Some years back this book triggered childhood memories that I had forgotten. Michael McCarthy was explaining how in his childhood the insects were so abundant that it could be likened to a snowstorm - travelling in a car at night moths would swarm the headlight beams like "snowflakes in a blizzard,” and consequently this meant regular stops to clear the windscreen of insect bodies. This blizzard effect and regular windscreen cleaning happened during my childhood in Northern NSW and South-East QLD. And the moths were so big. The book quickly caught my attention and I wondered how I had forgotten those experiences.
One of McCarthy's major points is that it is just not the dwindling of species we should be concerned about but also the overall vanishing of numbers within species. This he calls the 'great thinning'. This can be hard to recognise, particularly for younger generations. When during a discussion one day I described to my daughter the experience of travelling around at night as a child and needing to clean windscreens due to the shear volume of insects, she rightly asked where did they all go. Good question. My response was a sigh and a not so helpful, "They are just gone".
McCarthy's antidote to this great thinning is that we need to get away from instrumental approaches to addressing these problems. In particular he singles out the deficiencies with so called sustainable development; putting a monetary value on ecosystem services such as clean water; and dubious nature offsetting schemes where land is 'horse traded' for development purposes. Instead, he suggests that we see nature as intrinsically valuable in its own right. Furthermore he takes this further to argue that the natural world can be an emotional and spiritual wellspring that inspires joy, wonder, and even love. There is definately something in this reasoning. Indeed it is this wonder, joy and love that motivates many, if not most of us, onward to the next tree planting, the next weeding and the myriad of other activities that make up wildlife conservation work.