Poisoning the Environment

Just a quickie, a hold-that-thought post (prompted by the US Glyphosate court verdict, but not specifically about that):

Two things – herbicides and pesticides, and controlling vermin.

Humans are an intelligent evolved species. We didn’t get where we are by allowing the environment to take over our lives – we legitimately manage our environment in enlightened ways that secure the future of humanity.

Rats we control – scare away from habitation, kill as humanely as we can if we have to. Except for domesticated individuals we don’t invite rat tribes to share our space. Crows we control, they outcompete for food supplies and steal eggs from physically weaker species. Moles we control, and so on.

Ditto, we control invertebrate pests and vigorous weeds in agriculture and domestic gardening. We do it with as much humanity and consideration for unintended consequences as we can, but we do it.

But we’ve controlled ourselves down to barely sustainable levels.

Whether it’s controlling crows on grouse-moors or moorland inhabited by Curlew (@BBCR4Today, today) – takes some ingenuity, not to disturb other breeding species and the environment more generally. In our domestic garden context – judicious scaring and discouraging seems to work, but only just. It is ideological to defend crows rights as somehow sacrosanct over broader environmental care.

Neonicotinoids have a bad rap for poisoning bees and other pollinating insects beyond originally intended environmental control – obviously before that the likes of DDT were the villain.

As herbicides, strong poisons used to be the norm 2-4-DP, Paraquat, Chlorate, you name it. These days domestically at least – there is only one game in town – Glyphosate, whether it’s branded RoundUp or not, made by Monsanto or not – and Monsanto are part of Bayer now anyway.

Neonics and Glyphosate have their own unintended consequences – we need to care about that. But the fact is these “modern” control chemicals are much less effective that older blunter instruments AND with more pervasive negative consequences.

Safer to use simple strong poisons – oxidising agents and other crude methods – that degrade into safer side-products locally, than persistent and pervasive complex chemicals. (I now Glyphosate degrades – but it’s so safe it’s useless for its intended purpose except when used on an industrial scale – counter-intuitive unintended consequence is the drive for greater use(!) – eg for crop desiccation as well as herbicidal use. Main risks are high-dose human exposure rather than environmental anyway.)

We’re overly mesmerised by proven issues than unknown risks, and defeating the primary human flourishing objectives. (Taleb is particularly strong on “fat-tail” risks, but has a particular anti-Monsanto shills agenda, and I have no doubt “their” chemists have over-stepped ethical boundaries in defence of interests, but …)

KISS – otherwise we’re just kicking environmental risks into the long grass.

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[Post Note: Still just a holding post,
but picked this up from conspiracy-debunker Myles Power:

I like to think he’s right, but I have no evidence review of my own. Old people dying of cancer has to be the norm, so for me it’s about statistical significance vs the options, and there aren’t many options if we ban all human deployed poisons. Back to my main argument.]

[Ditto – Climate Change vs “Denial” – proper scepticism involves understanding risk tails. Simply invoking “precautionary principle” when dealing with the “unpredictable” is as reckless as ignoring risk. Taking risks is what humans do.]


Also published on Medium.

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