Birds and bugs: Environmental problems haven’t gone away


Camille Brayshaw/Fourth Estate

With eye-catching stories ranging from “How the world’s media reacted to Tuesday’s debate” from BBC (spoiler: they didn’t like it either) to “The Loss That’s Killing the West’s Wildlife” from The Atlantic, it is all but impossible to look at any news site and not be overwhelmed with anxiety.

Nearly buried in the fray, a small story from CNN sticks out.

“Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds have been found dead in New Mexico.”

What started as a few isolated cases of unexplained songbird deaths has ballooned into a songbird apocalypse. 

Understandably, this ecological murder mystery has not spent much time in the limelight; the absence of a dawn chorus in the southwest is not as gripping as the climbing death toll of COVID-19. 

The California wildfires are thought to have something to do with the tragedy, but the deaths began before the fires – something else is at play. The last paragraph of the article briefly mentions a decline in insect populations. Further down the rabbit hole: “Earth’s insect population shrinks 27 percent in 30 years.”

As our attention is pulled to high-profile injustice and catastrophe, the small details of our complex, beautiful Earth are slipping away unnoticed. 

As we focus on lost homes and property in the California wildfires, we hardly notice the soundtrack of our environment fading away. The songs of the birds were buried by sound pollution before, and the absence of their music altogether is only the next casualty of human interference.

The ubiquitous use of pesticides, introduction of invasive species and urbanization across the globe have chipped away at the natural diversity of our planet, leaving us in an industrialized world where even nature is synthesized. 

Manicured gardens give the illusion of environmental conservation to the untrained eye, but these carefully groomed artificial environments replace the natural weeds and wildflowers needed for the diversity of insect life to survive. 

Without these insects — their food source — the birds stand no chance, regardless of record-breaking wildfires. If we continue down this path, the birds and the bugs will continue to grow quieter as the natural world is slowly stomped out in the anthropocene epoch

Luckily, these glanced-over tragedies offer a beacon of hope. One individual cannot realistically influence the election, put out the wildfires, cure COVID-19 or stop global warming. To the individual, major headlines are seemingly unchangeable circumstances.

Yet, in smaller stories, the individual can make a difference. 

The end of the tale is not yet written for the insects. There have been increases in numbers of freshwater insects where water sources have been cleaned in recent years. In Wisconsin, local efforts to create an inviting habitat for monarch butterflies have yielded positive results, with 3,848 monarchs recorded on a single day.

Manicured land can be set free once again. Even small, local wildlife restoration programs can yield significant results and preserve an ecosystem.

As individuals, we cannot stop the course of climate change, but we can support the environments we directly engage with. We can restore the nature we have eradicated, and preserve the dawn chorus. We can listen to the music of nature and appreciate the beauty that remains in our chaotic and unpredictable world.