People do not know how to survive without insects: Human Development Report 2022

Humanity faces the mind-boggling challenge of growing food and other agricultural products at scale without an abundance of insects, according to UN report

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Thursday 08 September 2022

Biodiversity collapse and the extinction of more than a million plant and animal species, including insects, will lead to a world where humans will not know how to survive. This is according to the Human Development Report (HDR) 2021-22 released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) September 8, 2022.

The report stated that humans were unprepared for a world with climate crises like fires and storms and other planetary-level changes brought about due to the Anthropocene in recent years.

It added that humans did not know how to live in a world without an abundance of insects. “Without an abundance of insect pollinators, we face the mindboggling challenge of growing food and other agricultural products at scale,” the report read. 

It noted that human societies and ecological systems influenced one another. But the speed at which human impact had risen because of the Anthropocene was unprecedented.

“As much as the COVID-19 pandemic caught us by surprise, unprepared and fumbling for paths forward, we have even less of an idea of how to live in a world without, say, an abundance of insects. That has not been tried for about 500 million years, when the world’s first land plants appeared,” it read.

The 2017 book Insect Biodiversity: Science and Society says insects are important because of their diversity, ecological role and influence on agriculture, human health and natural resources.

“Insects create the biological foundation for all terrestrial ecosystems. They cycle nutrients, pollinate plants, disperse seeds, maintain soil structure and fertility, control populations of other organisms and provide a major food source for other taxa,” the book noted.

The paper Diversity, Importance and Decline of Pollinating Insects in Present Era by Navkiran Kaur and Amritpal Singh Kaleka published in January 2022 at Intechopen, stated that insects were the most efficient pollinators and without them, humans and wildlife would go hungry.

“Insects have evolved unique features in the animal world that are a surprise to experts in biomechanics and bioengineering because many are recent inventions of humans,” the 2017 book said.

While we still have the possibility to prevent excessive global warming and avoid the worst scenarios, human-induced changes to our planetary system are expected to continue well into the future, it added. The latest International Panel on Climate Change Report is a code red for humanity.

With the rapid growth of human population, our demand for food has also risen. Our agricultural systems will need to produce more food in a sustainable manner in the future to cope with this. Pollinators play an important role in these ecosystems and will continue to do so in the future, the 2022 paper, said.

HDR 2022 said there was a new planetary uncertainty because there was no real guide to help humans adapt and cope up with changes like upending of material cycles.

“For the first time in history, human-made materials, such as concrete and asphalt, outweigh the Earth’s biomass. Microplastics are now everywhere: in country-sized garbage patches in the ocean, in protected forests and distant mountaintops and in people’s lungs and blood. Mass coral bleaching is now commonplace rather than extraordinary,” HDR 2022 said.

It added that even one of the rapid, planetary-level, human-induced changes of the Anthropocene would be enough on its own to inject frightening new uncertainties into the fate all humankind.

But currently, all of them, from the introduction of chlorofluorocarbons to DDT and nuclear proliferation have been stacked on top of each other, interacting and amplifying in unpredictable ways.

It said it was for the very first time in human history that mankind faced larger threats from anthropogenic activities than from natural disasters. 

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