Imagine an Earth where most of our plant life is extinct, there are no bugs making noise and flying around, no more birds in the sky, most of the animals we shared our planet with are extinct, and we are slowly starving to death. That is a glimpse into what a future might look like without the pollinating insects that most of our food requires to grow and produce the fruits, vegetables, and seeds we eat daily. Without pollinators, the human race and all of Earth’s ecosystems would eventually perish.
Whether we realize it or not pollinating insect species are declining at alarming rates along with all insect populations across the world. This poses an immense threat to our environment, the plants and animals we share our planet with, our agriculture, health, and our dinner tables. Our diets would be extremely limited making it difficult for us to attain the vitamins and minerals it takes to stay healthy.
The chief factors of the decline of pollinating insect populations are the pervasive use of pesticides, the spread of monoculture agriculture, and habitat destruction.
We as a society must take action to help pollinate insects before it drastically affects our planet and future generations. All over the world, the use of pesticides is harming insect pollinating species, especially the essential honeybee. Pollinators are needed for over three-quarters of our major food crops. A recent UN report states that “more than 70 of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food rely on bees for pollination.
Managed honey bees remain the most economically important pollinator, contributing over $19 billion annually to the U.S. economy.” (“Bees In Crisis”). Due to significant crop loss, each year farmers are being forced to use more and more toxic pesticides as pests and weeds develop resistance against them. The main pesticides that are a direct threat to bees and other pollinators are called neonicotinoid pesticides which even at low doses can harm a honeybee’s health over time (Pesticide Action Network). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allowed the widespread use of these pesticides in our agriculture. Some are used as seed coaters which are shown to have little benefit. These seed treatments are so common that it is extremely hard for farmers to find seeds that aren’t coated in these chemicals (Pesticide Action Network).
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is a worldwide organization that is gaining momentum in pollinator-protective policies across the nation. We need more organizations like this one to step up and force the EPA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to start paying attention to this crisis and review and change their policies and regulations regarding harmful pesticides. In addition to harmful pesticides, the agricultural practice called monoculture is also harming pollinators, their habitats, and our environment. Monoculture means the same crop is repeatedly grown on the same enormous plot of land. These crops are usually grains like wheat, rice, soy, and corn which are used to feed our country’s livestock with only about 20% of which feed our population. The demand for meat in the USA is so high that to grow enough feed for our livestock, monocultural crops have become our solution. Montesano creates special strains of these crops, which require special pesticides, and generates a significant yield to feed our livestock (One Green Planet). The problem with this agricultural practice is that over time nutrients get depleted from the soil, and diseases and pathogens are created. In fact, according to an article written by author and engineer Victoria Wilson, “Earth’s soil is depleting at more than 13 percent the rate at which it can be replaced, which is scary because approximately 75 percent of the world’s crop varieties have been lost over the last 100 years as the result.” (How the Growth of Monoculture Crops…”). In the United States, the combined monoculture cropland is approximately 442 million acres (One Green Planet). Monoculture limits native flowering plants pollinators rely on for food by destroying their native habitats.
In consequence, this diminishes pollinator diversity. Bees are most susceptible to the neurotoxins in the pesticides used on monocultural crops. Monoculture systems not only destruct the habitats of millions of plants, animals, and insects, but the immense use of pesticides in these capacious areas allows runoff pollution to infect nearby waterways which harms aquatic life, and surrounding wildlife and even pollutes the water that people who live nearby drink every day (One Green Planet). Due to the significant contribution of farmers in today’s society, they should not only be knowledgeable of the environment but in innovative crop design and farming practices to aid pollinators as well. Farmers can design their crop fields in such a way that can attract native pollinators which will aid in the pollination of their crops. For example, according to SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) by maintaining uncultivated land along field margins, bee populations can flourish and will help pollinate nearby crops (“Agroecological Strategies”). In addition, by managing native wildflower growth within fields and their borders, we encourage the growth of pollinator habitat and enhance their populations which help the farmer’s crop yields significantly. Furthermore, farmers can provide nesting locations for wild bees underground, and avoid simple farming practices like the ”widespread use of plastic mulch” which destroys nesting habitats (“Agroecological Strategies”).
When we have healthy pollinators fertilizing our crops we can help eliminate the use of harmful pesticides! In conclusion, due to the consequences of our current agricultural systems, not only should organizations like The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Montesano review their policies on monocultural practices and their consequences, but we should educate our farmers on new agricultural strategies that aid pollinators and produce nutrient-rich crops without the use of harmful pesticides. Organizations like SARE that dedicate their time and research to understanding the consequences that these practices have on our environment should keep pioneering for change and require these organizations to be held accountable and form new innovative policies and regulations for us to turn around the pollinator decline and produce higher quality fruits and vegetables without polluting our planet.
Furthermore, We can take action from home by planting a garden with native plant species found in the area that pollinating insects need to feed and fertilize. Because plant diversity leads to pollinator diversity, it is extremely helpful to these insects to have plenty of native flowering plants to visit. We can also plant milkweed which is the Monarch Butterfly’s primary food source. Additionally, we can help is by getting involved in projects like “Grassroots” which plans to plant 1 billion milkweed stems in the agricultural regions of the Midwest (Pierce). We should strive to protect our beautiful planet and its organisms and demand higher standards in our government, our health, and ways of life, for if we do not take care of our planet and each other, we will cease to exist, and it will be to the faults of our own.