Now Is the Time to Strike

What I understood from the text is that during the peak of the pandemic would have been the most opportune moment for a country to seize global control. As we all know the pandemic shut down entire country’s with ease. The pandemic had an impact on almost all parts of our daily lives, from closures and shipping delays to unemployment and government relief. During this time nations across the world have all been struggling to stay functioning. Fighting the pandemic resulted in governments having to spread themselves thin to take care of all citizens and promote creating a cure. As you noticed no one had time to care about anything besides the pandemic. This time of weakness would have been the perfect opportunity to annex your neighbors. A good government would be prioritizing the safety of its people, so they would not risk the consequence of trying to assemble a war effort. In order to sustain a war production needs to at its peak, and during the pandemic with its unemployment there would just be no way to fight back.

This is what occurred during the colonization of the Americas, except ten fold. Imagine a foe who already has more advanced weaponry and military technologies, and now imagine that your nations population was reduced to only a 5th. If you outnumber them, then you have an equal playing field, but to be reduced to such small numbers and have no guns, was an assured defeat for all native Americans. This is the concept of biowarfare. Viruses not only are more deadly but are a silent killer who can stab you but can’t be stabbed back. The rampant mortality alone would classify them as the strongest weapon ever known to man, but there’s also the strain on the people who have to take care of the sick just to keep the civilization alive. Large civilizations depend on laborer’s, and when all of your farmers die then where the heck will all the food come from. Just the death of 1 farmer could result in the starvation of 30 civilians. Biowarfare is the most powerful weapon and while the Europeans may not have even know about it, it was the only way they were able to conquer all of the Americas.

This goes to show that while nuclear bombs and guns may seem scary, the most likely cause of death for all of humanity may be something as small as a germ. What’s even more scary is that we have seen the purposeful use of biowarfare in the past through medieval siege tactics involving catapulting dead body’s and livestock into cities to promote illness. The power of biowarfare is too much for humans to control, and any future in which we attempt this would be cruel and irresponsible.

The Paradox of Human Power Over Nature

Humans have, at once, an immense power to alter the Earth on an astonishing scale, while also being practically helpless against a microscopic pathogen. The two readings this week, together, really highlight this point. On one hand, I see the changes humans have been making to the planet and think calling the current time period the Anthropocene is the only appropriate choice. Our mass emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the massive quantity of extinctions as a result of our actions, the mind boggling use of land and resources for our survival, and pretty much every other impact of human life make us a massive force for change on the planet. However, being so human centric in our categorization of the time period does not feel quite right when considering the damage a small pathogen has caused humanity over the past two years. 

COVID-19 has demonstrated, in a very real way, how vulnerable we are as humans. Not only as individuals, but also as a species. In the time of the Anthropocene, it seems it has become the default to view humans as separate and above nature. If we are powerful enough to have our own geological time period in which we are the primary force for change on the planet, we must have reached a point where we can keep nature in check and bend it to our will. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us this is not true. Looking at past examples of unimaginably deadly disease outbreaks, like Smallpox in Latin America, and comparing the scale of these horrors to COVID-19, we need to take nature seriously. We are not more powerful than nature, we are one with nature. We must realize this in order to best, and most safely operate as a species. 

To be clear, there is no doubt that we are in the Anthropocene, but we need to view this truth as an opportunity to work with and respect nature rather than to force our will upon it. Moving forward, humanity must work to sustainably survive through collaboration with nature and not dominance over it. Being in the Anthropocene does not mean we have reached a state of ultimate power over nature. It means that we have reached a dangerous tipping point where we have the power to alter the delicate balance of the natural system in which we live, without the power to deal with the consequences that are sure to follow.

Evolution of Epidemics

As a microbiologist, the reading this week on the evolution of disease spread throughout the world mostly due to colonization was very interesting to me. It is rather interesting to think about how illness and disease can spread throughout the world, especially when it reaches a community it has never seen before. When a person’s immune system has never seen a pathogen or antigen before, the only possible defenses the body has are from the innate (born with) immune system. When something as detrimental as small pox comes around (which was bad even for people who had been around it in Europe, who had built more of an immunity) the new hosts were basically defenseless. Without antibodies and memory cells already made for the disease, and a very low survival rate, things were not looking good.

As it was shown in the paper, extreme proportions of the indigenous american communities were killed off. With the exact pathogen cause unknown, we are still able to point fingers at the colonizers as playing a major role in this devastation. Now, in a world where global travel is not only widely accessible, it is frequent, the spread of disease is much more interesting (and worrisome). It makes me think back to the popular app game called Plague Inc, in which the player builds a disease trying to wipe out the worlds population before a cure can be made and distributed. One of the first things that happened as soon as the “world” learned of the new disease, was the shut down of air or boat travel to and from specific countries. And yet with all of this, the game was still beatable. Because to shut everything down truly in its entirety, there is money being lost, goods not being distributed, etc. There are these influential factors nowadays that feed into why we still have this major issue of disease spread, and even with the advent of modern medicine, we cannot seem to get it under control.

In a way, we should consider ourselves lucky that Edward Jenner invented the small pox vaccine in the late 18th century, and revolutionized modern medicine. But when there is still the drive of capitalism, the archaic ideals of “Complete freedom” and “manifest destiny”, we will never truly be able to escape the invisible world of pathogens. Human will and need for dominion over others is really setting itself up to be our greatest downfall, and perhaps even the precursor for the sixth major extinction event the Earth will face.

Infectious History

Disease has played a large role in the history of humanity, and still has world-changing effects today. Its history can be traced back thousands of years, but an important point at which disease became more prevalent in human life was with the discovery and subsequent colonizing of the Americas. Disease in this period was responsible for the rapid decline in Indigenous numbers, with various sicknesses being brought over from Europe and causing innumerable deaths. Looking back on this history, it’s not hard to see the impact that disease has had, and it’s clear that we can’t make the same mistakes in our current crisis. Like Lovell, the author of “From Columbus to Covid-19: Amerindian Antecedents to the Global Pandemic,” pointed out, we have many more resources to combat diseases, but we can only hope by the time the pandemic has passed there will be far fewer deaths than there were in the colonizing of the Americas.

Noting that this period has incredible historical significance, it can be used by individuals such as Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, authors of “Defining the Anthropocene,” to discuss potential starting periods of the Anthropocene Epoch. The main argument they seemed to be making in their article was that it’s difficult to put a starting date on the Anthropocene, but that their suggestion would be 1610 or 1964. It’s definitely interesting to put so much thought into defining the beginning of an epoch, but is clearly not an easy task. Their point that 1610 follows the trend of putting a significant event at the start of the epoch is good, as most people would define the start of the Anthropocene at around the Industrial Revolution. Although it’s important to set out an agreed upon date for this epoch, I also think it’s very important that we start taking action to reverse the effects on nature by humanity. We can agree that the Anthropocene is an epoch defined by human impact, but now we need to start slowing down humanity’s effect on the environment.

Humantity’s consequences

When did the Anthropocene start? Well that’s a question many people are wondering. There are  alot of requirements to  fulfill. There needs to be big environmental changes at that instance in time. There might be a high amount of carbon, maybe a high amount of carbon decline, etc. There could be a huge growth in species diversity or loss as well.

We know that humans have had significant impacts on the environment for thousands of years. From the beginning of agriculture we started changing the environment, since we altered the land. Then we continued to progress, until a big moment: the combining of the west and east hemispheres in the 17th century. Cultures combined  and many things  were traded. There was good and bad. Bad being the death of millions of Native Americans due to disease spread by European colonizers, and  good being the trade of goods between both regions. Carbon emissions actually decreased this period, which  may  indicate a relationship between humanity and emissions which is again an  example of  humanity impacting the environment. Then the Industrial Revolution occurred, and all the human impact became amplified. It culminated in the development of nuclear weapons,  technology that could potentially ravage the Earth. All of these events happened, but it is difficult  to pinpoint exactly when humanity  drove  all the changes to  Earth and its components. 

I think elaborating on humanity’s negative influence on the world, specifically other humans is worth mentioning. Disease is the main way humans die, and it has been a huge part of human history. Smallpox and other diseases spread by Spanish conquistadors  like Cortez, possibly killed millions of Aztec  and Native American people. Sickness also spread before contact with the conquerors  leading to the numerous civilizations becoming weaker. This  weakness allowed the explorers to win more easily in the numerous conflicts. 

Humans need to be careful since we have so much power over our surroundings and over ourselves.