Saturday, May 29, 2010

Is it a generational difference?

I started to comment on a blog that I absolutely admire, and then I thought it'd be better to write a post of my own. Both my pop and I graduated with entomology degrees. Nevertheless, we found work in totally different directions. I believe we are each a product of our generations.

In his day, every man-made pesticide put on the market was a miracle to benefit all of humanity. Dad spent over 50 years of his life as an agricultural consultant and farmer. He could tell me the species, developmental stage, population numbers, and prescribed chemical treatment of an insect infestation by merely glancing at a crop while going 45 mph on a bumpy, country road.

Dad knew more from first-hand experience than a couple PhD professors of mine who merely repeated "literature" in the form of "fact sheets" from the marketing departments of billion dollar chemical companies. It quickly became obvious to me that these professors didn't actually know how to handle real-life IPM issues for which they were paid to teach. They are the same lettered men who are often asked to write recommendations for land management practices and policies. I hold much more respect for my dad than many of my entomology professors.

Now, I don't have 50 years of experience in anything since I haven't lived that long, but I did grow up hearing about Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and the ongoing controversy she ignited 48 years ago. I'm sure my dad and I would not see eye to eye if we sat down at a table together today, yet I still appreciate his knowledge. For example, he trusted the published lab tests of daminozide (Alar) and thought "hysterical" Meryl Streep should stick with acting (funny, he never said anything about Ronald Reagan). In contrast, I started wondering how there could be measurable chemical residue after food processing and what kind of effect those chemicals have on our bodies and our planet.

Us humans like to play god and control the environment. We hold a tremendous amount of false pride in being able to do so. Plus, there's a ton of money to be made in these endeavors, especially when it involves health or food. We're presumptuous to think we may know the implications of our actions in nature through time... even when we believe we're doing good.

I am opposed to the use of any pesticide, and I'm aware this opinion is totally not practical. This includes: DDT used for malaria control - we've managed to breed DDT resistant mosquitoes, so now what?; glyphosate (Roundup) which is widely used worldwide, also by restoration ecologists - there are numerous independent studies refuting Monsato's paid "research" of its environmental harmlessness; and even Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki used by the US Forest Service and organic gardeners - native, non-target Lepidoptera, predators, and plant diversity are significantly impacted*, which I suspect has greater consequences on ecology than has ever been studied. Heavy sigh. Very few people are willing to come out and say anything negative about organic, ecologists, or saving lives in this day and age. It's a tough sell.

However, I try my best to not bash people whose actions run contrary to my beliefs, nor do I hold up protest signs. And, I freely admit I've benefited from the existence of these man-made products. Better solutions to perceived problems can be complicated to figure out, take a lot of money, and are near impossible to implement given popular opinions of the day. I mostly ignore marketing ploys and stay true to informed choices I've made for myself, which meant getting out of the business of killing things for a living in the name of science (ironically, not pest control). I have a different belief system than my father, and, quite likely, I hold antiquated beliefs compared to the students studying entomology today.

* Due to my mentor's untimely death and her illegible handwritten notes, I was unable to submit field results for Btk and Gypchek for peer review as part of a larger 10-year moth survey in northeast Ohio.

ps 10/21/12 - I just found this site and am glad to know I'm not alone in my beliefs: Don't Spray California.


John W. Wall said...

Interesting about BTK. Do you think organic food still has health and/or environmental benefits over conventionally produced food?

Nature ID said...

John, you're one of my favorite blog followers as I really like your own blog and comments. I do think organic is better for health and environment compared to the current mainstream US food production - it's not this way in other countries. There still needs to be some work done in: 1) honest, factual presentation of what an "organic" label truly means (I hate regulation, but there needs some standardization of terms); 2) availability for low-income, local families (cheap, non-nutritious food that has a shelf life of years is, I believe, the origins of obesity in the US); 3) and food safety (e.g. I still refuse to buy organic chicken or eggs unless I know the farmer).