Connections, construction, climate change denialism, and the insect apocalypse

by Rob Tiller

The new Publix, looking toward downtown Raleigh

We had a nice Thanksgiving weekend, with family visiting and catching us up. Jocelyn and Kyle, down from New York, had sworn off Alexa, and had interesting things to say about privacy and social media.  Among many other things, we talked about the epidemic of loneliness. Even with overwhelming digital connectedness, meaningful connections aren’t getting any easier.  Love takes some work.

The big construction projects in our neighborhood in downtown Raleigh are coming right along.  I took the Tiller drone up on Saturday morning and flew around the work site of our forthcoming Publix and the almost-complete Metro apartments for some fun and pictures.  It’s going to be so good to have a grocery store just down the street. I had a scare when my aircraft and I lost radio contact, but after I did a short walk to get out from behind a building we got back together.  

Sally and I went over to Durham that evening for some food and chamber music.  We ate at Viceroy, which features good British-style Indian food, which we finally figured out we like best on the milder side of spicy.  Then we heard the Calidore String Quartet play at Duke’s Baldwin auditorium. They’re a relatively young group that’s won a lost of prizes, and we thought they were excellent.  They played with passionate musicality and rare freedom. Their program was also inspired: Sergey Prokofiev, Caroline Shaw (an N.C. native born in 1982), and the brilliant Robert Schumann.  

On Sunday afternoon, we went to the Boylan Heights Art Walk.  Residents had lent their porches and front yards for the day to many artists and craftspeople, including potters, jewelers, wood workers, metal workers, weavers, glass blowers, printmakers, painters, and others.  The weather was mild.  We enjoyed looking over the work, and chatting with friends.

There’s been a lot of good journalism this week about climate change, including some addressing the puzzle of why climate change denialism persists.  Possible answers, as Paul Krugman recently noted,include ignorance, party tribalism, and corporate greed (similar to the cigarette industries’ disgraceful denial that their product caused cancer). Anyhow, there’s some good news with the bad: as we experience more and more catastrophic weather, like droughts, floods, fires, and hurricanes, more people are recognizing that there’s a planetary emergency.

But most of the discussion is still about the disastrous effects of global warming on humans — their cities, housing, transportation networks, food supplies, and so forth.  I keep looking for more discussion of what is happening to the non-human natural world. These last few years as I’ve spent more time hiking in the woods, it’s seemed like fewer birds are singing.  Given my small sample size, I haven’t drawn any firm conclusions from my data, but I’ve been worried.

The almost complete Metro, restored after the big fire of last year

This week the NY Times published a strong piece by Brooke Jarvis titled The Insect Apocalypse Is Here:  What Will the Decline of Bugs Mean for the Rest of Life on Earth?  Jarvis summarizes a lot of data, and makes a convincing case that in recent decades insect life has collapsed on a massive scale.  Populations of monarch butterflies are down 90 percent, and other studies show reductions in flying insects of 75 percent and more.    

We hardly noticed, and we still don’t fully understand the causes.  Along with global warming, there have been pesticides and loss of habitat.  Monarchs aside, most insects aren’t particularly glamorous, and we seldom think about their role in the ecosystem.  But without enough insects, a lot of birds and other animals starve. In addition to their vital niche in the food chain, insects pollinate many plants and turn dead things and waste into soil.  

As alarming as the insect decline is, Jarvis’s article shows that there are people who care.  There’s a short profile of a group of passionate entomologists in Krefeld, Germany, who have kept detailed records of their bug watching since 1905.  Their main motivation seems to have been simple love of nature.