Canary in a Coal Mine

Common Yellowthroat; Anhinga Trail; Everglades National Park
Common Yellowthroat

Before we had toxic gas sensors, canaries were used to detect the presence of harmful gasses.    In essence, miners would send in canaries to determine if the environment was safe.  If the canary was happy, all was well.  Knowing their fate was tied to the health of the bird, miners kept an ever-present eye upon the canary.

Today we have far more sophisticated methods, and our government determines what exposure levels to various toxic substances are deemed acceptable.  But nature, and the “canary,” is telling us to pay attention.  Bird populations across the world are in steep decline, and very hard hit are the birds that eat insects.

We are told that to feed an ever-increasing population, farmers must use an ever-increasing dosage of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  But one of the reasons for sharp declines in bird populations is poisoning by these ever more potent chemical compounds.  As insects become resistant to one, new chemicals are introduced.  But farmers are not the only users.  While we scramble to Kroger to buy organic food to escape what we know to be poison in our food, we treat our yards, parks, roadsides, ponds, lakes, fields and even streams.  Billions of pounds of these harmful chemicals are used across the United States annually.   We know we should not ingest these chemicals, yet we don’t seem to mind the steady increase in the parts per million of these chemicals in our water.

Before these chemicals were around, a more complete ecosystem kept insect populations controlled.  There were more birds, frogs, bats, salamanders, dragonflies and other predators that eat insects.  Synthetic fertilizers and various other industrial farming chemicals are declining in their effectiveness.  With these facts in view, it will soon be the case that organic crop yields are comparable to chemically controlled crop production.  It seems like the harder we try to control nature, the more problems we cause.  We are literally causing the very cancer, reproductive and genetic problems we seek to “cure”, all the while ignoring the tell-tale signs of the canary.

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