Crap Happens

Something's About to Hit the Fan

"Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course . . . No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished."

1,600 Senior Scientists, November 18, 1992 — World Scientists Warning to Humanity

There is a disturbing theory about the human species that has begun to take on an alarming level of reality. It seems that the behavior of the human race is displaying uncanny parallels to the behavior of pathogenic, or disease-causing, organisms.

When viewed at the next quantum level of perspective, from which the Earth is seen as an organism and humans are seen as microorganisms, the human species looks like a menace to the planet. In fact, the human race is looking a lot like a disease — comprised of organisms excessively multiplying, mindlessly consuming, and generating waste with little regard for the health and well-being of its host — planet Earth.

Pathogenic organisms are a nasty quirk of nature, although they do have their constructive purposes, namely killing off the weak and infirm and ensuring the survival only of the fittest. They do this by overwhelming their host, by sucking the vitality out of it and leaving poison in their wake. Pathogens don't give a damn about their own source of life — their host — and they often kill it outright.

This may seem like a silly way for a species to maintain its own existence; afterall, if you kill the host upon which your life depends, then you must also die. But pathogens have developed a special survival tactic that allows them to carry on their existence even after their host has died. They simply travel to a new host, sending out envoys to seek out and infect another organism even as their own population dies en masse along with the original host.

A man dying of tuberculosis coughs on his deathbed, an act instigated by the infecting pathogen, ensuring that the disease has a chance to spread to others. A child defecates on the dirt outside her home, unwittingly satisfying the needs of the parasites inhabiting her intestines, which require time in the soil as part of their life cycle. A person stricken with cholera defecates in an outhouse which leaches tainted water into the ground, contaminating the village well-water and allowing the disease to spread to other unsuspecting villagers.

In the case of pathogenic organisms that kill their host, the behavior is predictable: multiply without regard for any limits to growth, consume senselessly and excrete levels of waste that grievously harm the host. When this is translated into human terms, it rings with a disquieting familiarity, especially when we equate human success with growth, consumption and material wealth.

Suppose we humans are, as a species, exhibiting disease behavior: we're multiplying with no regard for limits, consuming natural resources as if there will be no future generations, and producing waste products that are distressing the planet upon which our very survival depends. There are two factors which we, as a species, are not taking into consideration. First is the survival tactic of pathogens, which requires additional hosts to infect. We do not have the luxury of that option, at least not yet. If we are successful at continuing our dangerous behavior, then we will also succeed in marching straight toward our own demise. In the process, we can also drag many other species down with us, a dreadful syndrome that is already underway. This is evident by the threat of extinction that hangs, like the sword of Damocles, over an alarming number of the Earth's species.

There is a second consideration: infected host organisms fight back. As humans become an increasing menace, can the Earth try to defend itself? When a disease organism infects a human, the human body elevates its own temperature in order to defend itself. This rise in temperature not only inhibits the growth of the infecting pathogen, but also greatly enhances the disease fighting capability within the body. Global warming may be the Earth's way of inducing a global "fever" as a reaction to human pollution of the atmosphere and human over-consumption of fossil fuels.

When the internal human body temperature rises, the micro climate of the body changes, allowing for the sudden and rapid proliferation of antibodies, T-cells, white blood cells and other defenders against disease. As the Earth's climate changes and as the natural environment chokes with pollution, we humans already have an idea of what sort of organisms nature can and will suddenly unleash to confront us. They're beginning to show themselves as insect pests and new strains of deadly bacteria, viruses and algae particularly toxic to humans.

As the planet's temperature rises, it gains a momentum that cannot be stopped or even stalled, no matter how desperate or repentant we humans may eventually become. The Earth's "fever," like a spinning flywheel, will only subside in its own time. We may be creating a Frankenstein's monster of astronomical proportions, unless, of course, we are pathogenic organisms. If so, then we really don't care, do we?

Pathogens can often dwell for quite some time within the host organism without causing disease symptoms. Then something happens to spark their growth — they gain a sudden foothold and begin proliferating rapidly. It is at this point that undeniable disease effects begin to show themselves.

Humans began to show their pathogenic potential toward the planet during the 1950s, ravenously devouring natural resources and discarding waste into the environment with utter carelessness. From 1990 to 1997, human global consumption grew as much as it did from the beginning of civilization until 1950. In fact, the global economy grew more in 1997 alone than during the entire 17th century.1

By the end of the 20th century, our consumptive and wasteful lifestyles had painted a bleak global picture. Almost half of the world's forests are gone. Between 1980 and 1995, we lost areas of forest larger than the size of Mexico, and we're still losing forests at a rate of millions of acres a year.2 Water tables are falling on every continent. Fisheries are collapsing, farmland is eroding, rivers are drying, wetlands are disappearing and species are becoming extinct.3 Furthermore, the human population is now increasing by 80 million each year (roughly the population of ten Swedens). Population growth without foresight, management and respect for the environment virtually guarantees increased consumption and waste with each passing year.4

The natural background rate of extinctions is estimated to be about one to ten species per year. Currently, it's estimated that we're instead losing 1,000 species per year. More than 10% of all bird species, 25% of all mammals, and 50% of all primates are threatened with extinction.5 Of 242,000 plant species surveyed by the World Conservation Union in 1997, one out of every eight (33,000 species) was threatened with extinction.6

What would drive humanity to damage its life support system in this way? Why would we disregard our host organism, the Earth, as if we were nothing more than a disease intent upon its destruction? One answer, as we have seen, is consumption. We embrace the idea that more is better, measuring success with the yardstick of material wealth. Some startling statistics bear this out: the 225 richest people in the world (0.000003% of the world's population) have as much acquired wealth as the poorest half of the entire human race. The wealth of the world's three richest people is equivalent to the total output of the poorest 48 countries. We in the United States certainly can raise our hands and be counted when it comes to consumption — our intake of energy, grain and materials is the highest on the planet. Americans can admit to using three tons of materials per month, each of us, and that's not counting food and fuel. Despite the fact that we are only 1/20th of the globe's population, we use 1/3 of its resources. We would require no less than three planet Earths to sustain the entire world at this level of consumption.7

There are those who scoff at the idea that a tiny organism such as the human species could mortally affect such an ancient and immense being as Mother Earth. The notion that we can be powerful


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