfalfa too.
And jars of honey, of course, would become golden heirlooms to pass along to the grandkids. (Used for millennia as a wound dressing, honey contains potent antimicrobial compounds that enable it to last for decades in sealed containers.)"
Bees for Pets?
Perhaps the insect world has its own version of outsourcing and offshoring? As you may know, honeybee originated in Europe and are not native to North America. This bee has put undue pressure on the native bees, whose populations until recently were in decline. They're still sorting out why the native bees are making a comeback, but interestingly, native bees called Mason bees have been successfully used by some farmers for pollinating crops. As noted in this Wikipedia entry on Mason bees:
"Most mason bees live in holes and can be attracted by drilling short holes in a block of wood. They are excellent spring season pollinators and, since they have no honey to defend, will only sting if squeezed or stepped on. As such, they make excellent garden "pets", since they both pollinate the plants and are safe for children and pets."
Wait! Don't Buzz Off Course Just Yet!
But enough of insects for now. You may be asking what this has all got to do with YOU? As usual, I'm leading you along a path and toward a target, however unexpected, convoluted, and latent. In the next few posts. I'll provide a few more varied examples which have common powerful and pervasive patterns lurking beneath which will help provide new perspectives and new models for all of us to use to solve today's complex problems with innovative solutions. If, as I hope, you've previously made some great discoveries here at Off Course - On Target, please follow me a bit further, and I promise to do my best to lead you to more great discoveries along the way, and make it all worth your precious time.