The Losses of Bird and Insect Life: What’s the Road to Regeneration?


Though we’ve seen the apocalyptic and nigh-apocalyptic articles on biodiversity before, those this year have been striking.

The book Our Historic Moment: Purpose, Planet and Places to Intervene briefly documents the trends with birds, amphibians and bats. We’ve seen this year the Cornell piece on bird populations, which on my scan isn’t much different than the Audubon State of the Birds reports of past years.

Researchers say that there “isn’t one single factor that can account for these pervasive losses”. Sure contributors:

Habitat Loss (farmland and development)
Pesticide Use
Insect Declines (more on that in a minute)
Climate Change (our perennial, cross-sector, cross-issue issue)
Direct Threats: outdoor cats, glass skyscrapers (your local ferals are definitely a factor!)

One silver lining, perhaps, is that much of the documented decline happened from 1970 – 2000, but we could use another positive data point (I’m rooting for you, 2020).

Earlier this year, we heard about plummeting insect populations. Perhaps a surprise to those of us who feel we experience more than enough insects over the course of a week, but that is the report. Particularly threatened: moths and butterflies; pollinators like bees; and dung beetles and other detritivores.

Similar to “we don’t have one single factor that can account for these pervasive losses”, here we are told it is “death by 1000 cuts”:

Habitat Loss (Deforestation and Conversion to Ag Land)
Pesticide/Herbicides/Fungicide use
Climate Change

Notice the commonalities.

There is a pathway forward to support the forms of life with whom we share the planet. That pathway looks similar to what we hear as needed on corporate sustainability fronts, in UN collective efforts, and from grassroots climate groups.

Stop Destroying Habitat. This has to go well beyond no net loss, to no loss of functional habitats, period. If you’re disrupting a functioning ecosystem, providing for the same acreage nearby doesn’t fix the disruption that just happened to real species. Animals and plants should have buffer areas and times to naturally migrate. What also needs to be addressed is the profit motive around development of paved, built environments in functioning habitat. I’m confident we actually can coexist, and we need to apply more site intelligence to how we build. (See International Living Futures Institute for some inspiration.)

Stop Use of Biocides. Anything that means “kills life” should probably be viewed with suspicion. So much of agriculture is built around use of the substances, and shifting isn’t going to happen overnight. That’s why General Mills’s announcement to convert 1 million acres to regenerative practices was so welcome. Buy synthetic pesticide-free organic when you can, and if you buy for an institution, even better. For those not yet organic, integrated pest management is one way to reduce pesticide use in farming (e.g. the farmland where I saw a crop duster spraying an entire field earlier this year).

Stop Burning Fossil Fuels. What hasn’t yet been said on this front? See non-overnight shifting comment above. CDP (not exactly what we’d consider a climate justice group) pointed out only 100 companies are responsible for 70+% of global emissions. Quite striking. And governments give them a license of operate. Their customers give them a market, as if there weren’t customers, they wouldn’t be in business. And their employees make decisions on resource use. We all have a role to play in righting the carbon ship, getting carbon back into the soil, and restoring carbon as habitat (that removed above) in the form of trees and other life.

As a business advisor and sustainability consultant, I’ll certainly be incorporating this into my work . . . as if GM, the UN, and Deep Green Resistance are pushing in the same direction, I’m sure there’s something there. Onward to avian regeneration!