Provocations # 15 – Food Webs, Old and New
Image: Lake Shinji, Japan Wikimedia Commons
We Shouldn’t Be Surprised
On Saturday, November 2, 2019 NPR’s Program, The Salt, aired this story: Controversial Pesticides Are Suspected Of Starving Fish.
The story describes how the once thriving fisheries on Japan’s beautiful Lake Shinji, began to decline about a decade ago. New research suggests that runoff of the neonicotinoid pesticides (the same ones implicated in the decline of pollinators such as bees), which are used on nearby rice paddies, may be responsible for declining fish populations. The research suggests that the pesticides are killing off the food sources at the bottom of the food chain, such as insects and crustaceans, and the fish that prey on them are starving.
Startling on Two Levels
This is startling to me on at least two levels. The first is that humans keep making the same mistakes over and over (see: Provocations #2 – Whither Wisdom), and we cannot claim ignorance. I recall being taught in elementary school (a very long time ago) about food chains and food webs. That we have not learned anything in the intervening decades is stupefying and troubling. It is of course self evident that pesticides applied on farmland will find their way through the landscape, through runoff and other processes, and affect other ecosystems adversely.
Secondly, it seems to me that more and more environmental reporting is find its way onto food programs (like The Salt). This is heartening because there is such a strong link between what we grow, how we produce it, and the health of the planet (to say nothing of human health). There is an old, outdated and non-politically correct statement ‘that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ Perhaps our stomachs are a good way to our to our heads as well.
Flashback to Provocations #14
In Provocations # 14 – Managing Ourselves, I wrote: “What we need to manage is ourselves. We should manage humans and work with Nature.” But I just stumbled across this, much more eloquent statement from Rachel Carson, who put it this way in her June 1962 commencement address at Scripps College in California:
Yours is a grave and sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery — not of nature, but of itself.”Rachel Carson, June, 1962
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