An insect vision of the future

FUTURE FORECAST: Locusts are expected to play a large role in humanity's future.
FUTURE FORECAST: Locusts are expected to play a large role in humanity's future.

The future," said Dave, "is ... "

"Stop," I said. "I've been told too often what the future is. Over the course of half a century I've been told that the future is jetpacks and food pills, or that it's living on space stations, or that it's living to be 1000. I've been told that the future is nuclear winter or a summer of love, fire and brimstone or milk and honey. I've been told that the future's green, or the internet, or electricity too cheap to meter. And I've lost count of the number of times I've been told that the future's ending next month. All of which predictions have had one thing in common: they've been wrong. The future has simply refused to co-operate. Tomorrow's continued to be a similar sort of muddy mess to the muddy mess that yesterday was, plus a few new gadgets.

"The only conclusion to draw is the future's unknowable. And that's fine by me. If you know what's round the corner, there's no point in walking round the corner. The only bit of the future we do know for certain is the personal bit. And it's not got a happy ending. Which is such a nasty chunk of knowledge, a sort of perpetual background murmur of futility, that we find ourselves forced to behave as if we didn't know it. Or else we invent fictions to convince ourselves that it isn't true. Or we drink.

"In short, Dave," I said, "thanks but no thanks. Even if you do know what the future is, I don't want to hear it. I want to just bump into it when it happens."

"Fine," said Dave, and we walked on in silence through the pine plantation. My dog had taken little part in the conversation. He was immersed as always in the present tense, scurrying with his nose to the ground in search of either something to eat or to chase, then eat.

"So what is it then, Dave?"

"I thought you didn't want to know," said Dave.

"Of course I want to know."

"It's insects," said Dave.

"I see," I said.

"No you don't," he said.

"Yes I do," I said. "You mean that ants and cockroaches and their countless relatives have been chugging along unchanged for millennia, that they have seen dinosaurs come and go, ditto ice ages, and ditto, in due course, homo sapiens. You mean that the morning will come when the insects will wake up, yawn, stretch and find us gone and they will be masters of all they detect with their little feelers.

"Well, Dave," I said before he could interrupt, "it may well prove so, but that morning is still an inch or two down the track and knowing it's coming doesn't help one bit with the problematic business of simply getting through to next weekend with sanity intact and bank balance positive. So frankly, Dave, I'm not interested in hearing of the day when the weevil inherits the Earth."

"But the weevil won't," said Dave. "Because we're going to eat it. Did you know that there are 40 tonnes of edible and nutritious insects for every man, woman and child on the planet. So if we assumed everyone ate a kilo of insects a day, there would already be enough tucker to last each of us for 120 years, and that's assuming the buggers didn't reproduce.

"And they do reproduce. They reproduce with such dedication they make rabbits look celibate. So if we farmed them, we'd have an endless supply of effectively free food. And it's good food too.

"There's little fat on an insect and lots of protein, most of which derives from other insects or from vegetation that we find hard to digest. So, if we switched to insect farming instead of inefficient and pollutant mammal farming, we'd slim down the fat West and fatten up the poor rest. And any insects left over we could turn into petrol.

"All we need is change of attitude. We already eat grim-looking things like lobsters and crabs, indeed we consider them delicacies, so why not scorpions and cockroaches?"

"Why not indeed, Dave," I said, "but we both know it's not going to happen. And the main reason it's not going to happen is that it makes good sense."

"Cynic," said Dave and we walked cheerfully back through the trees with the equally cheerful dog.

The Dominion Post