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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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A foreboding observation?

12 February 2019

Summer, it's a great time of year.

Most Kiwis remember the days when summer meant long trips in the car on expeditions to the batch, the beach, the caravan or some camping ground miles from the noisy world of town or city.

Crucial supplies such as towels, cameras, sleeping bags, stacks of food and fishing gear would be loaded into any free space (after mum, dad and the kids were seated) and the journey would begin.

Every hour or two an ice-cream or soft-drink stop would be made to keep the kids happy and refill their stomachs (much of the previous contents having been spewed down the side of the car on that twisty bit of road a few miles back.

These were also the days before air conditioning so temperatures (and tempers) were often off the scale, inside these little mobile tin boxes we use to transport ourselves around the place.

Another regular part of the travel ritual was cleaning the windscreen.

Why did we clean the windscreen at such regular intervals -- or at least every time we stopped for petrol?

Well it only took an hour or so for it to become thickly encrusted with the smashed corpses of flying insects.

In the daytime it was bees, flies, wasps and butterflies that encrusted themselves at a great rate on the think pane of glass in front of us.

Don't make the mistake of simply turning on the wipers because that would turn the battlefield of corpses into an opaque smear of insect-internals which quickly obscured all forward vision. Far better to wait for the next petrol station and use the spongy squeegee thing that was always ready and waiting beside the fuel pump.

But have you noticed something in the past few years?

We just don't get that many insects splattered all over the front of our cars.

Is it superior aerodynamics which encourages the air to flow smoothly around our vehicles rather than battering straight into the near-vertical windscreens of yester-year?

Or is it something a whole lot more concerning?

Well if this report is to be believed, it really is something that we ought to be very, very worried about.

Now excuse me for a moment but my "hackles of cynicism" are raised instantly by the first line of this report, which reads:

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review

I'm sorry but the word "catastrophic" has been used far too often over the past few years, especially by a media hell-bent on scaring us into reading its dross and glancing at its advertising.

Never the less, there does seem to be some credibility behind the suggestion that we're already seeing a dangerous decline in the number of insects that inhabit our planet and, when you consider their position in the food chain, that could be a fatal decline for us.

Once again however, I recall sitting in a primary school classroom back when I was a kid and being told that the world would run out of food by the end of the century. "The planet can not support more than 4 billion people", a classroom of innocent eight-year-olds was told with great authority. Famine will become commonplace if we do not restrict the growth of the human population.

Well it's now 2019 and we're getting awfully close to twice that number... yet few people in the Western world have ever experienced famine conditions.

So excuse my cynicism when Mr Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia tells us that "If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind". These portents of doom have a familiar ring to them yet none of the "catastrophes" predicted by my teachers or the various doom-sayers who have been clamouring for column inches over the years, seem to have come to pass.

However, this time the predictions are backed up by my own casual observations -- unless the bug-free-windscreen situation *is* more down to aerodynamics than some horrific collapse in insect numbers over the past few decades.

What do readers think?

Is this apparent dramatic reduction in insect numbers due, at least in part, to climate change? How can that be? I've always found that warmer countries had *more* insects so would have thought that if the planet is warming, the insect population in temperate areas like New Zealand would climb, not fall.

And that is the problem with news today. So many people and organisations clamouring for the limelight and so many publishers looking for a cheap story with "wow factor" that will bring eyeballs to advertisers. There is no Fourth Estate and no gatekeeper on duty so anything and everything gets published -- much to the detriment of truth and the trustworthiness of the news.

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