Posts Tagged ‘insect population explosion’

The Real Immigration Problem

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I’ve been building a house in Mexico for the past 15 years — -my amateur stab at being an architect. I was there last week and woke up to find a very large grasshopper staring at me from the end of my pillow. It was green from head to toe (or whatever you call those things at the end of those creepy legs) and was about the size of a tootsie roll. In a decade and a half, I had never seen one in the house. That was Monday.

By the end of the week, I had seen plenty of them. First two, then ten, then twenty. It wasn’t that I was being overrun by a biblical horde of locusts, but it was unnerving in its own way. I asked around and found that others were surprised at the sudden alien invasion.

The whole thing got me thinking again about the impact of global warming on the insect world. Are there going to be a bunch more bugs in our future? Is our new, warmer world going to unleash some dreadful population explosion among the 8-leggers, an explosion that has been held in check by good old cold weather?

When I wrote Deathstroke, I introduced insects into the story line to address this serious issue. In Deathstroke, swarms of insects are capable of devastating whole regions of forested terrain. Even a cursory investigation into the issue demonstrates that the coming impact of insect infestation will not be limited to the pages of a novel.

In February of this year, The Independent, a respected British news journal, published the findings of an extensive study performed by Pennsylvania State University on the impact of global warming on insect populations.

The study focused on the evidence of insect damage to vegetation during the last great era of global climate change, the PETM (the palaeocene-eocene thermal maximum) which took place about 55 million years ago. During that period, as in our present crisis, CO2 levels spiked (they more than tripled in the PETM). The result was a dramatic increase in global temperatures (5 degrees Centigrade). What is significant, is what that did to the world’s insect populations. By examining the insect damage to vegetation found in the fossil record, the Penn State team discovered that insects devoured between 2 to 4 times the amount of vegetation that they had before the temperature spike.

The researchers cite two reasons for this extraordinary increase in damage: 1) the sheer number of insects exploded, and 2) the amount of foliage needed for them to survive increased dramatically.

The second basis provides some sobering consideration. The problem is that when CO2 levels increase, it becomes easier for plants to carry out photosynthesis. Though they produce more foliage, the leaves they produce contain less protein. As a consequence, the insects feeding on them have to eat substantially more plant material in order to survive. The result is defoliation on a massive scale brought about by more insects having to consume more food. Beyond the issue of increasing swarms of insects which is the focus of this notation, perhaps we ourselves should consider the implications of a diminishing protein component in our own food supply.

Beyond the issue of more bugs eating more plants, there is an additional finding that should be raising alarms in the temperate zones: insect migration. Ellen Currano, head of the Penn State team put it succinctly: “We think that the warming allowed insect species from the tropics…to migrate north”.

The implications for mankind are obvious: our population is exploding placing heavy demands upon our agriculture to support it. But increasing levels of CO2 are going to reduce the protein in our food supply. Just about the time we come to grips with that nightmare, there are going to be trillions of hungry new visitors to our plush growing fields. To be certain, no 700 mile fence line is going to stop that onslaught of alien immigrants.

Perhaps it is appropriate to leave this section with a phrase from the remake of the movie, The Fly:

“Be afraid…be very afraid!”