The “How do I kill them?” e-mail is pouring in faster than ever, depressing me no end. Most of the writers want to know how to kill the sweet little ground bees that are drilling holes in their pristine suburban lawns. Or sometimes they focus on harmless carpenter bees, assuming their lives would be better without them pollinating our food, our gardens, our communities. I’m not picking on anyone in particular here—I don’t have to because all the messages sound the same:
- They are mostly from women (or perhaps men posing as women).
- They all cite the necessity of protecting their children from stings (I would bet that some don’t even have children).
- They all say they don’t want to kill the bees, but they have to do something (of course they want to kill the bees; that’s why they’re asking).
When I read these missives, I imagine an hysterical woman scared to death of anything with more than four legs. Her children are not the problem, she is. In any case, children take cues from their parents and reflect their parents’ fears. If the mother is mortified, it won’t take long before the child is too.
These people are educated or not, but in any case they are oblivious to the world around them. They believe they have a right to a germ-free, dirt-free, bug-free, snake-free, spider-free world, and they will go to any extreme to make it happen. They are the parents of children who believe carrots arise from plastic bags, that meat has no relationship to animals, that anything from a store is safe, and who—nevertheless—are afraid of their own shadows.
But maybe I’m being too hard on these folks. Certainly, I’ve been wrong before, so let me re-think:
- Maybe we would all be happier if we could annihilate just one more creature.
- Maybe we would be better off without fruits and vegetables to feed our kids; they don’t like them anyway.
- Maybe it’s better for children to inhale cancer-causing insecticides—and absorb them through their skin—than chance a bee sting.
- Maybe we should spend our money on something deadly (pesticides) instead of something fun (a butterfly net, a hand lens, or a popsicle).
- Maybe we should spend our time obsessing over a patch of lawn instead of using that time to read, write, laugh, or learn.
- Maybe, if we stick our heads in a hole, someone else will conserve whatever needs it (as long as it doesn’t live in our own backyard).
- Maybe we should all jump in the car (33,500 traffic fatalities a year in the US) and drive to the store to buy pesticide (67,000 poisoning cases a year in the US along with 12,000 new cases of pesticide-caused cancer) so we can avoid the possibility of an insect sting (50 fatalities per year in the US).*
I have trouble believing that so many Americans live in fear. They won’t bother to learn that most native bees don’t even sting. They won’t bother to learn the importance of pollinators to our food supply, our environment, our daily lives. They won’t bother to consider that after enough things go extinct, the human race must follow. These people would be absolutely miserable if we forced them to live in a world without insects, but that’s what they think they want.
A parent who teaches her child to kill—rather than respect—an insect is no parent at all. Sure, there are times when we must act, but let’s strive for an educated decision, not a knee-jerk reaction.
How can we be so short-sighted? How can we think that are own personal comfort should come before the good of the next generation? Why do we want to raise children who are fearful and ignorant?
Honestly, folks, I don’t get it.
- These statistics vary depending on the source, but basically the message is the same: you are 670 times more likely to die in a car crash than from an insect sting, yet no one hesitates to put their kid in a car. You are 1340 times more likely to be poisoned by pesticides than killed by a insect. But does that stop us from sprinkling, spraying, powdering, and injecting? Hell, no.