Unreported crimes on the rise

by Briony Penn, September 2010

The birds and the bees are missing in action and so, as Stockwell Day says, what we need are more prisons.

I couldn’t agree more with Stockwell Day that there is a rise in “unreported crimes.” I have been keeping a tally this summer of crimes against our life systems that no one reports. The interesting thing about such unreported crimes is that not only is the activity itself a crime, but the lack of reporting is one too. And both are escalating precipitously. 

I have absolutely no data to prove the degree of assault on ecosystems. All I have are my eyes and intuition, because the federal scientists who normally gather statistical data on population declines and environmental impacts and threats have either been let go, muzzled or resigned in passionate frustration. 

As for evidence of lack of reporting, I only have the absence of data to go on. 

But according to Mr Day and other members of his faith-based organization, that seems to be the key criteria for supporting measures to take actions against the criminals. In fact I think Day and I could happily agree that we should spend a minimum of $9 billion dollars incarcerating those who perpetrate these crimes or their failure to report them. 

Take for instance the state of the nation’s pollinators that Environment Canada once identified as being responsible for a billion dollars worth of fruit and veggies, not to mention the viability and net worth of all our native plants. I know from statistics collected in the US, where some data still exists, that just amongst the 2.5 million domesticated honeybee colonies, beekeepers report a 30 to 90 percent loss of their hives in the last four years. In response, a new US congressional caucus has been struck around the issue of disappearing pollinators both in these domesticated hives, and even more importantly, in the populations of the 4000 or so wild pollinating bee species. They plan to bring in measures in the next 2012 Farm Bill to protect wild bee habitat. 

When I try to figure out what is happening here in Canada, I find there is no national data. The last web entry on bees was in 2008 and the PR lady at the end of the phone wasn’t able to tell me if there were any government scientists gathering data on trends or not. 

So given the common sense approach set out by our prime minister, with no need for census data, I simply rely on a gut feeling that a crime is underway. I certainly feel as if more native bumblebees and honeybees have been murdered this year. Intuitively, I know it is due to rising violence against these vulnerable members of society from all fronts. The bumblebees and honeybees seem to be getting attacked by alien mites, fungi, beetles, pesticides, habitat invasions, microwaves and climate change. By incarcerating all the pathogens, chemical companies, development corporations, cell phone manufacturers and oil companies, the bees’ problems could probably be solved. 

Frankly, I’m not sure whether $9 billion will do it. Given the guesstimate of keeping just one corporate knighted crook in jail, we might have to double that number. 

Another unreported crime concerns migratory birds. I would volunteer a guess that the statistics on these birds are not good. I look out my window and feel as if there have been declining numbers of migratory birds like swallows, flycatchers and nighthawks. For example, the barn swallows didn’t show up this year to nest. 

I’m smart, I can put two and two together. These are all birds that live on insects and having just guessed that pollinator populations are down, I can safely assume that these bird populations might be down too. 

When I ponder why bird populations are down, I imagine all the things that threaten them on their long migrations. They have to gamble with their lives in Utah, cross borders in Arizona, dodge drug cartels in Mexico and find somewhere to rest and feed in the pesticide-laced carnation plantations of Columbia. 

Boy, those prisons will be busy with the casino owners who use up all the water in the lawns and fountains and don’t leave any for the birds; the border police who shoot anything that crosses the border; and the drug lords who flatten the forests for their crops. Next year, Mr Day and I might want to reconsider opening up some more prisons for the oil company reps and the politicians who deregulated the industry for their roles in fouling up the Gulf of Mexico and the murder of migratory birds, seabirds, marine mammals, fish, shellfish and a way of life forever. 

My list of unreported crimes just keeps growing, as does the lack of reporting. The question becomes: “How do we deal with this descent into the dark ages?” If we look to Europe, a few monastic orders kept data in well-fortified libraries while some university institutions continued to hoard bits and pieces of data unaffiliated with the warring lords’ interests. 

When a friend died—a woman who had been a marine biologist with a speciality in tracking populations of different marine species over 25 years on the coast—many of her friends and associates had no idea where to send her files of accumulated data. None of us trusted any level of government to safeguard it, and the non-profits we asked were overwhelmed with the existing crimes against living systems. It raised interesting questions for all of us. For example, with the decline of a national ethic committed to sound data, who will we turn to for the facts? Who will the courts turn to for evidence? How will we know when a crime has been committed? How will we define a crime? Are crimes against the birds and the bees not crimes against humanity too? And will the real culprits go to prison?

Briony Penn PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and a A Year on the Wild Side.