This new book is just another junk-science screed against modern civilization and technology
Book reviews usually tell people to buy that new hardcover book. This article advises, don’t bother to read Silent earth, much less the purchase of a copy; it is above all an anti-science and anti-technology screed.
Dave Goulson’s book develops Silent spring, Rachel Carson’s controversy against pesticides that helped rid Europe and the United States of deadly malaria, and now protect crops that require so much land, water, labor, fertilizer and energy to grow and harvest that we dare not sacrifice them to hordes of hungry insects.
Carson falsely blamed DDT for its cancer – and started the practice of using guesswork, poetic prose, hyperbole and even fraud, instead of evidence-based science, to advance environmentalist agendas. The Environmental Defense Fund used his book to lead his campaign to ban DDT and give environmentalists “a level of authority they never had before.”
The EPA ban resulted in the deaths of millions of Africans and Asians from malaria, which could have been
greatly reduced by using this powerful space repellent in conjunction with modern insecticides and antimalarial drugs. (See here, here, here and here.)
Relying mostly on inventive speculation, Goulson argues that a silent source devoid of the chirping of birds may soon become a silent planet devoid of insects that pollinate flowers and crops, and feed birds, amphibians, reptiles. , mammals and (if former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has his way) billions of humans.
It would take another book to fix all the errors and problems in the new book, but here are a few.
Goulson transforms the supposed “bee-pocalypse”From a few years ago into a global apocalypse for all insects, and potentially all life on Earth. He blames modern agriculture, “greedy corporations”, free market / personal choice capitalism, too many humans who eat too much and live too well, urban light pollution and of course man-made climate change. Above all, he blames modern synthetic pesticides, although he recognizes that many “natural” “organic” chemicals are toxic to insects, wildlife and even humans.
Honey bee populations have been rebounding for several years now, having been hit hard by Varroa destructor mites, Nosema and other bee pests and diseases. They were also injured by beekeepers who tried to solve these problems, but sometimes overused or abused the mitacids. US Department of Agriculture surveys now show that there are now over 150,000 more beehives than in 1995.
Studies in the fields of real farmers have constantly shown no side effects on colony-level bees from realistic exposures to neonicotinoid insecticides, one of Goulson’s main scapegoats. In reality, bees thrive in and around canola, corn and other crops treated with neonics in the United States, Canada, Europe and elsewhere. As for the wild bees, 98% don’t even pollinate agricultural crops – and the species that make thrive, even though they have the greatest contact with neonics. This shouldn’t be surprising.
Neonicotinoids are mainly used to coat the seeds. They are systemic pesticides that become part of the plant tissue and only target pests that actually feed on crops, especially during the early stages of growth. Sulfloxaflor is similar in this regard. Both are much safer for insect populations in general than older pesticides or organic farming chemicals that are applied by air, hand, or truck over entire fields – and often beyond.
Goulson ignores all of this and advances his central claim that populations of all insects are rapidly declining globally. It is largely based on a study carried out in 2017 by him and several colleagues. They claim insect populations have fallen by more than 75% over a 25-year period in several German nature reserves – then extrapolate that and a few other studies to the whole planet.
But their study did not track the same areas from year to year and used traps that capture insects only as they fly. It lacks non-flying insects and is highly dependent on rainfall and other weather conditions.
There is simply no reliable evidence of a general decline in insects. Indeed, some 900,000 insect species have been identified worldwide, although range of total estimates from 2 million to 30 million species. This and extremely limited monitoring programs make it impossible to calculate global trends in insect populations. Additionally, an in-depth insect population study published in 2020 found no overall decrease in North America, with declines in parts of the United States offset by increases elsewhere. The verdict has not yet come.
Goulson also claims that modern pesticides are much more toxic than their predecessors. However, a Department of Agriculture analysis concluded that between 1968 and 2008, the overall toxicity of pesticides in the United States 98% plunged – while the amount of pesticides (insecticides and herbicides) applied per acre has decreased by 60% and the persistence of pesticides in soils and waters has been halved, with farmers using different, better and more targeted pesticides with more caution and good judgment, and employing other measures to control pests.
He pounded glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, claiming the chemical is harmful to bees, has been linked to other insects and even bird decline, and causes cancer in humans. As proof, he cites the International Center for Research and Cancer.
But as I explain in a medical journal article, IARC has close ties with US litigators who have filed multiple lawsuits over glyphosate – and the agency’s claims have been flatly contradicted by an agricultural health study from the US National Cancer Institute which has spanned decades – and by over 3,300 studies worldwide that support glyphosate safety. The reliance on IARC puts Goulson on very thin ice.
It is against synthetic fertilizers (and more CO2) that help us grow taller much more food from much less land – because they can allegedly reduce floral diversity, make other plants less palatable to insects, pollute aquatic systems and contribute to climate change. He wants kids to learn more about ecology and nature in school (probably just his lesson plans) – and applauds the British fools of Extinction Rebellion.
These errors, omissions, exaggerations, falsifications and biases should come as no surprise. A widely published biology professor, Goulson is also a director of the Pesticide Action Network, an ideologically motivated anti-pesticide organization.
Equally fanciful are Goulson’s solutions to his imaginary insect Armageddon. While acknowledging that organic farming uses harmful chemicals and produces 80-90% lower yields than conventional modern farming, he wants even more organic farms – even if plowing billions of extra acres for them. Same overall yields would have horrific impacts on insects and wildlife.
With millions of jobs gone, he says the newly unemployed could work on organic farms, backyard plots and urban community gardens (working on slopes, pulling weeds and picking insects on the vegetables). The ruling elites wouldn’t do such a job, of course, but we commoners should.
Amid his concerns about climate change, the author also ignores how industrial scale wind turbines would splash birds and insects, solar panels would wipe out habitats and turning forests into wood pellets because the production of “biofuel” electricity would destroy even more habitats. Extraction and processing for the Green New Deal, metals and minerals would do great harm to people, insects and the planet.
Ultimately, Goulson concludes, we need fewer people, who eat less and “switch to a predominantly plant-based diet, supplemented with small amounts of sustainably caught fish and grass-fed meat” ( and insects). The ruling elites once again likely exempted.
Everything seems to be part of the mission of the green warriors of eradicate prosperity as we know it.
Silent earth will undoubtedly receive rave reviews from environmentalists, left-wing journalists, Big Techs, teacher unions and the rest of Cancel Culture. Madness will be forced on our children. Parents and policy makers should be wary.