A lot of publicity was given to the Friends of the Earth’s demonstration outside of Chelsea Flower Show this week highlighting the recent report commissioned by them on bees. The message of the demonstration was to get pesticides banned and they maintained their report supported this. Now peaceful demonstration is a fundamental right of everyone in this country, and quiet rightly, but are things as simple as banning pesticides going to aid bee populations recover? If you actually read the report, which credit to them, they have made available as a free download from their website things are far from that simple. There is a very complex interaction between food production and wildlife. Now let’s get things clear, each generation has a moral as well as practical obligation to leave the world in as least as good a state as we inherited it – it is our children and grandchildren who will have to live on it after we have gone. The problem is that the environment is a very complex thing – I mean REALLY complicated! You think the instructions for the flat pack wardrobe are bad, that’s nothing! Thus the environment has this nasty habit of not reacting to our help as we expect it to. Not because it is just being difficult but because we really don’t understand it all that well. So say we ban pesticides, now what?
Of course we don’t actually know and that’s in part because the effects aren’t going to be just environmental. For one thing it’s going to have economic implications and economics is another very complex area we just don’t understand very well, just ask a European Central Banker! Whilst removing pesticides would mean the end of shelves of unblemished produce; people could be educated to accept that, the supermarkets managed to brainwash us all into believing the odd blemish was something dreadful. But we rely in a large part on pesticides to allow modern agriculture to provide us with the abundant supply of cheap food we find in our shops. The organic food we find in our shops, which is produced without pesticides, comes at a hefty additional cost which is at least in part the result of not using pesticides. Set this against the background of what has been described as an obesity time bomb caused by the bad diet of the developed world and we have a conflict. On the one hand the government what’s everyone eating more fruit and vegetables because of the cost to the NHS of our bad diet and the other we need to ensure the ecosystem and therefore ourselves survive long term.
Surely what is needed is a balanced measured approach which relies on known facts. The environmental lobby, as do all lobbies, has a habit of over simplifying things and relying on reducing things to sound bits. But the danger of this is you end up leaving people with the idea that there are simple solutions to very complex problems. Of cause what happens next is people try to implement the simple solutions and find all they end up with is an even more complex problem. So say you do just ban pesticides, what will happen next is the food industry, the environment, the retails and the consumers are all going to react to this and all these reactions are going to interact with one another. Whatever the outcome, and its not really possible to any more than guess what that will be, there is no guarantee the bees will come out the winners!