The use of chemical pesticides in North America can and should be reduced by at least 50 per cent, says a Simon Fraser University biologist.
Mark Winston is the author of the new book, Nature Wars: People vs. Pests, a persuasive indictment of our ongoing - and futile - chemical battle to rid ourselves of the animals and plants that we consider pests. But more than that, the book questions our fundamental values about the natural world, and the human compulsion to dominate and destroy, rather than accommodate and manage.
The extent of the chemical warfare against pests is "staggering," says Winston. In 1993, for example, 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides were used worldwide. In the U.S. alone, that translates to four pounds of pesticides for every man, woman and child.
When Winston, a member of SFU's centre for pest management, began researching the book, he expected to find a rapidly diminishing use of chemical pesticides in favor of more environmentally friendly methods. He was in for a surprise.
"Most biologically based methods remain at the fringes of pest management," he reports. "Chemical pesticides still dominate - in our cities and homes, our fields and forests, our parks and lawns."
At what cost? He cites one million cases of human pesticide poisoning worldwide every year. Add to that the hidden toll from chronic pesticide exposure, which has been linked to immune dysfunction, infertility, and various forms of cancer and birth defects.
And there's more. Chemical pesticides kill millions of non-target species - such as birds, fish and beneficial insect predators and parasites - and wreak havoc with natural food chains. They also lead to the evolution of more virulent, chemical-resistant pests.
Yet the chemical bombardment continues. And who is winning this "modern war against nature"? Not us, says Winston.