The Angry Clean Energy Guy on insects, what they do for us, why we should love them and how new shock findings confirm that we are in the middle of an insect Armageddon of planetary ecological breakdown proportions. Hero of the Week: James Shaw, Minister of Climate Change of New Zealand, for working on a new regime that would require companies to assess and report their climate-related financial risks. Villains of the Week: 7 banks with no moral compass that want to finance a new $2.2 billion coal plant in Vietnam to fry us all.
Assaad W. Razzouk
I am so angry this week. And do you know who’s fault it is? Insects. Yup. Insects this time.
If you drive, have you noticed by any chance that there are less insects that crash into your windshield, whether it’s a car or a bus or even a scooter than a few years ago? This is a thing. It has a name now. It’s called the “windshield phenomenon”. It’s a feeling that you’re seeing less bugs that’s become so common. It now has its own shorthand and why does it have a shorthand? I think congratulations are in order, Not! We are in the process of wiping out insects and I’m going to tell you why this should be front page headline news every day.
Welcome to Episode 25 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy with me, Assad Razzouk. I am so happy you’re here. Thank you.
Let me put insects in perspective for you. We like to think that we run the world, that we are so powerful, that we’ve developed a nuclear bomb and a hydrogen bomb, that we can invade this or that country, that we can eat this or that thing. But I have bad news for you. Despite all of that, despite our engineers and our scientists, despite even the fact that we have consciousness, we are not the world’s ultimate controllers. The ultimate controllers, the little things that run the world, are insects. They may be tiny and you may almost never give them a second thought, but they are mighty. They are everywhere. They’re everywhere on land. They’re everywhere below ground. They’re everywhere in the sky.
Funny enough, they are not in the oceans. Not really. This are very few of them, but you do find them in fresh water.
You can’t even count them there are so many of them. They are in the millions of trillions and actually no one’s ever attempted to count them properly. They are intimately, intricately involved with everything. They toil on every square centimetre of living soil, on top of the soil, in the soil, under the soil, underground. They aerate, they fertilize. They are the recycling champions of the world. They digest dead wood. They digest even dead bodies. They break down billions of bits of organic debris and waste that people and animals and everything else produce and they dispose of everything. Everything on land. They live at the base of the food chain, which is very important because they directly or indirectly feed tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of birds, of mammals, of reptiles, of amphibians, of fish, and of course, by extension, they feed us. And as some of you might know, we are now also developing ways to have insects join our menus.
There’s more than 300,000 plants pollinated by animals, most of them insects. And the numbers are so large that we’ve never really in the history of the world tried to count them properly. We don’t know exactly how many insects there are. We don’t know exactly how many plants they pollinate, but it’s estimated that all of the world’s antipodes, a group that includes insects and spiders for example, weigh 20 times more than all of us, 7.5 billion humans weigh.
Take away this enormous mass of insects – they may be 90% of all animal species – and you would be looking at planetary, planet-wide ecological breakdown in the eye. Why? Because waste will pile up; because the soil will shed its nutritions; because animals will starve; because hundreds of thousands of plant species well vanish. Think of your everyday meal reduced to only what is wind-pollinated. So you’ll still have your bread but you won’t have any fruits and vegetables. Most of the meat will also be gone and you can forget about chocolate as well. You can forget about strawberries, you can forget about apples, you can forget about seeds for planting. So we’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars worth of food supplies and even that number, people are having a hard time putting a proper figure on it because of the sheer enormous mass of insects that nobody’s ever counted.
But I can tell you this, we think more than 75% of our food crops rely, at least in part on pollination by insects and other animals. That is half a trillion dollars worth of annual global food production that would no longer be there.
In addition to food crops, pollinators contribute to crops that provide, for example, palm oils, fibres like cotton, lots and lots of medicine, food for farm animals and even construction materials. So I hope I’m giving you the impression that even though we might not know in any great detail how many insects we have and exactly what they do and how many plants do they pollinate, we know enough to understand that if they were not around, we would have an ecological disaster of planetary proportions.
Now, why am I telling you all this? I’m telling you all this because even though most of us haven’t really been much interested in insects, even though they’re annoying and when you see one, you basically just want to whack it, at a larger scale we’ve noticed, and back to the windshield phenomenon that I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, that there are less of them now.
As far as I can tell, science hadn’t until recently done much in this area. Scientists haven’t counted them and there are not that many studies documenting what’s really going on with them. Much of the feeling that we have that there are less insects came from biodiversity databases, so records of species sightings, what we’ve seen, what we’ve collected, what volunteers have gathered, but generally in a somewhat haphazard, not very scientific fashion – until now.
There was a story a couple of weeks ago that should have caught all of our attention and certainly should have been front page headlines around the world.
A German team gathered a massive biodiversity sample – I can’t even get my head around how they did that – of more than 1 million insects across 2,700 species in 150 grass fields and 140 forests in three regions in Germany between 2008 and 2017. So they did that for 10 years, which is amazing.
And what they found was shocking. They found that several rare species could not be found at all. In some of the test sites, they found that the total biomass, the weight of the insects in the forests was down 40% over the 10 year period. They found that the weight of the insects in grass fields was down 67% so a lot more than in forests, but still the number for forests, 40%, is huge. The number for grasslands of 67% is breathtaking.
They also found that all types of forests and all types of land with grass were affected, whether you fertilized or didn’t fertilize, whether it was organic or not organic, even unmanaged forests in protected areas were affected. And finally the number of insects, so their abundance, the number of individuals and the number of species were declining dramatically in both grass fields and forests.
Now let me tell you something. This is terrifying.
This should be making headlines not once, not twice, but every day. This means we now have scientific evidence that we’re wiping everything and everyone off because remember, the oceans are also being wiped off. The forests are being wiped off. Fertile soil is being wiped off. Plastic is now in our blood. It’s in our food. It’s in the air that you breathe and it’s in the drinking water that you drink.
None of this is front page news. We need to, all of us, get off our desks and make it so. We can do so much better.
We know why, by the way, we have a very good guess as to why we’re wiping out all these insects. We are destroying nature through our activities, through changes in land and sea use, through turning intact tropical forests into agricultural land without regard to conservation or biodiversity or sustainability, without really thinking and through reckless exploitation like industrial fishing, which I covered in one of my earlier podcasts – and that’s before we even get to pollution from oil, gas and coal and the impact of climate change, which in effect accelerates and worsens everything.
We’ve had five mass extinctions in the past 600 million years. A mass extinction is defined as losing the majority of your species in a short geological time because of a natural event like meteors or volcanoes or asteroids. We’ve had five of those in 600 million years, but we’re smack bang in the middle of the sixth mass extinction.
And guess what? The catastrophic natural event this time is us humans. We are driving this six mass extinction on super fast forward because the rate of species extinctions is somewhere between a hundred times and 1,000 times faster than the normal rate in geological time. It could be a scary present indeed, but we don’t even know it.
Our best strategies are, however, surprisingly simple, and this is the good news. We really need to do two or three things.
Well, the first thing we need to do is we need to fight climate change. And for those of you bored of me saying that, I am really sorry, but this is something that everybody should think about and do something about on a daily basis. And we know how to fight climate change. We’ve got to do two things. The first thing we have to do is we have to power the world with a hundred percent renewables by 2050 and start phasing out oil, gas in coal as opposed to what we’re doing, which is to continue to increase production to oil, gas and coal and even worse, to give Big Oil money to do that, to subsidize them, to make them into really fat cats.
I mean that really has to stop.
And the second thing we have to do is we have to fight deforestation. And there one fantastic strategy is surprisingly simple, at least in theory: Set aside half of Earth’s surface via a global United Nations framework where each country agrees what it can for wildlife.
So take 50% of the earth, give it to all other species and keep 50% for us. And it’s an incredibly sweet deal because there are millions, zillions of them on that 50% and countries can agree amongst each other how to best allocate this 50% by compromising amongst each other so that those that are squeezed in skyscrapers on 10 square kilometers don’t have to give up any land, whereas those that have zillions and zillions of square meters that they’re doing very little with keep it as a nature reserve.
HERO OF THE WEEK
Thank you so much for listening to me, The Angry Clean Energy Guy, this far. I hope you will think about insects from time to time and contribute to the fight against wiping them and everything else out.
My Hero of the Week is a gentleman by the name of James Shaw. He is the minister for climate change for New Zealand. Ministers don’t usually make my list as most of you know, but he did. And the reason he did is because New Zealand just introduced under his ministry a paper for consultation to force businesses to assess and report climate risks.
Now this is critical and this has to happen because most businesses neither assess nor report on climate risks and when they do it, they are not faced by consequences if they lie or underestimate their exposure. If you assessed and reported climate risks properly as a business, then capital markets would be able to price climate risks – which they don’t – and then the cost of capital for oil, gas and coal would shoot up, which means that they will no longer be allowed to do any new oil, gas or coal and the banks that are still lending them will no longer be allowed to lend them and then that means that new oil, gas and coal would stop; and existing oil, gas and coal will become a lot more expensive, which then means that plastics becomes much more expensive, which then means we can drive innovation and R&D into substitutes of which there are plenty.
VILLAIN OF THE WEEK
The problem today is that the plastic substitutes are priced out by the dumping of oil, gas, coal and plastics on the rest of us, and my Villain of the Week is actually seven of them, seven banks that are threatening to give $2.2 billion to finance a coal power plant in Vietnam to fry us all.
Now a coal power plant in Vietnam is the last thing we need.
Vietnam just deployed four and a half gigawatts of solar and wind in about a year and a half – so enormously fast – because they just opened the door and allowed the renewable energy industry to compete. And all Vietnam has to do is it has to continue to auction solar and wind and then it would never need any coal fired power and it would never need any gas fired power.
But now, you know, putting aside what Vietnam may or may not do, these six banks financing coal at this point in a climate emergency is completely unacceptable.
So shame on you Japan’s Bank for International Cooperation.
Shame on new Mitsubishi UFG Financial Group.
Shame on you. Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Mizuho Financial Group, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, DBS bank and Standard Chartered Bank.
These seven have no moral compass and they must step back from financing this $2.2 billion coal power plant in Vietnam.
And for those of you who want to look some more into this, the coal fired power plant is called the Vung Ang 2 plant, a planned ultra-supercritical 2 x 600MW coal-fired power station in Kỳ Lợi commune, Kỳ Anh district, Hà Tĩnh province in Central Vietnam.
Go to https://www.marketforces.org.au/research/vietnam/vung-ang-2/. If you sign the petition, an email would be sent to these banks, telling them to stop funding coal because we are in a climate emergency and because it’s about time that they get it.
Thanks again for listening and a reminder that transcripts of all my podcasts are on https://theangrycleanenergyguy.com/.
Have a great couple of weeks.
There is so much to be angry about, if you are a clean energy guy.
Every day, so many things that happen around the world make me angry when I look at them with lenses colored by the climate change chaos unfolding everywhere around us. And I am especially angry because I know we can solve the climate change crisis if we were only trying.
Each week, I will share with you a few topics that struck me and that I was very angry about – and this will generally have to do with climate change, solar or wind power, plastic pollution, environmental degradation, wildlife, the oceans and other related topics.