Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pandemics and overpopulation

Does the idea of ebola terrify you? Hanta? Zika? AIDS? Do you ever stay up nights wondering if  100% fatal rabies might one day mutate so that it can be spread by a sneeze?

Do you ever wonder what is going on that so many new diseases have seemed to pop out of nowhere?

It may surprise you to know that scientists know very well why this is happening.

First, to get this out of the way, it IS happening. Unlike a public perception that there are more earthquakes than ever (there are not), which is driven largely by having more forms of media to see reports on them, this event is real. More and more deadly pathogens are appearing all the time and jumping to humans...and killing some of us.


In the end, it all comes down to one factor, human overpopulation.

Habitat loss, climate change, and the eating of new sources of wild meat to survive all contribute. Habitats become smaller and migration routes are cut off, stranding species or pushing them into more contact with humans. The animals themselves, stressed by habitat loss have greater susceptibility to disease. Furthermore, when you put several different sorts of mammals--including humans--close together, diseases can more easily jump across species and mutate with the jump.

Animals that once controlled insects that carry diseases, like mosquitoes or ticks, are being driven to extinction. We might not have known that some little critter kept us safe from a terrible disease, but it did, and generally we only find this is so when it is too late to regain the animal population needed to help us.

Add to this accidental transfer of animal and insect life via international shipping (container shipping is an ecological disaster all by itself), as we in the US, Canada, and Australia import cheap goods from China, and you have a disaster that has been in the making for decades. You think it's scary now? It's just at its beginning. If you’re young, you’re going to be hearing about literally hundreds more killer diseases like Ebola before you die--hopefully of old age, rather than of one of these.

The solutions in the short term are complex. Many brilliant people are working at them.

The personal solutions you could implement are simple to list, even though it’s nearly impossible to convince people to implement them. I know I risk offending you by being blunt, but I will be blunt.

  • don’t have more than two children. We all play a part in overpopulation--or its sensible control. If you dearly want a big family, adopt children 3-X.
  • don’t buy goods from other countries. “Shop locally” ends up being the right answer not just for the economic health of your community and nation, but for the protection of yourself and your children from emerging disease
  • educate yourself about products that cause the worst environmental degradation, and don’t buy them. Two simple changes that you could begin with as you shop next at the grocery store: Eat chicken and domestically farmed fish, rather than beef and pork. Avoid all products with “palm oil” as an ingredient

This isn’t merely some liberal hippie-dippie concept, to save endangered species and shop locally and think about overpopulation and not be wasteful of energy. As a species, we’ve been committing collective suicide. And, as individuals, we can stop doing so.

I hope you never have to look down at a hospital bed and see your child or grandchild die of something like West Nile, but if you do, and you are calling out to God “Why?”...the first place you need to look is in the mirror. Did you do everything you could at a personal level to stop the mounting disaster from happening? Or did you roll your eyes and turn away?

I’ll be blogging about diseases for a month or two, in conjunction with the release of my new pandemic thriller, Crow Vector. I’ve read thousands of pages in research for writing it, and I have a good deal of scary stuff to tell you about.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review: Panic in the Year Zero

I was in a mood not too long ago to see some black and white SF B movies. With various reference books and documentaries that examined these movies, I came up with a list of ones I wanted to see (and either hadn’t ever or hadn’t since childhood's rainy Saturday afternoons of creature feature).

The first movie I cared about finding was a post-apocalyptic thriller, Panic in the Year Zero, starring and directed by Ray Milland. The nuclear war comes (at 1962 levels, so it’s a survivable one). An L.A. family is on a camping trip when the war happens literally in their rearview mirror. The dad, Milland, quickly understands how society will collapse, and his job is to keep the four in the family alive through that phase and until society begins to rebuild itself. He behaves aggressively to accomplish this goal.

The movie is good, despite being 55 years old. It’s the a brutal sort of post-apocalyptic story that hadn’t been, so far as I know, depicted in movies before that. There were movies about mutant monsters and sole survivors, but nothing really like this. The Road, or The Walking Dead, or my own series Gray or most books you read in this genre are in the tradition of this movie. This has a bleak view of humanity. It talks directly of matters of right and wrong and expedience. When we do evil to accomplish an end, can we still call ourselves good people after we’ve done it? It’s a debate Milland’s character and his wife, played by Jean Hagen, have.

I spent a bit more money on this one title to get this version, which has a decent film commentary that talks about the film’s place in history and the various ways in which many of the supporting actors died within years of its release of alcohol-related illness. He also talks about the ahead-of-his-times prepper strategies the Milland character uses.

Frankie Avalon plays the son and does a great job--many of the reviews you’ll find online say “I didn’t know he could act,” but in fact here he proves he can, including when he has no dialog.

A strange aside: it at first seemed bizarre to me that everyone fleeing L.A. is white in the film, and I thought it was just because the film was made in 1962 and therefore unconsciously prejudiced, but then I looked up census figures to see and LA in fact was 94% white in 1960. (I was shocked.) So it was simply accurate. I learn something new literally every day because of the internet.

I know a number of my fans love all things post-apocalyptic, and if you haven’t seen this movie yet, hunt for it. Maybe your local library even has it! If not, the DVD I linked is well worth it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Crow Vector now available for pre-order

The disease they’ve been preparing for...the pandemic they’ve been dreading.

A mystery disease strikes a family in New Jersey. Epidemiologist Glenn Stevens is assigned to lead the investigation. People are dying, drowning in fluid filling their lungs, and no medical treatment can save them.

As the fatalities skyrocket and each of his attempts to halt the spread of the disease fails, Glenn knows that the world will soon be in terrible trouble. The lab rushes to identify the pathogen, and Glenn gets shocking news: this is no natural disease mutation.

Someone is out there, working in the shadows, a man who plans to make the already dire situation even worse. Now it is Glenn’s job to find him and stop him.

The clock is ticking. And a billion lives hang in the balance.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My favorite fossils: microfossils

The tiniest fossils excite me more than the biggest dinosaurs. There is a lot to learn from microfossils; fossilized pollen, for instance, can tell us a good deal about the evolution of plants. Many are beautiful. Here are some images from Wikipedia:

Ammonia beccarii, a benthic foram from the North Sea.

Marine microfossils: (diatom, ostracod, radiolarian, sponge spicule, radiolarian, planktonic foraminiferan (two), coccolith)

I’m particularly fond of diatoms and their variety and beauty. 

When you hold a piece of chalk, you’re holding microfossils. You may put microfossils on your garden. It may be in paints you use or many other common substances in your home and yard. Pretty cool, eh?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

new book blurb

20 March. After getting a good deal of feedback, I've edited the blurb to this. (More changes may yet come)

The clock is ticking. And a billion lives hang in the balance.

A mystery disease strikes a family in New Jersey. Epidemiologist Glenn Stevens is assigned to lead the investigation. Healthy young people are dying, and no medical treatment can save them. It's the disease they’ve been preparing for, and the pandemic they’ve been dreading.

As the fatalities skyrocket, the lab rushes to identify the pathogen, and Glenn gets shocking news: this is no natural disease mutation. Someone is out there, working in the shadows, a man who plans to make the already dire situation even worse. Now it is Glenn’s job to find him and stop him. Humanity’s future is at stake.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My favorite fossils: any whole mammal skeleton

There’s nothing more impressive than a full skeleton on display in a museum. Typically a challenge to collect from the field, these are valuable to science both for what they teach and how well they attract tourists, public interest, and therefore funding. And when you look at them, can’t you image the animal fleshed out, running over the ground, hunting?

This is a Hyaenodon horribulus (bonus points for great name) from the upper (late) Oligocene. Found in Wyoming, it current resides in an Ontario museum.

Wikimedia Commons