Silent Earth: Changing Baselines in Dark Times

How has the wildlife in your area changed?

I remember the excitement I felt whenever my father spotted a pheasant or wild turkey in the yard. We would gather at the window to watch the birds strut across the property. I haven’t seen these birds in almost thirty years, and my children, who are growing up in the same neighborhood, have never seen them at all.

“ ‘Normal’ is different for every generation,” according to Dave Goulson in Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse, a sobering account of how our detrimental impact on the environment has caused a decline in insects that will harm all life on Earth. Goulson writes, “It seems probable that our children’s children will grow up in a world with even fewer insects, and birds and flowers, than we have today, and they will think that normal too.”

When the pheasants (which aren’t native) and the turkeys (which are) disappeared from my area, what other creatures disappeared with them? How many songbirds are less common? How many reptiles are gone? How about the insects I never noticed?

These are dark times. We are facing a climate crisis. The pandemic rages on despite (or really, because of) growing indifference to it. People are dying and being displaced because of violence and war.

Where I live, in the United States, the federal government’s ability to respond to crises is impaired by obstructionist minority rule and the judiciary threatens progress. The Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court is poised to revoke civil rights–reproductive rights this term and LGBTQ+ rights next–while undoing reasonable governmental regulation. Last month, for example, the Court heard arguments in West Virginia v. EPA, which has the potential to drastically limit the Biden Administration’s ability to regulate pollution. 

Yes, it’s likely that future generations of Americans will grow up with fewer insects, birds, and flowers–and fewer rights, too. 

Is there anything we can do to stop it?

I hope so. I still believe in the importance of voting, pestering politicians, donating to organizations doing good work, and more. I’m also spending as much time as I can in the garden.

As Goulson writes, “Every human being makes umpteen small decisions every day of their lives that directly or indirectly impact on insects and more generally on our environment, either positively or negatively.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, two years ago, my family found that one packet of Zinnia seeds–the only seeds we could get our hands on–was enough to produce a rainbow of color and a buffet for birds, butterflies, bees, and a host of other insects.

A garden isn’t going to change the world, but it makes my “normal” feel noticeably better.

Two white crocus flowers in the grass. One of the flowers has an insect in it.
I’m enjoying the bulbs popping up in the grass, and the insects are enjoying them too.
Photo taken March 21, 2022. It’s Spring!


  1. Depressing AMB, true about insects on windscreens in the old days, a devil to clean off. Here we get news, albeit in brief, of reactionary judgements by your Supreme Court, but also outlandish stuff going on at state legislation level. It all seems openly political with no middle ground between the main parties. At least there’s still some semblance of balance of power.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Roy! The Supreme Court–nine unelected people–have far too much power, in my opinion. I would like to see the court expanded to include more people who reflect America.

  2. There are so fewer insects in my lifetime. As scared as I am of bees, I know we need them especially!

  3. I distinctly remember the monarch butterflies that were everywhere when I was small disappearing. Then it was the frogs. But now I have a woodpecker that decided to set up in the heating duct on the roof of my apartment. I don’t think he’s going anywhere until he realizes all the hammering away he’s doing is on metal…

  4. Yes, the insects are disappearing along with so many others. W hen I was a kid, family vacation meant going camping to national and state parks all over the western U.S. We had a big pickup truck with a camper on the back of it, and when we got to our destination, I would always stare in fascination at the grill of the truck with all the smashed bugs on it. By the time I reached my teens there were hardly any bugs on the grill at all. Gardening won’t save all the insects but I make mine as insect friendly as possible and I am always rewarded.

    The court cases you mention are very distressing. I can only hope the judges find it within themselves to do the right thing.

    Our weather here is warming but it is not yet warm enough for green or flowers so your photo really brightened my day.

    1. Goulson talks about insects on windshields in the book. I don’t remember that from my childhood (1980s/90s), but maybe I just didn’t notice. I’ve added a picture to the post to show you more of the blooms (underneath the picture you saw). We’re about a week ahead this year. The crocuses, hellebores, and many of the daffodils are putting on a lovely display.

      Yes, the court cases are distressing. The Supreme Court will also be looking at affirmative action next year. Almost nothing good comes out of their involvement in anything. The Bostock decision (recognizing that our civil rights laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation) from a few summers ago is an exception, but they left open a few loopholes that will likely allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ people under the guise of “free speech” or “religious freedom.”

      1. Flowers so pretty!!!

        It’s the “religious freedom” thing that gets me most. In most cases it’s a willful misinterpretation of the constitution in my opinion. I forgot about the affirmative action case they will hear next year. I’m pretty sure that one will not come out well.

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