Nature punishing us with coronavirus


By Prof. O. A. Ileperuma
"Man is the most dangerous, destructive, selfish, and unethical animal on earth". -Michael Fox.

The world is facing one of the hardest times in recorded history with the arrival of the COVID-19 virus which has so far killed over 300,000 and infected around 5 million people worldwide. There is no end in sight and there are gloomy predictions that it will eventually result in the deaths of at least one million people within the year.

Pandemics such as this one is a clear case of nature punishing us for its abuse and over-exploitation. The stark reality is that nature has provided us with resources to provide for our needs but not our greed. In a way, nature has punished us for its over-exploitation. Nature demands that we use its resources wisely and a fine balance is required between reception and bestowal. If we disturb this fine balance, the more we suffer. Through technological revolution and global organisation, people have caused massive changes to our planet. The major factors caused by the human society causing these changes are: food production and industrial activities. Unlike animals, humans use tools to make their lives easier. This has been the practice from the beginning of human civilisation. These tools and other things people use depends on the earth’s resources and hence inevitably alter the world around them. Most of the population in the world are not involved in food production unlike in pre-historic agricultural civilisations. The environmental impact of food production is huge. Food production produces a host of environmental problems such as contamination of water and soil with agrochemicals, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and adverse effects on all biogeochemical cycles.

Industrial activities aim to produce tools to improve our lives. Production of motor vehicles, exploitation of fossil fuel resources, television and other tools have several environmental issues. Extraction of metal and fossil fuel resources brings about land surface disturbance, loss of habitat, extinction of species and air and water pollution. It also creates immense problems in managing non-biodegradable solid waste.

Deforestation results in loss of biodiversity which is essential for our survival. Every day around 1000 plants and animals are lost forever from this planet. Intensive agriculture results in soil erosion and salinity increase. This can affect soil productivity and hence agricultural input and permanent damage to plants and animals in the area.

One of the most important effects arising from the human interaction with the environment is food production. Thomas Malthus, an English priest pointed out in 1740 that, population increases exponentially while food production only arithmetically (linear growth) which may lead to famine, wars and disease.

Population increase-the root cause of all evil

Earth’s population has increased owing to advances in science and technology. This increase is beyond the carrying capacity of our planet. It was a British philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon who said that, "Science enriches our lives and it should be developed for the betterment of mankind" He even advocated the scientific method which is responsible for the great advances in science. Such developments of science is the root cause of most political, sociological and environmental problems faced by the world today. In the developing countries this has created social and political unrest, breakdown of social order and traditions and an insurmountable array of environmental problems. Ethnic and tribal wars in Asia and Africa, famines and ecological disasters such as tsunamis, landslides, hurricanes and flash floods are all due to the pressures on the fragile ecosystem by an ever-increasing number of humans. In the struggle to share the limited resources, humans act with increasing selfishness thereby losing their traditional concern for others and forgetting their social obligations.

The situation is made worse by the false values imparted from the west and our craving to achieve western standards of living. This is not only injustice to the society around us but also the human race in general. There are various religious groups who do not practice family planning aggravating this perilous situation. The human race is under threat unless people start doing something effective about controlling the ever-increasing population.

The world population at the time the agricultural civilisations commenced was around 8 million and this has increased to about 800 million by the beginning of the industrial revolution around 1750. The population doubled from 1650 to 1850 over a span of 200 years to 1 billion (1000 million). It doubled again by about 1930, a mere span of 80 years. The current world population is around 7.8 billion and is expected to level off at around 11.6 billion in 2150. While the number of humans increased only marginally up until 1700’s, there has been a sudden and an exponential increase from there onwards. Everyday, 350,000 babies are born and only 150,000 people die resulting in overloading the planet. These people have to be fed, housed and provided with jobs. These new individuals will not only have to share the finite resources of the Earth, but they also add to global pollution. While the rate of increase of nearly 70 million people per year is bound to increase in the coming years, United Nations estimates that roughly half of these people will either go hungry or malnourished.

The effect of declining death rates combined with a highly productive young population means that there is no chance of population stabilisation in the near future. In Sri Lanka, the population statistics speak for themselves.

Our population distribution shows that the age group with the highest percentage is from 30-31 years which means that we generally have a young and reproductively active population and the population will continuously increase and peak off at around 24 million by 2030. Our population is increasing by approximately 250,000 a year and the average life span also increases owing to improved health care.

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