On Tuesday, we gave up autumn and its descending solar cycle for winter, with its lengthening days. While it may not always feel that way, the winter solstice on the 21st heralds the transition from each day being shorter than the last, to each day being longer than the last. The solar cycles and changing seasons are just one aspect of the eternal river of metamorphosis in which we are intimately entwined. The puddle that formed in my path today is not the puddle that drenched my feet in the same spot last year. One of many constant reminders that change is the only constant.
In the course of a vibrant discussion at this month’s Mother Lode Community Forum (every second Wednesday, 6 p.m. at the Amador City Hall), one participant noted, “People are fearful and reluctant to change because they associate change with loss. We know that to change we must give up something familiar.” As the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Does the decision become easier if those “somethings” we choose to give up are poison, dis-ease, external control and regret?
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation reports that 185,000 pounds of pesticide were applied in Calaveras County in 2018. As alarming as that is, it’s not the full story. This figure excludes the vast quantities of Roundup and other pesticides sold to consumers at retail stores and applied to home landscapes. It also excludes other substances of concern, such as the silver iodide sprayed into the atmosphere by PG&E and California water agencies in so-called “weather modification” programs. Nor does it consider the enormous sums of money spent on these pesticides, money which is siphoned out of our community and local economy to enrich and empower vast corporations, who have huge influence on us and those who govern us.
Almost every one of the substances labeled as a pesticide is known to have serious impacts on human health, including cancer, liver failure, heart failure and digestive disorders. Surely these conditions are something we can agree we all want to give up. So why don’t we?
The obvious answer lies in our war on “weeds” and “pests.” But can we really win that war?
Roundup Ready was initially used to control Palmer amaranth, one of the most prolific invasive weeds in the Midwest. Within two years, Palmer amaranth evolved resistance to Round Up. An article in the August 2021 New York Times warns that not only are weeds becoming resistant to pesticides, but they “are gaining ground faster than scientists can survey them.”
As far as pests are concerned, we need look no further than the varroa mite, which literally sucks the blood from our beloved honeybees (themselves an introduced species known to displace native bees). Over the last 30 years, the mite has become increasingly resistant to all the major pesticides used to kill them. So now we beekeepers and the bees we are tasked with stewarding must battle ever more resistant forms of hemoglobin-sucking, disease-spreading mites.
When we remove the weeds from our yards, fields and landscapes, we are making a change. When we add chemicals to our beehives to kill pests, we are making a change. In many ways these changes are for our individual benefit (neater yards, English country gardens in California, higher yields, increased income, etc.). It’s also clear that the gains are short-lived. We are losing the war. It’s time to ask what we gave up when we made these changes. We have already lost countless species of weeds (plants) and pests (living creatures) that did not evolve quickly enough to resist our chemical cocktails. Are we giving up our own health and the health of the ecosystem of which we are an integral part?
In the eternal river of metamorphosis, change is the only constant, and change does indeed come with loss. We cannot change the fact that we must farewell summer to welcome winter, but we do have the agency to choose what we lose in many arenas. One decision at a time, let’s choose to lose disease, dis-ease, poison and external control. The future starts now.