Monday, May 28, 2012

The Silence of the Bats

Is there anything Americans care less about than species extinction? It is as if their house were on fire, but they continue to watch TV because a) they didn’t need that stuff in the garage anyway, and b) it will probably go out by itself before it gets to the living room, c) it’s not their job to fight fires, and d) if it was really important it would be on television. Now that the fire has reached the living room — i.e., impending extinctions are a direct threat to the human food supply — Americans are at last responding. By turning up the TV.

I wrote here recently (The Silence of the Bees) about the ongoing devastation of the bee populations of American and Europe, which threatens crops that require pollination and provide about one third of our food supply. Meanwhile, another plague with some eerie similarities is laying waste the bat populations of the northeastern United States.

Like the bees’ Colony Collapse Disorder, the bats’ White-Nose Syndrome has flickered occasionally across the magic flat-screen mirror on the wall, chiefly to give anchors the opportunity to display sophomoric humor. Surely the death of a few of these critters, and the concern of the people who crawl around the floors of filthy caves to count the bodies, have nothing to do with us?

Last week, the cave-crawlers, who are in fact serious scientists, published their latest rigorous estimates of the number of bats to have succumbed to this mysterious disease. Not a few: nearly seven million. Seven times their previous estimate, made in 2009. Read More