Fifteen billion slugs

August 22, 2007

According to the Times today that’s how many we’re facing, presumably in Britain, because of the weather this summer – loads of rain, very little sun. A crop scientist from Bayer is quoted saying “It’s slug heaven this year. These figures are unprecedented. We have never seen such high numbers before. Our counts are up by well over 50 per cent.”

I’ll be perfectly honest that I’m obsessed with this slow apocalypse our era is becoming. It’s shaping up very unexpectedly – last summer in Britain we had a terrible drought (cumulatively from two winters with less than average rainfall), and now we’re got floods and slugs. New Zealand, meanwhile, had its wettest December on record last year and is currently succumbing to an algal disaster. Slugs, floods, algae, then some drought, then more slugs and stuff. It’s bonkers.

And yet, most people carry on regardless. My friend Dom sent me a link to a very interesting piece by Johan Hari in the Independent the other day about why we’re carrying on regardless. The crux of it was that, if we’re surrounded by people ignoring a problem, ooh, like catastrophe, we’ll ignore it too. We don’t seem to be able to acknowledge it unless everyone does, and will only react when the crisis is impossible to ignore. Hari was talking about an experiment done by two psychologists, John Darley and Bibb Latané, who took random volunteers and put them in a room at the top of a building with three other people who were in on the experiment (though the test subject was told they were just other volunteers). The room was then gradually filled with smoke. However, as the three ‘actors’ just ignored the smoke, so did the subject.

Hari says, “What Darley and Latané discovered about human nature in the experiment was extraordinary. Linda would look at the smoke and try to make anxious eye contact with the others – but when she saw they were carrying on as normal, so did she. No matter how many times they ran the experiment, only when Linda – or any of the dozens of other subjects – could barely breathe would she stand up, interrupt the others, and say: ‘There’s a fire!’

We are, collectively, sitting in that smoke-filled room, carrying on as if nothing is wrong.”

We’re not just ignoring the melting icecaps, the filthy out-moded technologies (be they coal burning power stations or increasingly big personal vehicles), the untenable lifestyles (SUVs, commuting by plane, inenergy inefficient buildings, a gazillion tonnes of plastic packaging wasted every second, etc etc etc), we’re even, for the most part, ignoring the plague of slugs in our gardens (the pesky molluscs ate some parsley and basil we planted in about two hours flat).

Considering how ingenious and aspirational the human race is, we’re are profoundly blind.

Oh, and just as an aside, it made me laugh (to keep from weeping, you know) to read about Branson putting up a huge chunk of money for a competition to encourage people to build atmosphere purifiers. Ok Sir Richard, so when you’re jetting around in your private planes, or encouraging others to squeeze into your airliners, or starting up your commercial space program (“hey, let’s burn huge tanks of fuel so rich people can go and have a look at the planet we’re trashing!”), you’ll be able to feel good about yourself for giving money to people to build industrial-sized CO2 vacuum cleaners. Great! So logical. Come on, you’re a clever guy with an imagination, inspire us by applying your mind and money with more vision!

Here are the links for those stories:


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