Earth’s failed self-regulation attempts confirm a scary thought: we alone are in charge
Whatever its origin, the Covid-19 pandemic is just the latest of a long list of deadly diseases our self-regulating planet has thrown at an increasingly overwhelming humankind. The problem is, the process isn’t working anymore.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to call it God, Mother Nature, the spirit of Gaia or any version of a sentient overarching spirit: the fact is, our planet is a living uber-organism that has had billions of years to learn to self-regulate. Forest fires regenerate vegetation, mass extinctions regulate fauna, and in every case, life comes out renewed and stronger than before (if not, that would mean the system doesn’t work and life on Earth would have disappeared long ago). Diseases are just another tool within that system.
Looking at Covid-19 from our human-centric point of view, all we see is catastrophe — and don’t get me wrong, I am truly sorry if you or anyone close to you has been badly affected by the pandemic — when the catastrophe isn’t the pandemic itself but the huge imbalance it reveals: the fact that humanity has reached such a level of invulnerability that diseases hardly make a dent in its numbers.
Good for us: contrary to our ancestors, we know how viruses work, we can effectively apply protective measures and our planet’s best scientists came together to develop efficient vaccines in record time. Thanks to all that, casualties have remained limited: just over 4.8 million Covid-19 deaths as of October 2021, which amounts to 0.06% of the global population. Compared to the 30% of Europeans killed by the Black Plague in the 14th century or the 50 million victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic, Covid-19 is small potatoes.
That would be good news if it weren’t for one major issue: those humans whose incessantly growing numbers our planet no longer seems to be able to knock down are simultaneously responsible for the destruction of said planet (ironically, that destructive instincts is almost certainly what led to the emergence of this new virus). Imagine a dog so badly afflicted by fleas that the amount of blood they’re sucking is putting the animal’s very life in danger, and that none of the usual tricks to get rid of them are doing any good because the fleas have learned to resist them all. You guessed it: we’re the fleas. And if the dog/Gaia/God/biosystems can’t control us anymore, that means only we can.
Surviving doesn’t fix anything
Which brings us back to humankind’s most terrifying revelation: we’re alone. We’re like kids who’ve been having a blast wrecking the house and emptying the cookie jar, only to realize no parents will be coming home to clean up and feed us real food. But let’s try and look at the bright side: the Covid-19 pandemic is like one of the kids getting injured and all the other ones starting to realize it might be a good idea to wise up and take better care of our house before we do more irreversible damage.
Unfortunately, in real life, we’re still far from “all the kids” coming to that realization. The pandemic has been viewed by many as a wakeup call to the fact it’s high time we change our absurd and destructive ways. But by and large, business continues as usual: extract, produce, consume, discard, reap the profits and ignore everything else.
So good news: Covid-19 is no Black Plague, and humanity is in the process of dusting itself off widely unscathed. But bad news: the pandemic hasn’t succeeded in slowing our destructive impact on ecosystems, and surviving it hasn’t fixed any of our problems (i.e. we are killing the planet our life depends on). We can only hope it’s made us just a little bit wiser so we can start seriously addressing them, because if Mother Nature can’t stop us, no one else will.