Winnipeg has built itself at the junctions of the Assiniboine, the Seine, the LaSalle Rivers and other tributary streams and creeks with the Red River of the North. It sits at the bottom of prehistoric Lake Agassiz, at the low point of a flood plain. This contributes to the fertility of the soil, and to the presence of hundreds of thousands of sloughs, dips, melt ponds and other bodies of standing water which nurture the reproductive capability of the mosquito.
When the warm breezes of summer warm the breeding ponds of insect world, Winnipeg resorts to spraying the insecticide Malathion. When the spray trucks roll, the Greens start to write letters to the editor, to caucus, and ultimately to blockade. Last year it was a few streets. This year, it was the City yards where the trucks are loaded. Last year it was impromtu drama. This year it was civil disobedience and organized protest, resolved by arrests and criminal charges.
The Greens have several valid points. Mosquitos shelter themselve well in the grass, and spraying doesn’t have a chance of killing more than a limited percentage of the adults hanging around. It is a somewhat wasteful process, which panders to the uninformed public’s desire to see something being done about mosquitos. Other major cities do not bother to spend money on spraying. Spraying is a health issue for some people with respiratory illnesses and with real or perceived chemical sensitivities.
On the other hand, under the right conditions spraying kills bugs. At some points during the year, the Culex Tarsalis species, which carries Western Equine Encephalitis and West Nile virus, is prevalent and fogging decreases the population of bugs and limits the transmission of disease. Fogging is wonderful for the mental health of politicians and the public. We take comfort from a sense of hope in fighting back and seen to be fighting back against a specialized life form that sees – to the extent that it perceives or visualizes anything – all warm-blooded animals as a buffet.
The Green movement is a movement of individuals acting together for a variety of intellectual and emotional reasons, which makes generalization risky, but there seem to be a few key streams of thought flowing together around the issue of spraying pesticides to kill insects.
Soft Greens can justifiably criticize the structures of political decision making. The democratic process is loaded towards gratification of the urge to kill mosquitos. The risks of applying pesticides of any kind where people live and breath are not fully understood, and tend to be understated. Without a forceful Green presence in the debate, the process would not assess the risks. If Rachel Carson had not written “Silent Spring,” we might still be willing to tolerate DDT and other highly toxic chemicals.
The harder Green perspective is an emotionally charged perspective that views nature in the wild as inherently beautiful, and that strives to protect Nature from the ravages of human occupation. In this perspective, the management of insect populations is an act of aggression by humans against Nature. This harder Green perspective is very close to Nature worship, and it breeds intolerance for the opinions of other people who have a different vision of how to live on the face of the planet.
I sympathize with the softer Green perspective. I have managed to hurt myself by spilling hot coffee as I attempt to swat a few bugs, and the decision to spray pesticides is much more complicated than swatting a few bugs.