Bees, Frogs, now Bats … and Us?

I am not sure how many folks read the article in the New York Times today about bat die-offs. It is the latest in a series of species decimations that are characterized as ‘strange, puzzing, with no smoking gun’. The dead and dying bats are decorated with patches of white — possibly a fungus. I am sure the industrial wind farm folks will be happy that bats are dying off — fewer critters to be killed by the turbines. Pity about all the insects the bats eat that will now pester us and our crops…

There was another article in the same issue about frogs in South America dying off due to the spread of chytrid fungus — although the argument seemed to be more about whether global climate change was the driver than why the fungus was spreading and why the mortality.

And then there is the demise of domestic honeybees — which as far as I know is still happening and is still quite mysterious. I am not sure how many folk are aware of just how much of our food supply comes from the pollination done by these tireless little creatures. Especially since we are working hard to reduce the availability of migrant labor for other no less clear reasons the prospect of folks out in the fields with little brushes doing the work seems quite unlikely.

In what seems to be a related area, some months back I read a study of the long term correlation of atmospheric lead particulates with social behavior. The hypothesis was that the decline of large scale violent crime and social unrest in places was a lagging indicator [by 20-30 years] of the reduction of lead in gasoline. (I am not sure that the increasing popularity of school shootings is not a contra-indicator…). What I found fascinating was the suggestion that the places in the world where lead concentrations in gasoline are still high are Iraq, Afghanistan and most parts of the Middle East.

What comes to mind is the old idea of canaries in coal mines — the little birds, being more sensitive, would collapse first and give the miners, hopefully, a chance to escape when gas levels became dangerous. With all the chemicals we have been exposed to, and the cheerful tinkering with the genetics of our food and the blyth way concerns are brushed aside by business and government all eager to make a profit NOW — there is really no telling what the damage will be when it finally becomes impossible to ignore. (And I would add to the list the abrupt rise of serious allergies and childhood emotional problems.) Seems we are surrounded by dead and dying canaries — has anyone thought about how much longer before it becomes us?

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