Husband took up fishing in med school. He and two of our friends got really excited; I heard all about why/when one should use spinner baits, and what spoons are for. At one point they invested in fish finders—small sonar devices with crude digital displays. “Isn’t that cheating?” I asked. Now Hubs is more into fly fishing. It’s more challenging (and thus more rewarding), apparently.
“It’s a contest to see who’s smarter: Us or the fish.”
One day in conversation with my favorite teacher, he shared with me a theory that I have adopted: Earth is the organism; humans are the pathogen; viruses are Earth’s immune system, attempting to eradicate us. “It’s a contest to see who’s smarter: Us or nature.”
This past year, influenza cases around the world appeared to decrease dramatically, likely due to all of our precautions to prevent COVID infections: masking, distancing, and vigilant handwashing/sanitizing. I wonder, having denied the flu virus many millions of new hosts through which to mutate and spread, whether we have disrupted the annual flu cycle, at least for the short term? Have we won against flu? Only time will tell. But if we’ve traded flu for COVID as our annually recurring seasonal respiratory (and systemic) disease, then score a big one for Earth and its protective warriors.
The Johnson administration embarked in 1966 on a mission to eradicate measles in the United States. They thought they could do it by 1967; it took until 2000. We are an arrogant pathogen. But by 2014 measles had returned in widespread outbreaks, and I’m skeptical that we can ever really eliminate it. Earth’s immune system is resilient, and it plays the long game.
Scientists correlate climate change with rising emergent pandemic frequency and severity. Global warming accelerated in the latter half of the 20th Century. Everybody who acknowledges this, even those who don’t want to address it, agrees this is due to human activity. Just since 2000 we have seen outbreaks of SARS, swine flu, MERS, Ebola, and Zika, all but one of which were novel, and all before COVID decimated (and continues to decimate) us. Who’s chasing whom, here—who is smarter—humans, viruses, or Earth herself?
Let’s assume the dinosaurs’ demise resulted from a fantastic meteor strike and its subsequent catastrophic climate sequelae. Planet Earth survived that whole morass, and we puny humans evolved. We grew frontal lobes big enough to command and control our environment. And now we thrive, only to eventually kill ourselves and as many species as we can take with us in our titanic self-annihilation. Earth will survive us, too, and good riddance.
So here is the natural order of things, in my humble opinion: Earth is smarter than viruses, which are smarter than humans, who may or may not be smarter than fish.