Post-Mosquito Mortem: A Symposium Report

A report of the event “Mosquitopia? The Place of Pests in a Healthy World” (A Rachel Carson Legacy Symposium). For more on the topic, check out the three-part feature “Mosquitopia” in the ongoing series “Silent Spring Continued: A World without Insects.”

24–27 October 2019, Landshut (Munich)

By Marcus Hall

At the end of three days of meetings, our many mosquito experts from a dozen diverse disciplines had come to realize that, in the tradition of John Muir, when we tried to pick out a mosquito all by itself, we found it hitched to everything else in the universe. As a crucial transmitter of human illnesses, that has ushered untold suffering across the generations, this little buzzing insect had brought symposium participants together so that we could explore what might happen if somehow, people were successful at making this creature disappear. Is eradication, elimination, genetic modification, or control of mosquitoes even possible, and what would be the consequences of doing so? After all, armies of scientists and insect managers have attempted, and are actively attempting, all of these things, and we wondered about the aftermath of these projects, as well as the alternatives to controlling insects for managing disease and abating nuisance.

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The Uses of Environmental Humanities series explores diverse and creative ways of thinking with Environmental Humanities in responding to socio-environmental challenges. Contributors address the influence of Environmental Humanities and ways in which we might use this field of study, offering insights into the interactions between societies, science, politics, and culture. The series is curated by Samantha Rothbart.

“Learning and Teaching Across Hierarchies and Disciplines”

By Felix Bidder, Katie Ritson, and Fabian Zimmer

In the course “Interactions: Nature and Culture in the North,” designed for BA students who had chosen the minor “Language, Literature, Culture” as part of their humanities degree, the very first act was to address the matter of how to address each other. German universities err on the side of conserving tradition, and so the students who had registered by email were simply adhering to convention by addressing their lecturers using the formal Sie; now they were being asked to address them as they would each other, with the less formal and more intimate du. It sounds like a small thing, but it makes a difference. Using Sie implies both formal distance and hierarchy: schoolchildren are supposed to refer to their teachers as Sie, but children are addressed as du until they reach about sixteen, after which all parties use the Sie-form. Sie is written with the initial S capitalized, a mark of respect; du is not.

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Overcoming the Fear Factor: Teaching and Learning about Insects and Biodiversity

Tony Weis is a geography professor whose research is broadly located in the field of political ecology, with a focus on agriculture and food systems. He is also a former fellow of the Rachel Carson Center where he worked on a project titled “Ghosts and Things: Trajectories of Animal Life.” Here he talks with renowned biologist Nina Zitani about one of the most significant challenges to inspiring interest in and responsibility towards arthropods and biodiversity. In addition to her work as a research scientist, educator, and curator, Zitani is also a nature photographer and runs an online resource on biodiversity gardening.
*Featured image: Leaf beetles in a cloud forest by Nina Zitani, used here with kind permission.

By Tony Weis

Insects have fascinated Nina Zitani for as long as she can remember. She vividly recalls making her first bug collection at age five, and searching for insects and other arthropods in her backyard and nearby forests in Moorestown, New Jersey, throughout her childhood. Growing up at a time of increasing awareness about the rapid biodiversity loss associated with rainforest destruction, and inspired by tropical ecologists drawing attention to accelerating rates of extinction, Zitani’s curiosity about nature eventually turned to the tropics. Discussion about extinction rates inevitably compels attention to insects, as they comprise by far the greatest number of scientifically-named species within the animal kingdom—as well as an even greater realm of estimated-but-unnamed species, the untold millions destined to be lost before they are identified or even remotely understood. Zitani cites entomologists Scott R. Shaw and E.O. Wilson as especially seminal influences, having  instilled a sense of urgency about biodiversity conservation and a recognition that scientific education has a key part to play in it—both of which have been abiding concerns in her wide-ranging work over the past three decades.

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Bookshelf: The Breakthrough of Environmental History

Review of Stormflod by Bo Poulsen (Aarhus University Press, 2019)

By Katie Ritson

This book is volume 24 in the high profile series “100 Histories of Denmark” published by Aarhus University Press, which over eight years will see a range of historians present the hundred most important historical events and topics from Danish history. The books are meant to be accessible in every sense; the Danish language used is straightforward, the books short (each set at exactly 100 pages, with many high-quality illustrations), and they are all available as PDFs, audio books, and in e-reader format as well as in hardback form at the competitive price of 100 Danish kroner. As such, these books have the potential to be enormously influential in Denmark in terms of the popular understanding of History and its relevance for the times we live in.

Book cover

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Mosquitopia Part 3: Key Reasons for Killing Mosquitoes

In this final installment of the special feature on mosquitoes, the authors present some major arguments for implementing strategies to eradicate mosquitoes. The feature coincides with the Rachel Carson Legacy Symposium “Mosquitopia? The Place of Pests in a Healthy World” being held this weekend (2427 October 2019), and is part of our ongoing blog series “Silent Spring Continued: A World without Insects.”

By Marcus Hall and Dan Tamir

Human health: First and foremost, despite the many and important reasons for saving mosquitoes, or at least saving certain mosquitoes in certain situations, there remains a dire need to eradicate these creatures—even when it means undertaking extreme measures to accomplish this goal. A crucial reason why mosquito-borne diseases are not more pervasive today is that former mosquito controllers were reasonably successful in their goals, bringing mosquito numbers down long enough so that the pathogens they carried dropped below threshold levels. Pandemic mosquito-borne diseases, stemming from transmitted virus, bacteria, and protozoa, are not as dangerous today as they were a century ago, due in good measure to successful anti-mosquito campaigns waged around the world.

Panama (1910s) during the chemical and oil campaign against mosquitoes, which resulted in long-term negative impacts on mosquito populations but also the ecosystems involved. Image is from the book: Mosquito control in Panama; the eradication of malaria and yellow fever in Cuba and Panama, p. 274 (public domain image via Internet Archive Book Images, flickr).

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Mosquitopia Part 2: A few Reasons for Saving Mosquitoes

This is the second installment on mosquitoes to coincide with the Rachel Carson Legacy Symposium “Mosquitopia? The Place of Pests in a Healthy World” being held this weekend (2427 October 2019). Here, the authors summarize some of the main arguments against trying to rid the world of mosquitoes. This special feature is part of our ongoing blog series “Silent Spring Continued: A World without Insects.”
*Featured image: Pictorial Monograph of Birds (1885) by Numata Kashu (1838-1901). Digitally enhanced by Rawpixel Ltd, CC BY-NC 4.0.

By Marcus Hall and Dan Tamir

Far from a complete list, below we highlight some of the main arguments for saving mosquitoes.

Strategic: We must remind ourselves that we are ultimately battling disease, not mosquitoes, and that there may be more effective, more economical, more ethical ways to do this than mosquito control. Malaria once emanated from swamps and bad air, though with more evidence it became clear that mosquitoes were the vectors of this disease. Should we be putting greater efforts into battling the plasmodia pathogens rather than the carriers of them? Should we be focusing at still smaller levels, such as on the chemicals set in motion by the pathogens? Zoologist Marston Bates once called DDT the “sledge-hammer approach to mosquito control” since DDT caused so much collateral damage to other living things, from birds and fish to desirable insects such as bees.[1] Early anti-malarial medications such as Atrabrine was itself a sledge-hammer approach in human blood streams, since people felt pretty nauseous after taking this medication. Because there are pros and cons to every remedy, we need to return to cost-benefit analyses before marching forward with any one solution.

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Mosquitopia Part 1: Killing Mosquitoes? The Pros and Cons

In the first of this three-part installment, Marcus Hall and Dan Tamir introduce us to the possibility of eradicating mosquitoes from the globe. Experts are asking whether it is indeed possible, advisable, and/or ethical, to pursue such a path. To stimulate further dialogue and bring to light further facets of this complex humanenvironment predicament, the authors, together with RCC’s Christof Mauch, have convened the Rachel Carson Legacy Symposium “Mosquitopia? The Place of Pests in a Healthy World” (2427 October 2019). In the second and third installments, we will hear more about the major arguments for and against saving mosquitoes.
*Featured image: Aedes albopictus (Asian Tiger Mosquito) by Alexander Northey via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

By Marcus Hall and Dan Tamir

Global warming is ushering us into a new mosquito epoch.  Ready or not, mosquitoes are coming faster than before; both indigenous and non, disease-carrying and not, human-biting and not. What are we to do with these buzzing creatures, and what has already been done with them? Are we able to control, or locally exterminate them, and with what side effects? Or is it more realistic to admit that Aedes, Anopheles, and Culex are really controlling us? Even if malaria mortality has been dropping in past years, malaria morbidity still pervades the globe, with half of humanity still exposed to this and other dangerous mosquito-carried diseases, from dengue to West Nile, from yellow fever to Zika. Control them we should, we must do, if we are to survive our mosquito-borne Anthropocene.

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Insect Profile: Asian Tiger Mosquito

Aedes albopictus

There are several ways to identify Asian Tiger mosquitos: black and white flecked bodies with a stripe down the back, the unusual habit of feeding during daylight hours, and until relatively recently, a tropical and subtropical distribution within Southeast Asia. Over past decades, however, the species has begun moving further afield, being stowed away in various objects during international travel and the transportation of goods. They have reached the Americas, Middle East, Caribbean, and Europe, and just one week ago three tiger mosquitos were found here in Munich, marking the first time the species was ever recorded in the region. 

As carriers and vectors of viruses like West Nile, yellow fever, Chikungunya, and dengue fever, it is understandable that people are becoming conconcerned about the potential for epidemics in areas yet unaffected. However, wherever mosquito populations flourish, they represent a hefty chunk of the biomass that feeds many species on the lower rungs of the food chain. It seems that solutions to the threats mosquitos pose must balance a host of scientific and ethical considerations. This is the topic of the Rachel Carson Legacy Symposium “Mosquitopia? The Place of Pests in a Healthy World,” on 2427 October 2019. To coincide with the event, we are hosting a three-part installment written by two of the conveners of Mosquitopia, Marcus Hall and Dan Tamir, in which we are introduced to the conflicts and challenges surrounding a possible Mosquito-free future. Part One will be out tomorrow, so watch this space!


Making Tracks. Pitching the Anthropocene: On Global Media Work and the World to Co

By: Dominic Hinde

From around the age of 15, I think I had wanted to be a journalist, and in the pre-Amazon time before print publishing’s great data-driven reckoning I would go to the branch of the British book chain Waterstones in my local town and buy autobiographies and memoirs by foreign and war correspondents. Foreign correspondents seemed to have the dream job. You got to travel, you didn’t have to wear a suit, and you got to feel as if you were making the world bigger.  Thanks to the memoirs I read and the promotional spots 24-hour TV networks used to broadcast between updates and ads, I believed foreign correspondents were a cosmopolitan network of exciting, interesting, and intellectual people and not, as I would go on to find out years later through colleagues and my own work, an often ragtag band with chaotic personal histories who had opted out of normal life in favor of the liberation afforded by permanent transience.

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2020 Visions for Environmental History: Making Environmental History as Global as Possible

This is the fourth post in a series on “2020 Visions for Environmental History” being published jointly by NiCHE’s blog The Otter ~ La loutre and Rachel Carson Center’s blog Seeing the Woods, with posts by Lisa MighettoAlan MacEachernArielle Helmick, and Claudia Leal. The series developed alongside a session of the same name at the World Congress for Environmental History in late July.

Making Environmental History as Global as Possible

By: Claudia Leal

The roundtable proposal for the Third World Congress of Environmental History, which took place in Florianópolis, Brazil, pointed out the significant growth of our field in the last 20 years and mentioned the various organizations and institutions that make evident its international maturation. A significant one is the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations, ICEHO, which organized the above-mentioned congress (as well as two previous ones) as the main way to fulfill its mandate: promoting dialogue between the organizations in the field. Read More