The modern world has a problem of overspecialization. The limits of extrapolating generalized truths from what can be observed in limited contexts and over limited periods of times have become more and more apparent in recent years as the blowback of the industrialized way of life, and its associated ways of thinking and interacting with the world, have begun intensifying.
Amongst this blowback, anthropogenic climate change is perhaps now the most apparent to many people, but soil erosion and chemical pollution are arguably more dangerous to business as usual.
While flashy events such as hurricanes and floods are likely to be identified by many as the face of climate change, the largest dangers as regards human health and survival are considerably less conspicuous. What I’m talking about here is the rapid spread of common disease vectors, such as mosquitos, ticks, fleas, and various types of micro organisms.
The rapid spread of vectors for dangerous diseases (such as malaria) over the coming decades will be co-occurring with the loss of the ability to treat many of these diseases.
With that in mind, news of the rapid and ongoing spread of “Super Malaria” throughout South Asia should draw one’s attention. It’s called Super Malaria because it’s essentially untreatable.
Image via CDC
The BBC provides more: “It emerged in Cambodia but has since spread through parts of Thailand, Laos and has arrived in southern Vietnam. The team at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok said there was a real danger of malaria becoming untreatable.
“Prof Arjen Dondorp, the head of the malaria unit, told the BBC News website: ‘We think it is a serious threat. … It is alarming that this strain is spreading so quickly through the whole region and we fear it can spread further (and eventually) jump to Africa’.
“In a letter, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers detail the ‘recent sinister development’ that has seen resistance to the drug artemisinin emerge. About 212 million people are infected with malaria each year. It is caused by a parasite that is spread by blood-sucking mosquitoes and is a major killer of children.
“The first choice treatment for malaria is artemisinin in combination with piperaquine. But as artemisinin has become less effective, the parasite has now evolved to resist piperaquine too. There have now been ‘alarming rates of failure’, the letter says. Prof Dondorp said the treatment was failing around a third of the time in Vietnam while in some regions of Cambodia the failure rate was closer to 60%. Resistance to the drugs would be catastrophic in Africa, where 92% of all malaria cases happen.”
Though it will probably offend many of those reading this to say so, the efforts to “cure” or “eliminate” many of the fast-reproducing organisms that humans consider to be pests — whether infectious bacteria, viruses, plants that we consider to be “weeds,” insects, etc. — was always only going to result in delaying the inevitable.
Antibiotics, vaccines, pesticides, etc., don’t so much cure or prevent undesirable outcomes, but rather put them off into the future for our descendants to deal with. No permanent victory was ever going to be won by people against organisms with as much genetic variability, speed of reproduction, and capacity for inbreeding (mutation) as the majority of the world’s disease vectors, insect pests, infectious bacteria, or weeds possess.
The “pharmaceuticals revolution,” “the Green Revolution,” etc., were, to my eyes, less about “improving” the world in a real way and more about post-war vanity and the desire for comfort. And also profit seeking, of course.
That’s probably offensive to many people’s ears. Based on my many years of research into the subject, though, that is truly what I see. There were naysayers drawing attention to uncomfortable truths from the beginning, warning that there were limits to what could be done without incurring blowback. It’s simply that they were in the minority and were saying things that people didn’t want to hear. So, here we are: A century of sales gimmicks behind us and a tsunami of blowback on the way.
Since we’re already discussing mosquitos and malaria here, it seems prudent to draw attention to the utter failure of recent efforts to introduce sterility into mosquito populations using the genetic tool known as CRISPR/Cas9.
Despite all of the PR talk hyping the ability to greatly reduce, or even wipe out, mosquito populations through the intelligent introduction of sterility, it appears that there is simply too much genetic variation and far too much inbreeding amongst mosquitos for this approach to have any effect at all for more than a few generations.
So, to explain that point better to those unfamiliar with the subject — the idea that mosquito populations can be controlled through introduced sterility was based on unstated assumptions that hold true for humans and other animals with similar qualities, but that do not hold true for organisms that are perhaps “alien” in many ways.
One of the primary assumptions that cause problems in this case is the assumption that such organisms need to avoid inbreeding, which is true amongst organisms that have to invest a lot of energy and time into the growth and upbringing of their progeny. Amongst organisms of vast population sizes, great fecundity, and fast reproduction, inbreeding simply is not a problem — and is arguably even an asset, as it allows for the rapid development of potentially valuable mutations.
So, all of that said, what point am I trying to get at here? That the attempts to completely subjugate all of the other life on this planet to human whims has failed. That failure is becoming more and more apparent everyday, as the rapid spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, herbicide-resistant weeds, pesticide-resistant insect pests, and untreatable viruses, on the one hand, and the increasing instability of the climate, on the other, makes clear.
The blowback is now in full order. Ideally, it would probably be best to make decisions with this reality in mind, and to try to salvage the situation as best as is possible, rather to continue to indulge in fantasies of a completely subjugated world. A world where mosquitos stay down in the lands of brown, poor people, and where any disease or infection that one may acquire can be dealt with so long as one has the money, is ending. Adaptation to that truth is what’s now in order if people are to stick around.