A Pandemic of Fear

Photograph Source: CDC/Dr. Fred Murphy – Public Domain

A microscopic virus has been unsettling global business as usual: killing people all over the world, hospitalizing countless others, and spreading a pandemic of fear. The Los Angeles Times reported March 1, 2020, the novel corona virus “sends shudders daily across the planet.”

In an area the size of a quarter of the United States, China has locked down over 100 millions of its citizens. Travel restrictions are affecting 780 million Chinese.

The human machine

This unpredictable intrusion of an invisible being into the vast human machine is slowly grinding down the world in its deadly track.

The human machine is exceedingly complex. It’s made up of armies, nuclear bombs, international trade, construction, buying, selling, travelling, waging war, logging of forests, the burning of the Amazon, plundering each other and the natural world, rural exodus to the overcrowded cities, obese and hungry people sleeping next to each other: some sleeping in luxury and others in the streets. Meanwhile, in the midst of these social and ecological calamities, privileges rain on the rich and super rich billionaires.

Government officials and the World Health Organization see no connection between this hell on Earth, the failed international order and the virus. They confine themselves in issuing instructions on the magnitude and symptoms of the corona disease. Not a word that perhaps this sort of thing – anthropogenic onslaught on the Earth resembling biological warfare — is likely the explanation for the corona virus.

Too many people

This thinking is alien to societies / countries absorbed by their daily struggle for survival. They have populations growing out of bounds. In 1800, the planet had 1 billion people. In 2019, world population was 7.7 billion. The numbers of people keep increasing, even doubling every few decades. This assures class tensions, exploitation of the weak by the powerful, impoverishment of the natural world and perpetual waves of migrants and refugees seeking a better life.

Populations of tropical countries in the south are growing faster than those of the north. Some of them are exploding internally and spilling over borders. War, as in Syria, and higher temperatures make this population movement inevitable, tragic, and dangerous.

Climate chaos

At the same time, the world machine is being threatened by a different, much more dangerous climate. This is the result of decades-old apathy, especially on the part of northern countries, which have been responsible for most of the pollution of the Earth for more than a century. Yet they keep ignoring corporate and state decimation of forests, lands, and seas. The primary fuels behind such attacks include petroleum, natural gas, and coal.

Climate scientists have been telling “policy makers” the world over that burning fossil fuels is bad. It’s triggering the potential end of life. It’s morally abhorrent and monstrous. It’s undermining civilization.

Scientists explain that rising world temperature is melting the ice on mountains and seas, with the result rising and warmer sea and ocean waters are undermining seacoasts and islands.

Climate change is changing agriculture for the worst. Industrialized agriculture is becoming less productive and more deleterious. Corporate managers and scientists continue fiddling with the genetic engineering of crops. They also continue increasing the amounts of toxic and carcinogenic pesticides they spray the very food people eat.

Animal farms are major sources of greenhouse gases. However, they have become symbols of affluence. Mass slaughtering and eating of animals is fashionable and on the rise. Animal factories are now in China producing meat for hundreds of millions of urban people. Such dive into factory agriculture bodes ill for the efforts of China to get reacquainted with its ancient agrarian culture, much less ecological civilization.

Warmer seas and oceans are increasingly becoming less hospitable to life, including fish. Add commercial overfishing, and the future of fish supplementing human diet becomes problematic and dark.

Climate change sounds abstract. It is not. It’s a cosmic force brought to life by human ecocidal activities, especially industrialized agriculture, the logging and burning of forests, and the burning of fossil fuels. This awakened climate is a gigantic monster transforming the Earth into a hostile place for humans and wildlife.

Fragility of life

This is big deal because the Earth has always been Mother Earth: source of all life, animal and human, and civilization. Humans have reached a state of technological wherewithal that threatens their own existence (with any deployment of nuclear weapons) or the slower undermining of their civilization (with burning fossil fuels and aggressive ecocidal policies).

What should we say about these facts? Dare we connect them to science and progress?

I have been criticizing such abysmal and immoral developments for decades. It’s not that we have not had warnings about the fragility of life or the toxic effects of public policies for private profit rather than public good.

Euripides, that genius of a poet in fifth century BCE Athens, speaks as if he were alive today. He urges us to live responsibly every day as if that day was our last. Death, he says, is an obligation. It’s the price we all pay. No person alive today can speak with authority of being alive or dead tomorrow. No matter what scientific  studies you do, there’s no way of predicting the future. No man can pin down dark fortune. We are only humans, so think human thoughts. Pay attention to Aphrodite and the pleasures she brings. Drink some wine and you will enjoy yourself. Life for those solemn and irresponsible people is not life but catastrophe (Alcestis 780-802).

Inhuman power

That catastrophe has been encoded on the DNA of those who have been building nuclear bombs and still keep them as potential bullets against their enemies. Holding on to such destructive and genocidal weapons makes possible all other atrocities against the natural world and against humans. Nothing is worse that the obliteration of nuclear power. It freezes humans to the inhuman camp of exterminators.

Nuclear power is inhuman power. It has been normalizing all other evils in the world: burning and clearcutting of forests, mining the public lands for petroleum, plundering the natural world, industrializing farming to mine the land for food and the burning of fossil fuels and ignoring the consequences of climate change.

I don’t pretend to know the origins of corona virus: the source for the current worldwide health emergency. On February 28, 2020, Congressman Ami Bera, chairman, Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, described the corona virus as a “rapidly evolving public health threat.”

It would not be farfetched guessing, as I have already done, the origins of the virus pandemic in the deleterious human effects on the natural world, our Mother Earth. Biologists should be asking the scientific and philosophical question if undisturbed wild life is a source of deadly diseases. I doubt it is. Diseases come from ecological disturbances, too much cold, too much heat, bad food, no food, and pollution and wars. Conventional reports, however, suggest that the corona virus emerged in December 2019 in the wild animal markets of the large city of Wuhan, China.

Reimagining the world

If I am right in my speculation, a real rather than a cosmetic solution of the pandemic would require the remaking of our world: banning nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants; enforcing a strict worldwide population control like that of China; ending fossil fuels, replacing them with solar, wind and other renewable forms of energy; returning to small-scale democratic and ecological farming without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. And, of course, a worldwide ban of the plundering of the natural world.

I know this is a dream unlikely to go very far. But I am a dreamer in love with the good and the beautiful. The least I can do, and I am doing, is to speak truth to power.

UN and other climate scientists have given policy makers about ten years for the elimination of fossil fuels.

The challenge of reinventing and making the world is immense. The fire of Prometheus is still burning among us. Let’s use it for the benefit of all humanity. Focus in the restoration of environmental and public health. Nothing is possible without health. Herophilos, a third century BCE Greek physician, wrote in his “Regimen” that when health is absent wisdom all but disappears, science is obscure, strength dissipates, wealth is useless, and reasoning impossible (Sextus Empiricus, Against the Mathematicians 9.50).

In our case, the wealth of the billionaires the world over could be put to good use in this epic struggle of rebuilding our wrecked environment and civilization.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.