Every day I read about the ebb and flow of the Corona virus and Covid 19, mostly in publications like the New York Times and The New Yorker and The Washington Post. These are all good publications and ones that normally give a fairly accurate view of what is happening out there in the world. But there is something that greatly bothers me about the pandemic coverage in these prominent publications. I find very little in these papers about the fact that the corona pandemic is very probably our first real preview of the end of nature.
What do I mean when I say the Corona Pandemic is very likely a preview of the end of nature? I mean just that, the end of nature as humans have always seen it. And since humans are part of nature, I mean the end of us also.
Many observers have been saying this for a long time now. I suppose we could go all the way back to the book “Man and Nature” by George Perkins Marsh which was written in 1864. This is seen as one of the first ecological views of man’s disastrous interference with nature. Or we could go back to a much more recent book by Bill McKibben, which is actually called “The End of Nature.” This book was published in 1989 and was the beginning of the popular acceptance of the idea that humans were destroying nature. Or we could reference a whole scad of articles that have been coming out almost daily ever since McKiben’s book.
If you take the trouble to look, there have been thousands and thousands and thousands of articles and books arguing very cogently that we are now at the very brink of the end of the natural world. I have written about many of these books and articles in this blog. It’s all out there, but most of us have just refused to read or believe any of this, even though all of it has been certified by at least 97% of climate and environmental and ecological scientists for many, many years.
Another thing that has been well documented is that there have been numerous pandemics in the last 100 years. Many of the books and articles about the new pandemics say that they are all part of the end of nature, part of the destruction of the natural world by just one species, Homo Sapiens. They all say that global warming and the death of the oceans, and the recently cascading death of birds and mammals and many other living organisms are part of the human caused death of nature that is now really and truly upon us.
The pandemic that we are living through right now is no exception. It is not just some random, chance disaster that came out of nowhere. There are hundreds of scientific and popular articles out there that present loads of evidence that this pandemic and almost all other pandemics arise from the human interference with and destruction of natural ecosystems. When the various forms of life which have been the carriers of viruses for millennia are disrupted, the viruses that they carry look for new places to colonize. And when viruses are surrounded by humans invading their habitats, they latch on to human bodies for their new homes.
David Quammen’s book Spillover is a long and detailed description of how disrupted ecosystems lead to pandemics. Below is just one short description from Quammen.
“Mankind’s activities are causing the disintegration (a word chosen carefully) of natural ecosystems at a cataclysmic rate. We all know the rough outlines of that problem. By way of logging, road building, slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting and eating of wild animals, clearing forest to create cattle pasture, mineral extraction, urban settlement, suburban sprawl, chemical pollution, nutrient runoff to the oceans, mining the oceans unsustainably for seafood, climate change—by all such means, we are tearing ecosystems apart. This much isn’t new. Humans have been practicing most of those activities, using simple tools, for a very long time. But now, with 7 billion people alive and modern technology in their hands, the cumulative impacts are becoming critical.”
“And now the disruption of natural ecosystems seems more and more to be unloosing microbes into a wider world. When the trees fall and the native animals are slaughtered, the native germs fly like dust from a demolished warehouse. A parasitic microbe, thus jostled, evicted, deprived of its habitual host, has two options—to find a new host, a new kind of host . . . or to go extinct. It’s not that they target us especially. It’s that we are so obtrusively, abundantly available. “If you look at the world from the point of view of a hungry virus,” the historian William H. McNeill has noted, “for even a bacterium—we offer a magnificent feeding ground with all our billions of human bodies, where, in the very recent past, there were only half as many people. In some 25 or 27 years, we have doubled in number. A marvelous target for any organism that can adapt itself to invading us.”
My point here is that pandemics are just one small result of human destruction of the ecosystems that support life on our planet. All of life on earth is concentrated into the very thin film on the surface of the earth called the biosphere. In the biosphere, all of life on earth is one interconnected web where every living thing is connected to all other living things. This web stretches from atoms to molecules to microbes to fungi to reptiles and fish and mammals and palm trees to humans. Yes, humans are actually not all that important in the big picture. We are just one small part of this complex web that has been enabling life for billions of years on out planet.
But about 60 thousand years ago, humans started making their presence known on earth. First they began talk and then to think. And with these powerful weapons they gained tremendous power over all other life forms. Then they proceeded to spread all over the earth and in each new place they visited they very quickly killed all of the biggest and juiciest animals and ate them for dinner. The extinction of megafauna (bug juicy animals that humans found very tasty) followed humans to every new continent and every new island they inhabited. And it happened very shortly after the arrival of humans.
And from there, things went rapidly from bad to worse as humans became more and more powerful.
In the 17th century humans discovered science and the exploitation of nature followed in short order. First came Newton who discovered the mechanical laws that govern motion and space. Then Adam Smith discovered the laws of supply and demand and how to best create profits. Shortly after that, steam and steel were discovered during the industrial revolution and then the industrialization and the rape of the earth were well under way. However, the main damage to the earth didn’t really begin to happen until after the Second Word War and the Great Leap Forward of technology and industry that leads right up to the present moment. Since the end of WW II the human destruction of nature has been increasing far faster than ever before.
For a long time the earth and nature looked just fine. It looked just fine until one day somewhere in the 1950s or so when we suddenly discovered that all the CO2 that humans had dumped into the atmosphere had created a huge problem. Our CO2 had created a greenhouse roof over earth and the average atmospheric temperatures and then the temperatures of the sea were soaring out of control.
And then, just as suddenly, a few years ago, all kinds of life from microbes to insects to song birds to polar bears and elephants were suddenly dying in huge extinctions never before seen. And now here we are with scientists unanimously agreeing that life on the earth is teetering on the edge of non-existence. Many many scientists are now saying that they no longer think we will be able to stop the the crescendo of death that is rapidly approaching all living things on earth. This is about the time that the word extinction began to be heard everywhere.
So, what is really bugging me right now is that almost no one realizes or even mentions that the current corona pandemic is one of the first symptoms of the oncoming onslaught of extinctions that is looming over us. Everyone is concentrating not on our real problems like catastrophic extinction but on why we can’t reopen the tattoo parlors of this or that city right now.
Everyone is screaming about how we need to get back to our old lives of restaurants and bars and football games and movie theaters. And no one even thinks twice about the death of six zillion more square miles of the Brazilian rain forest. It won’t hurt us, they say, it’s just trees and snakes and shit like that. Who cares.
Don’t get me wrong here. The current Corona pandemic is extremely serious and we need to do everything we can to stop it as soon as we can. In the short view, this is the most important job on earth right now. All I’m saying is let’s not forget the long run. In the long run, the most urgent problem is not stopping the current pandemic, it is that this pandemic is just the first indicator that all of human life on earth is in serious danger of dying forever.
I and a whole bunch of scientists and ecologists and environmentalists and science writers are now seeing the current pandemic as the beginning of the end of nature and probably of most life on earth. To me and a lot of others, the end of human civilization and probably of the human race is quite probably a done deal. I hate to say it but none of us humans will survive the end of nature, if that were to happen.
Without the natural ecosystems that support all of life humans are finished. And that is not a probably thing, that a for sure thing.
But maybe I’m being too grim. Maybe, possibly, hopefully at least some of us might be able to survive. For sure there are tons of extinction and devastation coming, and nothing is going to stop that, but just maybe there is a sliver of hope for the survival of human life on earth.
I know this sounds really extreme and kind of crazy, but when you look at the absolute reams of evidence out there right now, it doesn’t sound extreme at all.
For the survival of humanity to have any chance of happening we first have to get out minds off of the upcoming NFL season and just why it is so important to open every tattoo parlor and beauty salon in America tomorrow if not sooner. Not to mention American’s God-given right to endless oil and gasoline and 500 HP luxury cars and all the massive extravaganzas of consumption that we engage in every minute of every day. We have to get our minds around the real problem of the upcoming end of nature.
We used to talk about how global warming and the end of nature and the death of human civilization was thousands, or at least hundreds of years in the future and that this was something for our great, great grandchildren to worry about, surely not us. But guess what folks. I think it is here right now.
I think that the Corona pandemic is the first clear view we have of what the future will look like. And this is probably nothing compared to what is in-store for us later on in this century. What is the future going to look like when we are facing three pandemics all at once, some with death rates of 50% rather than the 1% of Covid-19?
And then there will be the heat which is already killing thousands every summer in the tropical zones. And then there are the forest fires raging all over even the temperate world. And the nearly complete death of the seas. And food production dropping rapidly everywhere due to temperatures that are now only a few degrees higher than normal. Scientists say that food production will drop 20 to 30% even in this century. And how about the air pollutions that is already killing millions of people a year all over the world.
And there is more. There is the end of clean drinking water that is already here. And there is the melting of the Arctic and the Antarctic which is proceeding much faster that predicted and which will create irreversibly changes that will probably mean the end of humans all by itself. And there is the melting of the permafrost which will make human life impossible for multiple reasons from an explosion of new germs that had survived for eons frozen in the arctic ice to causing temperature rises no one has even dreamed about so far.
And this is just the beginning of what is in store for us in this century alone.
Wake up people. We are in for a world of hurt in just the next thirty years. We really, really need to worry about bigger things than whether or not we will be able to make it to our favorite bar this Saturday night. We are now seeing the beginning of the end. We maybe have a slim chance of fixing some of this. But whether we can squeak through or not, it is going to be a very close thing. For God’s sake, let’s get with it and at least try to save ourselves.
Here are some links to just a few of the the articles on how the pandemic is part of the ongoing death of nature and a few other posts I’ve written on this subject. Follow the topic links at the head of this page to see many more.
Here are a few more pictures about how the world used to look and how maybe a few places still look, at least if we don’t look too closely.
Post Summary: The end of nature is really what is behind the Corona Pandemic. We need to take nature and our misuse of it seriously or it will be the end of all humans in the very near future. The Covid-19 pandemic is our first view of the end of nature and the probably end of humans as well.