Cover_The Insect Crisis

Oliver Milman

Atlantic Books


ISBN: 9781838951177

Reviewed by Chris Shortall

I can’t say I enjoyed this book much. But then any book that lays out in such stark detail the perils facing our insect fauna, and by extension ourselves, cannot be an enjoyable read no matter how well written it is. And this book is very well-written; the language and pacing are such that its chapters can be devoured in short sittings, only with breaks needed to contemplate the horror unfolding in the pages.

The author does take time to outline the perils of alarmism in this context. Chris Thomas is quoted with the concern that “…if people say, ‘insects are declining by 70 percent’ and then it turns out they are only declining by 20%, and everyone says, ‘Oh. Well, that’s alright then’” and there is a somewhat dismissive nod to the notion that more research is needed, especially in areas where we don’t have data. That cautionary note done with, we then get a steady drumbeat of insect doom with the central pair of chapters ‘The Peak of the Pesticide’ and ‘In the Teeth of the Climate Emergency’ and two further chapters, case studies on bees and butterflies — the charismatic microfauna, laying the blame for the crisis squarely at the feet of agriculture and fossil fuels.

The book is generally well-researched, although many Royal Entomological Society members will raise an eyebrow at the assertion that the Krefeld Entomology Society were “the only ones” making long-term standardised surveys of insects. I also found that the reference list contains many references to news reports on scientific papers rather than the papers themselves.

There are some seeds of hope sown through the crop of despair that Milman has cultivated here. In the penultimate chapter ‘The Inaction Plan’ it is noted how quickly insect populations have been seen to bounce back at the Knepp project and in roadside verges that lay unmown during the Covid pandemic. Even here the pessimism remains, as the need for allowing wild spaces for insects to thrive, or at the very least to survive, is placed against the need to feed a planet of 8–10 billion people and the pressure that places on our environment.

In summary, nothing in this book should be a surprise to the members of this Society. But then this book isn’t aimed at us. It is aimed at the general public with a view to opening their eyes to the crisis that is unfolding around them. I think it does that, but perhaps may go too far in ladling on the apocalyptic narrative — reading this book gave me no hope for the future and a sense that we are powerless to avert the impending catastrophe — and as such I would hesitate to recommend it.