Tiny differences in our surroundings like this have the potential to impact our lives in ways that are bigger than we realise. Far from being just a fragment of popular culture, the Butterfly Effect (or perhaps more fittingly in this case – the Beetle Effect) has the potential to cause unpredictable changes to our environment, biodiversity and ultimately livelihoods.
Nothing quite illustrates this concept better than pesticides. The abundance of food that awaits us at every trip to the supermarket simply wouldn’t exist if not for these chemical concoctions destroying the unwanted organisms that harm crops. But their use can often have destructive consequences.
The currency of pesticides:
- The global pesticides and other agricultural chemicals market was valued around $162 billion in 2017
- The loss of biodiversity due to pesticides can cost hundreds of billions of dollars annually (earlier studies estimated it to be $1.1 billion)
- Crop losses caused by pesticides, $1.4 billion; bird losses due to pesticides, $2.2 billion; and groundwater contamination, $2.0 billion
- 3 billion kg of pesticides is applied worldwide each year with a purchase price of nearly $40 billion year
The problem is pesticides are damaging by nature. Professor Lorraine Maltby is an environmental biologist and ecologist from The University of Sheffield. She explains: “Pesticides are designed to be biologically active and can therefore adversely affect biodiversity and the benefits people derive from ecosystems. That means there’s no such thing as a safe pesticide – a safe pesticide is one that doesn’t work.”
That begs the question: what’s an acceptable effect for a pesticide and what isn’t? In using pesticides, can we ever be sure we won’t be affecting the life around us?