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On the Up Side

You say pandemic, I say good

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 29, 2009.

It's probably time to admit it. If what is currently referenced as Mexican swine flu takes off, or sets the stage for the more dangerous avian flu, bubbling around the world for the last few years, it would be the best thing for the environment that any government, business, activist group or concerned individual could have done.

Isn't that awful? But the truth is, mass murderers and deadly pandemics are good for the surviving humans, not to mention the planet itself, which does not concern itself with souls or ethics.

I realize that this might seem unpleasant, or politically seem like equating Greenies with Stalin or Hannibal Lector, but the fact is absolutely none of the discussions about clean coal or solar energy or hybrid cars or food production makes any sense if the human population doesn't start to decrease soon. Not slow down the increase, but decrease before the available soil for agriculture is exhausted or blown away, the seas emptied of fish we deep fry so it doesn't taste like fish, and the only birds and animals in cage or stockyards. It's because of that I disdain and ignore supposed environmentalists' new proposals if population control isn't mentioned early on. In fact, most supposed environmentalists don't mention it at all, and when they do it's in a footnote like an unfortunate necessary reference.

This, if we want future generations to be able to visit a forest or landscape without human habitation, and for there to be actual wild areas. And for humans to not live on the planet as in a huge dormitory with no privacy or hope of solitude.

Oh, and for there to be breathable air and sufficient healthy food. That.

When the Black Death hit Europe in 1347, over the next few years somewhere between one and two thirds of the population vanished. It affected tax revenues and the size of armies, but nothing really changed in the conduct of nations. People were still concerned about all the armed men who would pillage their own for the fun and profit, and the church and national governments were always trying to organize crusades to get them out of the way and doing something constructive, like killing Muslims and, ahem, dying themselves, allowing the crown to sometimes grab the estate and income. As a result, the lower classes gained power and money and society, as a whole, improved in all areas.

At the time of the Black Death, Europe had just ended what is called the Medieval Warm Period, which allowed population levels to bloom. As nature retracted its benefits, droughts and harsh winters mandated reduced harvests. A huge famine in 1315 began and lasted for years because of this insupportable population. Europe could not feed itself. At the end of the Black Death, it could again. Huh. Think of it. Suppose a third of the planet's humans died. The poor would be hurt most, of course, because there are more of them and because they would get the worst care. Imagine India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan with far fewer to feed and protect. Forests grow back, animals replenish, rivers clear. Imagine China with a third less. Coal plants reduced, arable ground saved. No need for more power and dams. For all their crimes and totalitarianism, the Red Chinese did face bravely into the wind and force birth control on their people. Cruel and harsh and in the cold light of history, necessary. Absent restraint in the West, it could happen here soon enough.

If the current flu were to clean out the slums of Mexico City, it would be a disaster of the first rank. From one point of view. From another and longer vantage point, it would be an actual blessing to Mexico, as would similar scenarios in Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Cairo be a blessing to the survivors. Disease would filter through all levels of society, of course, and the poor are no less valuable than the wealthy, and much potential good would be prevented by their loss. But, so would much horror of surety be averted when the food production and distribution systems collapse if population continues to grow, and people start food wars. We've been there before.

I've entered Late Youth. I would surely be among the victims of a pandemic, and I do not wish for that. But plagues serve a purpose in human survival. Aside from war, or the far more fearful common sense in opposition to idiot religions, humans have no other quick fixes. We rely on pandemics.