As I said in a recent article, “The Meaning of
Covid-19: How to Survive and Thrive in the New Partnership Culture,” An
old system is dying and a new one is coming into being. The old system has been
around for a while 10,000 years or so and began when environmental change
brought about serious drought that lasted for generations. It caused people to
believe their only hope for survival in the future was to control and dominate
the natural world. This led to the domestication of plants and animals,
hierarchies with strong men at the top, wars to control land and resources, and
what we call “civilization.” It supplanted a two-million-year-old tribal way of
life that had served humans well.
We’ve been on a destructive path for thousands of years. I
suggest that the Covid-19 virus may be our final warning to change our ways or
become extinct. If the virus could talk to us, what might it say? Will you
Can we talk? You humans are always in such a rush, but
lately, you’ve decided to stay at home. Maybe you’ll be a little more receptive
to hearing me. I hope so, I’ve got a lot I’ve been wanting to talk to you
about. We may be small, but we’re mighty.
First off, it would help us communicate better if you got my
name right. Most everything I hear and see in the news calls me, “Covid-19.”
That’s not accurate.
My official name is “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Coronavirus 2” or “SARS-CoV-2” for short. It was given to me by the scientists
and virologists that serve on the International Board on Taxonomy of Viruses on
February 11, 2020. The World Health Organization named the disease you humans
have contracted, Covid-19.
So, please don’t call me a “disease” name. If you must refer
to me by the name your scientists have given me, you can call me SARS-CoV-2.
Even better you can call me by the name my friends use, “Vera.” (I quite like
the British Crime drama on your T.V. The main character is Detective Chief
Inspector Vera Stanhope.)
Now that we have my name taken care of, let’s get on with
more important matters you need to know about me:
I’m a member of a group of organisms you call
Your Wikipedia will tell you that microbes are microscopic
organisms, which may exist in a single-celled form or in a colony of cells.
They can be divided into six major types: bacteria, archaea, fungi, protozoa,
algae, and the group I belong to, viruses.
We’ve been here a long time and we’ve been very successful.
The Earth is 4.54 billion years old. We’ve been here and
have been doing well for 3.5 billion years. You all measure success by how much
of the Earth’s resources you can control and use for yourselves. The community
of life measures success by how adaptable you are and how long you have
remained in balance with the community of life. Be honest, who do you think is
really more successful?
You are a relatively young species and the U.S. is a
particularly young country. You might want to listen to your elders…OK, like
Vera, for instance.
Your WorldOMeters/CoronaVirus tells
us that as of May 7, 2020, there were 3,877,769 reported cases of Covid-19 in
the world and 268,274 deaths. The U.S. had 1,274,086 cases and 75,839 deaths
and are leading the world. “We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1.” Not something
Americans should be proud to proclaim.
Contrary to what many people believe, we’re not trying to
wipe out humanity.
Most microbes are pro-life. Not only were we here long
before humans, but humans wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for us. Don’t
believe me? Listen to one of your own. Ed Yong is an award-winning science
writer. If you really want to understand us you could do no better than to read
his book, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View
of Life. He also writes regular articles for
the Atlantic Magazine.
The stereotype you’ve created about us would have people
believe that all we do is cause diseases and are unwanted spreaders of
pestilence. No wonder you try to avoid or kill us at all costs. Mr. Yong says,
“This stereotype is grossly unfair. Most microbes are not
pathogens. They do not make us sick.”
According to Mr. Yong, here are a few of the positive things
microbes do for you:
- Enrich soils and break down pollutants.
- Drive planetary cycles of carbon, nitrogen,
sulphur and phosphorous.
- Released oxygen so that oxygen breathing
animals, including humans, could evolve.
- Even now the photosynthetic bacteria in the
oceans produce the oxygen in half the breaths you take, and they lock away and
equal amount of carbon dioxide.
Now, don’t get freaked out here, but every human on the
planet is full of microbes. In fact, you have more microbial cells in you than
human cells. “We have 30 trillion human cells,” says Ed Yong, “and 39 trillion
microbial ones. These numbers are inexact, but by any reckoning, we contain
multitudes.” So, what does it really mean to be human? Rather than trying to
wipe us out, which is impossible, you might try learning to stay in good
relationship with us. It’s really not that difficult.
I’m not responsible for your pandemics. That’s on you.
Listen, I know all you hear on the news is about the
Covid-19 pandemic. You’d think that all we do is go around spreading disease.
That just isn’t true. You should know that there were no pandemics through more
than 99% of human history. They only became possible when human populations
began to increase about 10,000 years ago and you began to abuse wild animals.
You call it domestication. You built villages, then towns, and cities and began
living in close proximity with animals that you kept locked up. And you created
the conditions that create pandemics.
One of your experts on pandemics, Dr. Michael T.
Osterholm, author of the book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer
“By venturing into the microbes’ homes deep in rain forests,
for logging, planting, and hunting for bushmeat; by concentrating large number
of people together; by breeding millions and millions of pigs and poultry and
keeping them in close confines; by overusing and misusing antimicrobial drugs,
we humans are forcing microbes to adapt to continual stresses and giving them
opportunities nature never did.”
Viruses need other living things in order to reproduce. So,
we’re not really “alive” in the way most other organisms are alive. We have to
get into other cells in order to survive. We don’t invade other cells out of
malice. Getting into host cells and using them to produce more viruses is our
one and only way to survive. We don’t care if you’re a bacterium, a bird, a
pig, or a human. We need you and you need us.
We’re very good at doing what we do. When there are so many
humans on the planet and so many domesticated animals, you’re just begging us
to get into your cells. You now have 24 billion chickens in the world and at
least 2 billion pigs and you keep them locked up close to humans. When we
spread one to another, don’t pretend that you’re surprised.
I hate to tell you this, but it’s likely to get worse unless
you change your ways.
You’ll probably recover from this pandemic, but we’re not
going away and unless you change there will be more, I promise you. Here are a
- You’ve got a thing for dead meat, particularly
chickens and pigs. Why do you think the outbreak of the latest Corona virus
started in China at one of the many “wet markets?” Why do you think there are
so many cases of Covid-19 in meat packing plants all over the U.S.?
- You are changing the temperature balance of the
planet that causes potential for new diseases.
- You get all revved up after each pandemic, but
your attention span is short. In a few years, you forget and you get
blind-sided again when the next one hits, as predicted.
So, that’s about all I have to say. Now you know a little
more about us. You humans will have to decide what to do. You’ve been educated.
If you choose to wipe yourselves out, well what can I say?
Oh, I must say just one more thing for those in the United
States of America. Your current President is doing a great job keeping things
revved up with his “scientifically sound” pronouncements. I say this tongue in
cheek…Well, I would if I had a tongue or a cheek. Anyway, you get the idea.
Well, that’s all for now. Vera, over and out.
And that’s it for me, Jed Diamond, PhD. If you have
comments, please leave them. I like to hear from people. I do believe we can
learn and we can change. We have to stop making war on viruses and learn to get
back into balance with the community of life. Well, we don’t really have to
stop, only if we want to have humans continue our evolutionary path on the
planet. Thanks, Vera, for helping us do that. Visit me at Blog.
This article first appeared on Jed’s
Thanks to Julian
Wan for sharing their work on Unsplash.