Without Us, Covid-19 Would Be a Big Fat Nothing


We've learned a lot about Covid-19. Compared to other viruses it's easily transmissible. It's very contagious, easily spread. It's also pretty lethal, far worse than seasonal influenza, which makes it disruptive to highly organized societies. And so we need vaccines, periodic lockdowns, and measures such as masks and social distancing.

But what has stood human civilization on its ear over the past year is not so much the virus as what its host, mankind, has done with it. Without us, Covid-19 would be nothing. We have unlocked its lethality. We have transformed it into a global plague.

We have recklessly overpopulated the planet. That has caused us to intrude on wilderness or what remains of it. We used to hype the Amazon rainforest as a source of unknown plants and organisms from which we would be able to develop all manner of new products, especially medicines. Then, as our numbers swelled and demand for products such as palm oil soared, we began deforesting ancient wilderness to clear the land for plantations. We entered regions of contagions we had not previously encountered at least not in any great numbers. 

As mankind grew we saw a migration from rural regions into cities that are today megacities. Cities so congested that the air itself can be toxic. Cities so congested that easily transmissible diseases can race through densely packed populations like wildfire.

Perhaps the greatest man-made contributing factor is the global economy.  When people traveled at the "speed of sail," viral contagions usually burned themselves out before the ship reached its destination port.  Vessels that had cholera, for example, would not be permitted to land, forced to anchor offshore to allow the disease to take its course. Today, however, viruses travel vast distances at high-subsonic speeds, delivering the infected to distant cities in other lands while the disease may still be in the incubation phase before any symptoms are evident.

Covid 19 didn't have to be a global nightmare.  That was mainly our doing.


  1. Were we not so selfish and greedy the pandemic would be in control by now.


    1. I suppose that depends on your definition of "control", TB. Regardless of fine points we really could have done better, far better. Yet the outcome was always one primarily of choice.

  2. So your are saying that Covid-19 is just another 'act of Gaia' trying to curb an invasive species.

    1. That would mean this coronavirus was created by an ecosystem to regulate overpopulation. That's plainly not what happened. Humans exposed our species to the virus while unprepared to respond to an outbreak. Swine flu is said to have passed to humans from pigs in hovels where the sty was adjacent to the farmer's house.

      No, as I concluded, this is very much on us. We overpopulated that led us to keep pushing back the wilderness and brought us in contact with things we might have avoided. We flocked to congested cities and, in many cases, gleefully indulged in super-spreader events as our leaders bungled lockdowns. And we created the perfect mechanism to transmit the virus to every continent, bar none.

  3. In viewing the ongoing deaths attributed to covid world wide somewhat objectively I was thinking that perhaps it was natures way of telling us that she cannot continue to support the ever increasing number of mankind using up the resources needed for life. Sadly mankind is still continuing to add to that number despite the number of deaths attributed to covid, the estimated number of births last year is around 140 million and total deaths roughly half that at 60 million only 3 million being attributed to covid. I wonder what other changes Ma Nature will bring to us in future years to smarten us up ….and will enough of us take notice to make a difference?

    1. Hey, Rural. There are lessons in this and we can expect more to follow. This is a public health issue. Others may be triggered by the loss of biodiversity or the worsening degradation of the planet's stocks of arable land, i.e. food insecurity, or any of a cluster of "tipping points."

      How many times have I argued that the key to all of these existential threats is to recognize that fixing them means living within the finite limits of our ecosystem, our one and only biosphere, Spaceship Earth.

      Nature bats last.

    2. thanks Rural ;-)
      translation services for the metaphor -challenged....

      "perhaps it was natures way of telling us that she cannot continue to support the ever increasing number of mankind using up the resources needed for life"

      aka 'act of Gaia' trying to curb an invasive species.

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