Safety in Numbers?~~by Akje Majdanek

I’d planned to write a comparison of literary, upmarket and commercial fiction and why litfic isn’t what you think, but haven’t been able to concentrate lately. I haven’t been able to think about anything actually but the coronavirus.

I know, first world problems, right? Such a nuisance to have to wait in lines at the store, then discovering they’re out of everything you want when you finally get inside. Having to order takeout at restaurants and wearing masks and gloves every time you leave the house. Not being able to leave the house at all unless you desperately need something.

For days I went to the bother of calculating mortality rates for various countries until it depressed me too much. Friends have pointed out the positives, like how the environment’s improving thanks to global quarantines, but that just brings to mind what scientists have always said: that human overpopulation causes environmental destruction, which brings disaster. Could this disease be the result of environmental destruction? Are the scientists right that there are too many people in the industrialized nations? Are we chopping down too many forests, plowing over too many prairies and destroying too much animal habitat in order to provide housing, office space and shopping centers for all those people?

According to the Guardian, since 2003 China has poured more cement every three years than the USA did in the entire 20th century. Today, China uses almost half the world’s concrete. How many animals do they displace or destroy when they do that? And how many do we in other countries displace or destroy when we build our own cities? This pandemic could’ve started anywhere.

Animals don’t just disappear when we destroy their habitat. They move in with us. Where I live in Florida we now have coyotes running through our backyards because developers built a strip mall and car dealership near our house. I didn’t know Florida even had coyotes until then. What if those coyotes were infected with something? They’d spread it to our dogs and cats, who’d then bring it to us.

According to scientists, there’s this thing that protects us called the dilution effect, which, as I understand it, means that good germs protect us from bad germs. For every evil microbe like a coronavirus there’s a good microbe that preys on it, but when we plow down the forests we disrupt the biodiversity, and those microbes are destroyed or mutated and the good ones can’t protect us anymore.

We have to stop destroying the environment, and the first step is to start practicing sustainable reproduction. Two children per couple is sustainable; anything above that is not. If we don’t start taking better care of the environment, Nature may come up with even worse diseases for us─diseases that cause blindness, deafness, paralysis, necrosis, brain damage, disfigurement. Smallpox caused blisters all over the body, and we used to think there was nothing worse than that. We’re proud of ourselves for eliminating it, but how great an achievement was that when we’re inadvertently creating new infectious diseases all the time with our behavior?

Sustainability should be a no-brainer. It essentially means moderation in all things. To quote a character from one of my own books:

They say those who won’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I predict dire lessons in the future.

(Editor’s note: The dilution effect is a result of herd behaviour in prey animals. All other things being equal, as a herd gets bigger, the risk of any one animal being eaten by a predator becomes smaller. The paper discussed in the linked article argues that the expansion of human civilisation into areas that were previously wilderness increases the risk of a new disease emerging that can infect humans. If we split a population of wild animals into two, any diseases they carry can start to evolve separately in the two sub-populations, as they might now be subject to different selection pressures. This effectively gives evolution extra “rolls of the dice” when “trying” to create a disease that can jump into humans. (I put “trying” in quotes because evolution doesn’t have any plans or ambitions. It just looks as though it does.) This is in addition to the risks posed by living nearer to wild animals than we did before.)


About Akje Majdanek

Remember the books you had to read back in high school and college? Books like Animal Farm, Catcher in the Rye, Anna Karenina, The Crucible, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Jane Eyre and a hundred other deep, profound, thought-provoking reads? And remember how you said, “My gawd, those were the most boring books I’ve ever read in my life. I swear I’ll never read anything with literary merit ever again. From now on it’s nothing but sparkly vampires for me!”

Remember that? So who’s writing brilliant stuff like that today? Who’s writing the books that future students will complain about in the universities of tomorrow?

Akje has no idea, but she’d love to find that author, buy him a bottle of Beam and plagiarize all his work. (#^.^#)

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