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Sitdown Sunday: The terrifying insect apocalypse and its impact on the planet

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

Image: Shutterstock/pitaksin

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.  

1. Insect apocalypse

Insects have declined by 75% in the past 50 years – what kind of impact could that have on our planet?

(The Guardian, approx 17 mins reading time)

In 1963, two years before I was born, Rachel Carson warned us in her book Silent Spring that we were doing terrible damage to our planet. She would weep to see how much worse it has become. Insect-rich wildlife habitats, such as hay meadows, marshes, heathland and tropical rainforests, have been bulldozed, burned or ploughed to destruction on a vast scale. The problems with pesticides and fertilisers, she highlighted, have become far more acute, with an estimated 3m tonnes of pesticides now going into the global environment every year. Some of these new pesticides are thousands of times more toxic to insects than any that existed in Carson’s day.

2. Information overload

Is it possible to escape from the current overload of information that we’re being subjected to? (Requires sign-in)

(The Economist, approx 24 mins reading time)

Not since the coming of factories, then aeroplanes, domestic appliances and motorways has there been a serious uptick in sound pollution. Yet the spill of information and distraction that comes at us by eye has grown and grown ceaselessly for two decades, without any sign of a halt or plateau. DM! Breaking-news! Inbox (1)! This is a time of the scrolling, bottomless visual, when bus stops and the curved walls of Tube platforms play video adverts and grandma’s face swims onto a smartphone to say hi. People watch Oscar-nominated movies while standing in queues, their devices held at waist height. A Netflix executive can quip, semi-seriously, that he covets the hours we sleep (hours in which we do not, currently, stream Netflix shows).

3. Biblical womanhood

The fight back against the idea of gender ‘complementarity’ in American Christianity.

(The New Yorker, approx 18 mins reading time)

As other historians have pointed out, the idea that women should be subordinate to men has deep roots in the Christian tradition. But Barr’s book argues that the modern version of complementarianism was invented in the twentieth century, in response to an increasingly effective feminist movement, to reinforce cultural gender divisions. “Women think all of this is the Bible because they learn it in their churches,” Barr told me. “But it’s really a post-Second World War construction of domesticity, which was designed to send working women back to the kitchen.”

4. Where do poppers come from?

An illuminating article about the history of poppers.

(Buzzfeed, approx 20 mins reading time)

It’s been roughly 50 years since poppers emerged as a recreational drug in the gay community. In that time, they have become an almost defining product. Their sharp chemical scent evokes both sex and dancing — two activities that can be communal experiences for gay men. “I think there’s a sense of ownership, that this is ours,” said Adam Zmith, a British writer set to release a book this year about poppers and the gay community, Deep Sniff. When I asked Zmith if there was an equivalent product in straight culture, he quipped, “Mortgages? Children?”

5. The science of sweat

Why funky smells repel and attract us.

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(The Walrus, approx 20 mins reading time)

The importance of odour for social cohesion is perhaps best exemplified by the challenges of those who cannot smell. People with anosmia—the inability to smell—often face relationship challenges: men without a sense of smell have fewer sexual partners while nonsmelling women are insecure in their relationships. Both are more prone to getting depressed. Meanwhile, some research suggests that empathetic people are more likely to remember the odour of another person. 

6. Matt Damon

Sure aren’t we all big fans of Matt Damon in Ireland? A profile of the recent visitor. 

(New York Times, approx 28 mins reading time)

Yet despite being a hugely famous, sympathetic and very bankable American movie star, Damon has always felt distant, hasn’t he? Which is odd, because he has never floated away into the realm of remote screen deity like his contemporaries Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt or George Clooney — he’s too solidly earthy for that. Nor has insisted on the mysteries of his being in the manner of Tom Cruise. Instead there’s a cipherlike aspect to Damon, a deeper impenetrability to who he is and what he does that even now, after a quarter-century of watching him, has become so entrenched that we take both it and him for granted.

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

Here’s a profile of the great Simone Biles from last year. 

(Vice, approx 30 mins reading time)

Biles’ bravado is fairly new for her. I’ve interviewed the gymnast several times, the first being in 2014, by which time she had already won her first world championship. Back then, she tended to downplay her talent, asserting that she was beatable when she clearly was not. Even in 2016, after she had already won three world titles and every other gymnast had all but conceded the Olympic gold to her, she prefaced her remarks by saying things like, “If I make the Olympic team.”

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday

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