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Darragh McManus on radio: It's a bug's life, and death, in unseen eco catastrophe



Dr. Cara Augustenborg Picture: Tom Burke

Dr. Cara Augustenborg Picture: Tom Burke

Dr. Cara Augustenborg Picture: Tom Burke

Environmental issues have become so much a central part of the discourse that even a notoriously grumpy old sceptic such as Ivan Yates now devotes a special section to it, Down to Earth, every week on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 4pm). The genial and well-informed Dr Cara Augustenborg looks at the latest eco-news and research.

This week we heard of the "bug apocalypse". As Ivan joked, it sounds like a sci-fi movie, but this is closer to horror. Some 41pc of known insect species globally are facing extinction, causing an "unknown apocalypse" - unknown because we don't generally see or notice these tiny creatures.

Insects, Cara said, make up 70pc of all animal species. They are the most abundant and diverse group. More pertinently for us, insects are responsible for pollinating 70pc of crops, help with recycling nutrients, and kill pests which destroy plants.

But, in what Cara rightly labelled "shocking" and "catastrophic", a 40pc decline in insect numbers has been recorded by scientists. Even here in Ireland, a recent study showed a 70pc decline in flying insects.

We may soon need to hand-pollinate crops, which is a much more expensive and laborious process; in China they're already doing this with apples. Is it a catastrophe for people? Yes, she added, when we have an ever-increasing global population.

Further depressing environmental developments on Marian Finucane (Radio 1, Sat-Sun 11am), which interviewed Italian journalist Andrea Rossini about those floods in Venice. These "worst floods ever" are a "disaster" for Venice, he said, with "gigantic damage to our cultural heritage: the churches, the basilicas, but also for residents of Venice".

But it's not all bad. There's positive and life-affirming stuff out there. For starters, look no further than Futureproof Extra, a podcast spinning off Jonathan McCrea's Newstalk science show (Sat 12 noon).

Recent episodes have looked at such fascinating subjects as the Big Bang and time travel. I particularly enjoyed the latter, as I had read guest James Gleick's book on the subject. ­ Mind-expanding, not to mention mind-melting, in the nicest possible way.

Meanwhile, the same station's great Talking History (Sun 7pm) continues to knock it out of the park with an admirably broad range of topics. Not for Patrick Geoghegan the usual obsession with the Rising or the Troubles, those overdone staples of Irish history: his recent episodes have studied Polybius (a Classical Greek history I must confess I'd never heard of), John Stuart Mill (the famous philosopher I have heard of, trying and failing to finish his book On Liberty), and the horrendous Khmer Rouge in 1970s Cambodia.

Excellent work.

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