Editor’s note: This column was originally published April 8, 2007.
Oh man, not again. You can almost pinpoint the exact time it hits you. Your body starts to feel a little weird. Your muscles ache. Your head aches. You start to feel nauseous and your body cramps. At some point you realize that your body has either been invaded by a virus or perhaps a virus that has been lying dormant has been triggered by something.
Maybe you’re run down and your resistance is low; low enough to let this unwanted invader inside you. You’re hoping that this one will last only a day or so, but something tells you that it might be longer. This could be a bad one. As the hours tick by you feel your temperature rising. Your body is doing whatever it takes to reject this, this thing, this illness, this "virus" that is knocking you out of whack.
The fever of a few hours ago is escalating. It’s now dangerously high, encroaching upon 105 degrees. You feel terrible. One doctor, let’s call him "Dr. Limbaugh" says that there’s nothing really wrong with you and that you’ll be just fine in a day or so. Another doctor, "Dr. Gore," says that you have a serious ailment and to defeat it you will have to make some major lifestyle changes. After hearing this uplifting news you’re wondering if you can outlast the bug.
Unless you’re Superman we can assume that you have been sick at some point in your life; perhaps even really sick.
Now, I want you to think out of the box. Think of yourself as being the earth and people as the virus.
Okay, I can hear you saying that this sounds a little strange, but hang in there. For the purposes of this discussion we will assume that the earth has been around for billions of years and man for millions of years. You, the earth, go about your merry way creating land masses and an atmosphere and sit around doing whatever earth does. You may not even notice as life evolves. You are still in perfect balance. You started off a little rough with draughts, floods, fires, volcanoes, earthquakes or an ice age, before things started to level off a bit.
Then the first people (virus) arrived. They were fine in the beginning. They were blending in quite well living off the land and working to keep things in perfect balance; at least for a while anyway. But they become really smart really quickly and used resources in ways never before seen. Instead of living in caves and huddling next to fire (which didn’t come about any too easily, mind you) they now live in heated shelters. They created an environment that allowed them to flourish (spread).
You sense this perhaps with a little stuffy sinus (polluted atmosphere), and respond by trying to defeat the "virus" with a flood or plague of Biblical proportions. It dealt with the symptoms and caused the "virus" to subside a bit, but it didn’t defeat it.
In the blink of an eye it’s back and has somehow mutated. It’s driving cars. It’s burning coal and other resources you’ve provided. Oh yeah, it’s really kickin’ in now. That atmosphere you created a while back is now loaded up with pollutants; toxins have killed much of your water. What to do? You begin to run a fever. Like any other fever it starts off rising slowly. You respond by breaking a sweat/melting the polar ice caps. Your fever jumps another couple of degrees and maybe this will be enough to knock that virus right out of commission. But maybe this time more drastic measures will be called for. Flood and famine may not be enough to rid you of the virus, because this time around the virus has really moved into full strength and is not simply living compatibly with you, but is now trying to destroy you.
Just like your body will allow a variety of viruses and bacteria to live in it, the earth will tolerate a lot of people. And like your own body it will only tolerate so much. To survive, the virus must be clever enough to live off the body without destroying it, or if it does destroy it, have another body to move into.
We don’t have the luxury of that second option, so we better figure out how we’re going to get along without killing the host. If not, don’t worry, the earth will fix the problem. It always has.
And no, you won’t be able to take two aspirin and call Dr. Limbaugh in the morning.
Bob Stannard is a Banner columnist.