As I’m sure you have all heard by now, the cicadas are coming back above ground this summer. For those of you who haven’t heard, the cicadas here on the East Coast have been underground for 17 years and are scheduled to return very soon.
Cicadas are born amongst the tree tops and then almost immediately burrow themselves underground where they remain until they are mature enough to mate 17 years later (Some humans can’t even wait that long)! And when they emerge, they will overrun the landscape “like the biblical plague.” And if we don’t see them, we will surely hear their mating call high in the trees on a bright summery day. This loud, echoing song not only brings them together, but it also repels potential predators(birds) from eating them before they finish mating.
Even after all of these trivial facts, cicadas continue to mystify. Once they have mated, the male dies almost instantly. The females then go on to lay as many as 600 eggs and then she dies as well. This whole mating ritual takes about a month.
So to sum up the lives of cicadas, they are born, immediately bury themselves underground to live on the fluids found in plant roots, wait 17 years until they are mature, come back above ground, sing, mate, and then die. And then repeat of course. And while this all sound strange, at least they have the meaning of life down-pact.
We are expecting between the wide range of 30 billion to 1 trillion…so really no one knows how many there will be. But it brings the question to my mind: which pesticide companies are preparing for their return? Sure cicadas are harmless and aren’t exactly here to destroy the human race but that didn’t stop anyone from calling fire ants “public enemy number one”. Naturally, I am afraid that we will have another DDT type issue on our hands. This especially concerns me because of how often they are being referenced to the locusts of the plague not to mention all the “prophets” who keep claiming that the end is near. While I agree that the world will end and that there are plenty of signs, I also believe that all of these can be seen scientifically and not biblically. I’m sure that this return will feed an immense amount of science fiction movies and books and probably already has.
But one thing that I rediscovered while researching to write this blog is how controversial the ban on DDT still is today. Often times I have wondered how the world would have turned out if it had not been for the ban and I found that other people are still wondering the same thing and are calling the ban a mistake.
On the surface, I am an environmentalist so I wonder how anyone in their right mind call something like the ban of DDT a mistake? But then I remember the humanities aspect of my major and myself and recall one of the most deadly killers in the world right now…malaria.
The deadly virus is the modern day plague and is carried by mosquitoes and kills millions of people every year in mostly third world countries. So it really makes me wonder how deadly this virus would have been if DDT was not banned. And it also makes me wonder, in the grand scheme of things, if the effects of DDT were really just “first world problems”. Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware that the entire world is connected and the like but I also think that it is such a difficult thing to decide between man and nature. I feel that the decision that was made was indeed a decision between the two but at the same time who is to say that the same amount of lives would have been taken either way, with or without DDT?
In the end, it may have been cancer versus virus and first world versus third world as far as deciding the deaths.
Here is a link that illustrates the history of malaria in Africa in a timeline: http://www.worldmalariaday.org/download/share_docs_en/1_malaria-timeline2.pdf
It illustrates a brief history but does not take into account how much DDT was used in the affected areas or the political climate of the affected areas (including apartheid) or even the recent discovery that the mosquito netting that was pre-coated with pesticides is held responsible for the mutation of the mosquitos: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/senegal/8707996/Rise-in-cases-of-malaria-in-Africa-linked-to-insecticide-treated-bed-nets.html
My point is that there are way too many factors to be measured for me to get a clear and accurate enough decision made up in my head. And then it reoccurs to me that it is not mine or any other’s decision to make who is not living in a country plagued by malaria related deaths. It comes down to the individual countries themselves to decide where to move forward. Because at this point, it is being debated whether or not DDT should be used in countries that are threatened every time a mosquito bites.
This is an article in which it is discussed that DDT has been approved by the World Health Organization to be used in Nigeria to prevent further deaths in relation to malaria. But I would like to also add that based on this article, some seem to think that DDT is the reason why malaria is not plagued in this country and they do not know the real history. And who is to say that the mosquitos won’t continue to mutate as a result of the use of DDT? It would be just like the netting all over again except this time cancer would be an epidemic in these third-world countries.
The entire subject matter of insects and “pests” is such a difficult subject to deal with. It is so interesting how such small things could cause so much controversy and I believe that when the cicadas rise that they will bring more controversies with them. Similar to the conflict over the north shore and ocean walls, I think that no one really knows how to let nature take its course and be what it wants to be. Sometimes it seems to want to be destructive and sometimes people just see it that way, but regardless it is almost a sure thing that no one ever knows how to react. But sometimes I guess you just have to react. Similar to the start of DDT, I suppose now people must react now and think about the consequences later because they will do anything to make things last a little longer. Just to drag it out until they can’t anymore. We humans are unlike cicadas who can sit and wait 17 years until they are mature enough to act before they do. But what would it prove if we were more like them?