Environmental Ponderings No 9: Does “Environment” Have Anything to do With “Real Life”?

I still periodically encounter people who will tell me that “environment” has nothing to do with “real” life and is only in the minds of “bunny huggers” and eco-freaks.

Sadly, there are many people who judge environmental management and sustainability thinking as a luxury practiced only by, “…the rich, the feeble-minded and those with nothing better to do…”.  I use speech marks because this is an actual quote from someone I spoke to just a few months ago.

I use a simple and understandable example to explain the significance of “environment” to “real life”.  The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that out of some 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated. In Europe alone, 84% of the 264 crop species are animal pollinated and 4 000 vegetable varieties exist, thanks to pollination by bees.  Imagine what would happen if those crops were not pollinated and the crops subsequently failed? Human food supply would be significantly affected, and we would be faced with a  serious hunger crisis.

Why should we worry about the environment on which bees and butterflies (who also help pollination) rely?  A new report from the United Nations shows that these pollinators are dying fast for four main reasons:

  • man-induced land use changes reducing biodiversity and increasing monoculture;
  • increased diseases and parasites brought on by human-induced changes to habitats,
  • increased human use of broad scale chemical pesticides used to control other pests but which also wipe out pollinators; and
  • climate change which is about rising global temperatures which shift and reduce the range of habitats where pollinators survive.

US researchers report that air pollution from vehicles and power stations has been shown to inhibit the ability of pollinators  such as bees and butterflies to find the fragrances of flowers. The pollutants bond quickly with the volatile scent molecules, masking them and causing the pollinators to have to travel longer distances, away from the pollutants, to find flowers providing them with nectar.  The flowers closer by receive inadequate pollination and do not reproduce and diversify as efficiently.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are suggesting that climate change is causing bees and butterflies to emerge at different times in the year when the appropriate flowering plants were not available.

So the next time you hear of a bee keeper bemoaning the numbers of his bees that have died due to disease and pesticides or a butterfly expert telling you that a butterfly habitat is being wiped out to make way for a massive new housing estate, think carefully on the implications of the loss of yet more populations of critical pollinators.

Are we looking after  the critical, diverse habitats that we depend upon for our food and shelter? Can we really directly and indirectly weaken the biodiversity of our environment without ultimately effecting human survival in the long run? Closer to home, Is there anything that you can do to encourage pollinators in your garden or property?

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with some 35 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2016.