Colson: Birds, bees and butterflies — enjoy while you can |

Colson: Birds, bees and butterflies — enjoy while you can

John Colson
Hit & Run

Do you like bees?

How about birds?


Most readers, I know, probably would answer in the affirmative to all three questions, although maybe with a quibbling modifier of some sort regarding bees, since bees have stingers and are not always peaceably inclined toward humans.

But the three species mentioned, though not closely related in many ways, apparently have one very important thing in common: all appear to be susceptible to severe effects, including death, from exposure to a relatively new type of pesticide called neonicotinoids.

And while this particularly nasty compound has for some time been linked with a worldwide die-off of bees, it also is being connected to similar declines among birds and butterflies.

Now, it’s an inescapable fact that Republicans in control of the U.S. Congress and the White House have been making significant noise about killing off regulations of all kinds and have begun the dark task of dismantling and defunding the Environmental Protection Agency.

They say this destruction of certain bureaucracies and the legions of federal workers employed there is necessary to “unshackle” businesses that have been unfairly tethered to pesky things like rules and regulations safeguarding the health of the planet and everything on it.

That means that businesses such as Royal Dutch Shell and Bayer — the two corporations credited with coming up with neonics (as they’re called in board rooms, executive washrooms and news releases) — can congratulate themselves on getting the government off their backs, at least so far, and can get back to peddling the deadly substances they manufacture here in the U.S., as well as around the globe, without interference from the EPA.

Ain’t that just wonderful?

A bit of a primer on the nature of these chemicals is in order at this point.

According to Wikipedia, Shell was the first in this particular conga line of species death when, in the 1980s, it first began developing a blizzard-like family of neonics that are said to be chemically close to nicotine.

Bayer jumped on board in the 1990s, and over the years the two came up with a potent and highly toxic family of insecticides that includes acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Imidacloprid is the most widely used insecticide in the world, according to Wikipedia.

It wasn’t long, though, before the environmental impacts of this nasty little family started raising red flags around the world, starting with research in the late 1990s that linked the chemicals to the collapse of entire populations of bees.

And bees, as just about any curious kid knows, are the main actors in the pollination of plants, which is how we get most of our fruits, vegetables and other non-animal foods.

In 2013, according to online sources, the European Union (as well as a few other non-EU countries) began to restrict the use of certain neonics, mostly because of the potential devastating impacts on our ecosphere.

In 2015, the Independent Science News, an online publication, published results from a study that indicated nicotins probably are behind massive reductions in the numbers of monarch butterflies that annually roam the North American continent on their way to or from their winter resting grounds in Mexico.

In Canada, according to eco-activist Angus Wong of the organization, SumOfUs, the use of nicotins has been banned up to the 80 percent level in some cases.

And only a couple of years ago, The Guardian and the BBC both reported that a new study out that year, based on extensive research in the Netherlands, showing that “farmland birds” are declining alarmingly due to a buildup of neonics in the environments where they are extensively used.

In the U.S., the EPA began looking into the toxic effects of neonics a few years back, but does not expect to have its study results ready for public consumption until next year.

By then, of course, Donald Trump and his congressional cohorts may well have stripped the EPA of its funding, scientists and support that any such study will be put on hold awaiting more enlightened times.

In the meanwhile, we will keep losing our bees, our birds, our butterflies and who knows what else.

How long, I have to ask, do we have until scientists in other countries put out an alert that worldwide crops are failing because the bees are not there to spread the love (by which I mean pollen)?

And I refer to scientists in other countries because Trump and the Republican Party have made it pretty clear that to them science of all kinds (from climate science to crop science and everything in between) is nothing but a liberal conspiracy aimed at harming U.S. businesses.

Watch the bees and the butterflies, listen to the birds while you can, as we wait for Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” warnings finally come true.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.