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.