Back in college biology class, where I struggled with every assignment, I remember one lesson to this day. It must have triggered a fear response in my amygdala. The professor brought to our minds the image of a lily pond. On day one, there were two lily’s co-existing nicely with the local ecosystem. Insects liked to live on the leaves and birds liked to consume the bounty of bugs. It was a healthy give and take of nature.
On day two there were four lily pads because each day they doubled in size. 2-4-8-16-32-64-128 – you get the idea.
On day 29 the lily pads filled half of the pond. It was beginning to be a problem, but not enough to take action. Sun was getting blocked from above to the plants that needed it below. Less aquatic plants meant less places for fish to hang out, and less oxygen being produced.
To the unknowing it looked fine. It was just a lovely pond with beautiful lilies floating here and there. But then day 30 arrived. The pond was completely covered. No sun reached the underwater ecosystem. Plants died. Fish died. Oxygen was gone. Everything that relied on the ecosystem was now extinct from this pond.
The web of life truly is a connection of fine threads. Break on thread and many other suffer. In the pond, the key elements of life were choked out – sunlight and oxygen.
Humans are also part of this web and rely on having healthy ecosystems and environments to provide us with our basic survival needs – air, water, shelter, food.
I am confident that every person on earth with a functioning brain knows that we need air to breath in order to be alive. Yet, nearly 9 million people die each year due to air pollution. This is above the counts of those who die from cigarettes (7.2 million), vector-borne malaria (600,000) and war (530,000). (Numbers from 2015.)
Pandemic (of Greek origin)
Pan (all) + demos (people)
Why isn’t air pollution, created by humans, designated as a pandemic? When as few as 2,000 people die from a Corona-type virus, the world goes into a panic and buys out latex gloves, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and bottled water. Most drive to the store in fossil fueled cars and live in houses electrified with coal or natural gas power plants. The very things that pollute our air.
To be fair, a lot of coal plants are being closed and replaced by renewable energy, but I wanted to make the point that we continue to ignore the big issues.
As I write this I am sitting in the desert where water should be precious. But all the taps are on with no message of conservation. Lake Mead, on the Colorado River, behind the Hoover dam, is at nearly 50% capacity. Lake Powell is about the same. Yet downstream in the Phoenix, Arizona area there is non-stop construction and little concern that the Colorado River is already a water source for 40 million people. At least there are no lawns, but there is a golf course on every corner.
I see no panic for running out of water to drink. Will we let the golf courses go brown first or limit household consumption?
Our shelter is a big contributor to our carbon footprint. We need a place to hide from the elements, but do we each need 1,000 square feet? Does a family of four “need” a 4,000 square foot home to fill up with “stuff?” Depending on where that home sits, it requires heating and air and the materials it took to construct.
It’s great if you have your own power supply on the roof, but as I travel I see very few who do. And there is still the exploration, extraction, manufacturing and transportation associated with every board, nail, roof tile, and paint for each home.
Our food system is one the largest contributors to air pollution and water pollution, and in general, our carbon footprint. It can be found as the subject of many books and too extensive to cover here.
Again I will ask why are human caused air pollution and rising CO2 levels not considered as important as a virus pandemic? We are on day 29. Climate change related events kill more people each and every year than any pandemic in history.
The next phase has already begun. The proverbial lillies are filling the pond. There are catastrophic results with high numbers of death and quarantines. But we still see half a pond.
On day 30, the web will begin to break apart in ways that it cannot be put back together. The climate crisis is a pandemic, it affects “all people.” No amount of hoarding will stop it. Awareness and action will.