Here is an important article by Jeffrey A. Lockwood about the dangers posed by the use of insects as tools of terror. Unlike the, largely far fetched, paranoid hysterics of the immediate post September 11 days, the use of insects as vectors of disease, real bio-weapons is well established and so low tech that it is a much more real danger. And their potential isn’t just as vectors of disease in humans and animals. Some insects, themselves, have the potential to cause extensive damage to agriculture and the environment, the example of the threats to release the Mediterranean fruit fly in California shows how dangerous even a simple attack of this kind could be.
But there is another important question, isn’t this exactly the type of thing that is happening as a result of “free trade” ? Some of the most damaging insect invasives (not to mention plants, mollusks, amphibians, etc.) are a direct result of trade and commerce. But how often are even the economic consequences of this low grade enviornmental terrorism ever brought up or considered? How much does the motive an intention really matter? Enough to make the economic invasives innocuous? Does the fact that the intent was profit make it all right?
If someone brings in an organism that destroys the hemlock forests or hardwoods what difference does their motive make? And it’s not just insects destoying the flora here and everywhere else. Remember when West Nile Virus was first in the news in the United States? The anxiety was genuine, the known effects on people and birds were frightening. The speculation on many talk shows that I recall centered on how it had come into North America, imports, “foreigners”, the entire lexicon of xenophobic cogitation was brought up. Only once or twice did I hear someone say that it could have been anyone who had been in the middle east who was infected and brought it here. Even the most decidedly white, wealthy, conservative businessman who had traveled for business or pleasure could have introduced the virus here.
The benefits of trade, imports, exports and travel are often repeated but like everything, it’s not always what it is made to seem.