If you’ve followed this blog any length of time, you know that one of my objectives is to show people the wonderful, fascinating aspects of nature, including the insects and other small creatures that can be found right in their backyards. By sharing the amazing natural history stories of those tiny animals, I hope to build empathy and admiration for ‘bugs’. I do this knowing that many (most?) people see invertebrates as bothersome, icky, or even scary – and that those attitudes are not likely to lead to conservation support.
I’ve made small gains through my writing/photography, as well as by engaging directly with kids and adults. Give me 2 minutes with just about anyone and I can have them holding a spider and exclaiming that they can’t believe they’re doing it. I love hearing from people how much my stories about insects have enriched their understanding and even their comfort level with them.
But then I read stories like this one and I want to just crawl into a hole and cry. I hate to even provide the link because I don’t want to drive more traffic to it, but it’s just so bad…
The author of the NBC online article shares her traumatic experiences related to moving out of the city and into the suburbs. Primarily her trauma came from the fact that there were insects (INSECTS!) all over the place. Oh the horror! She details how she fought back against the awful creatures that had the audacity to live where she did.
See, I’m already falling into the trap… I’m not really mad at Pat Olsen for her perspective on insects. (However, I am a little mad that she wrote the article the way she did, and even angrier that NBC published it – especially with such a stupid headline.) Mostly, it’s a sobering reminder of how far we have to go if we’re going to make nature relevant to the majority of humans. Since most humans live in cities now, our job is even harder – we have to help them understand and care about something they don’t have easy access to.
Writing and photography is one way to reach people in cities, but it’s not enough. We have to bring nature to cities – and interpret it for people living there. Pat says she contacted several university extension staff (and read articles) to learn how to get rid of the pests in her yard. I don’t know what those extension folks told her directly, but I read the same articles she did and certainly didn’t reach the same conclusions she did about the ‘infestations’ she was dealing with. That’s not completely her fault, it’s also a failing on the part of the writers of those articles.
The worst misinterpretation came from Pat’s research on cicada killer wasps. The extension article said multiple times that the wasps are no threat to humans, but also provided ways to deal with those harmless creatures if people were made uncomfortable by them. That, unfortunately, included swatting them with a tennis racket, which then found its way into the click bait headline.
I’m guessing Pat is a person who thinks pandas and eagles are pretty nice. I’ll bet she has at least passive support for conservation efforts that keep those species around. What’s frustrating is that she isn’t drawing a link between the tiny invertebrates she abhors and the species she admires.
We in the conservation world need to clearly draw that link for her, and others like her, and help her see that we can only have pandas and eagles (and clean air and water, for that matter) if we also have the complex and interconnected ecosystems that support them. And yes, those ecosystems include bugs…