Come along with me while I play a game of what if.
As a nation, a hemisphere, a political hegemony, we are being told to be terrified of Ebola.
It is indeed a nasty disease and results in more fatalities than cures. While Ebola is nasty it does not have a high infection rate.
What should I fear? On a medical level, of course. There is plenty else to be afraid of. So, what should I fear?
I should fear flu-mutations. Airborne infection. It only needs a nasty mutation to make the flu the worst killer in history. Many other mutations, in the past, were self-limiting because there was limited contact between groups and areas. With modern transport the infection could be world-wide in a week and need a six month research effort to develop an antidote! Ebola isn’t the biggest worry. That is reserved for the joke diseases – “Man”flu, “Bird”flu, “Swine”flu or perhaps, worst of all, “Mouse”flu!
Rodent Flu could be as bad as the Black Death which killed between 30% and 60% of the human species in the middle of the 1300’s. That was spread by the fleas on infected rats which were immune to the disease. Influenza is carried in many different forms by many different animals, including most mammals. Should mice or rats, with their close association with humans, develop a virulent, air-spread form of Flu then we could have severe problems.
While we do have expert and dedicated science institutions capable of developing a vaccine withing the apparently short period of six months we may not have that time. We are so used to “Flu seasons” which limit the spread through populations that we are totally unprepared for the alternative. A virus which is spread through the air, without reference to our accepted seasons.
Such a virus would be spread throughout the world within days rather than weeks because of our mass transit systems. Airlines would carry it across borders in hours. The research bodies my not have the required six months before their structures collapse.
Let us assume for the sake of this flight of fancy that this new mutated virus is as effective in transmitting itself as the Black Death. That is causes an around 50% – 70% reduction in the human population of the earth. What would be the results?
While I agree a 90% virus (or microbe) is a possibility it is worth remembering that the worst we have faced in known history have been around 50% – 70% death rates. That 70% was the Black Death in parts of Europe in the mid-1300’s. An interseting and probably related fact is that the Renaissance began where the disease had entered Europe, in Italy, just one ot two generations later. The Dark Ages were ended, not by knowledge but by a disease. Not by gradual change but by a social upheaval.
A virus/microbe thing was what HG Wells saw as the Earth’s salvation in his novel, “War of the Worlds”. In his case the invaders were fatally infected by the common cold.
After the plague.
We, as a society have grown to expect a Governmental and a Military response. The problem will be that they will also suffer the same death rate as the rest of the population. With that sort of attrition rate we can expect several panicking Government or Military people to send off some nuclear weapons.
Much of our infrastucture depends on the current over-population. As the infrastructure collapses (trains, Plains, roads, communications} the intial survivors will be the billionaires who are probably the least suited to survival in a depopulated world. While they may have stockpiled enough for a lifetime’s survival, it will leave their spoiled children in some disarray. There is satisfaction in thinking about that!
Groups of survivors of the New Plague will probably lose touch with distant groups as the Internet, television and radio will die fairly quickly as satellites and fibre optic cables break down. Food will become a local thing again as long distance transport dies over the generation after the disaster.Within those groups and areas, land will become more plentiful, the average worker will become more valuable and the plutocrats will lose most of their assets. The 1% will probably survive for one generation!
Those best suited to survive will be the substinance groups; the indigenous communities in Australia, the untamed Amazonian tribes, the Arctic groups, the San of Southern Africa. That sort of thing. All isolated from each other with new stories to tell and new religions to develop. Sadly the redneck “survivalists of the USA will also have a high survival rate. Dedicated and selfish survivors with stockpiled weapons! Luckily they will only be able to move around on horseback! And there are limits on how much ammunition any one person can stockpile.
For those small groups based on the old cities and agricultural areas there is a further limit to their recovery and survival which was not present at the end of the Dark Ages. This was a thought I had last night while peeling my home-grown broad beans for dinner. Monsanto are busy making sure as many cropping species as possible become infertile in the second generation so everyone has to but seedstock from them! They are also killing the bees so that only their own self-pollinating crops are left viable. In the new world, post virus, many of the survivors will starve because of this!
Just bye the bye, unusually for an American Corporation (irony alert) the entire board of Monsanto are practising Christians. Surely they have our well being foremost in their minds.
The possible political outcomes of a disaster of this size are also fascinating. The loss of entrenched power within large groupings and the growth of power in the hands of artisans and labourers would make for booksful of discussion. New religions and rituals will be created in response to anger at the Gods which allowed such a cataclysm.
That is where I shall leave this post. It is an interesting mind game and puts this current Ebola scare, along with the HIV, Bird and Swine Flus, and even the Spanish Flu of 1918, into perspective. Bad as they were or could have been, none of them dislocated society. Even the Spanish Flu with 85 million victims did nor “Decimate” the population as that implies the loss of one in ten. The virus I postulate will halve the population. At least the tigers will be happy.
That plague is yet to come.
Unless the asteroid hits us first!