Watching the news these days can seem like an apocalypse is about to occur. Between ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups, EBOLA, the festering conflict in the Ukraine, the ever-present threat of North Korea, and various levels of corruption in far too many countries, it could seem the end is near. Yet, while all of the above are scary, the one that we should be most fearful of is the level of corruption, as it gets in the way of addressing the greater apocalyptic threats to humans. The greater threats to humans are: too many people with too few resources, chemically enhanced food products that are leaving us less able to fight off anti-bacterial resistant strains of bacteria, global poverty and health concerns and the impact of climate change on all of these issues.
I am not saying the first group of issues are not severe, especially EBOLA and those impacted by the terrorists groups, but the issues which would impact humans the most are in the second group, with corruption standing in the way of doing measurable things about problems that will be exacerbated by the overarching problem of climate change which impacts everything.
Population planners have answered the question how many people can the earth support with a carefully couched range. If the average human consumes like the average Rwandan, the earth can support over 15 billion people. If we consume like the average North American, the earth could support less than 3 billion people. We are currently between the two with roughly 7 billion of people. The two keys we must always keep in our mind are air and water. “Water is the new oil” as our dearest resource on the planet and it is showing its need to be nurtured more with the extreme droughts in California, Texas, Australia and other parts of the globe. Plus aquifers are not as robust in many areas as needed. Bad air quality is so harmful that we have only begun to scratch the surface on the impact of toxic air particulates that come from fracking, pesticides and other chemicals that are blown or escape into the air.
The chemicals we use to grow more and better foods to feed our growing population, not only are harmful due to the pesticides that need to be ever stronger (we are spraying Agent Orange on some crops), but there is a nastier and more deadly problem that we are seeing surface in hospitals. Chemically enhanced foods are hindering our ability to fight bacteria that gets in our system, sometimes from these same foods. The super-bacteria is increasingly resistant to current anti-bacterial medicines and more people are dying from formerly highly preventable infections. “PBS Frontline” did a documentary earlier this week on this issue and “60 Minutes” did a similar report in the past year.
EBOLA has exposed the global health and poverty concerns in West Africa which impede our ability to fight disease, any disease. EBOLA will be very hard to harness and may result in a million deaths before it is reined in, which is truly a catastrophe. But what happens if one of these anti-bacterial resistant strains gets into people? What it also shows that people in poverty do not have access to healthcare, clean water and sewage to process waste away from where they live. The inability to separate drinking water from sewage water is a key to reducing exposure to disease. Plus, there is a high correlation between family size and poverty, so it is incumbent upon us to distribute birth control materials and education resources.
However, each of these problems will be made worse by climate change on top of the problems climate change will cause by itself. Dr. Sandra Steingraber, biologist, ecologist and author (“Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah”), notes that we do not talk enough about the impact of climate change on the chemicals in the ground. She notes it is like a chemical crock pot, as the climate gets hotter, the chemicals will become even more detrimental. Author Steven Solomon notes in his book “Water: the Epic Struggle of Wealth, Power and Civilization,” that climate change will impact our water in a huge way through more severe droughts, fighting more forest fires, more unpredictable weather patterns (providing way too much precipitation in some places, with very little in others) and impacting crop irrigation on top of its other concerns.
Plus, those in poverty and without good healthcare tend to get impacted by natural events more than others, so climate change will be more harmful to those who can least afford it. I have written before about the Carteret Islanders whose island is being consumed by the ocean. It has already destroyed their ability to grow crops through the salt water encroachment. The islanders have had to travel to petition leaders of larger islands to move their people there. Ironically, these less educated people have more open dialogue about climate change than we do in our US Congress.
Yet, standing against doing more things to address these issues is corruption and influence, including in the US. We must address these issues now and not wait until they happen. The price tag to fix the impact of climate change or research new drugs, is far cheaper to do it now than after the impact. In the US, we have too many funders of politicians that have a financial stake in perpetuating their interests, which run afoul of planning ahead. It is far worse elsewhere with corrupt politicians keeping money meant for others. For example, Hosni Mubarak has over $80 billion in wealth, yet Egyptians were getting by on $2 a day. Brazil shined up nicely for the World Cup, but not much of the money fell to people in need. The Ukraine president was ousted last fall as he was corrupted by the Russian government, while others suffered in the country.
These are the bigger concerns that could endanger all humans. We need to do our best to address these issues now and plan accordingly than wait until it is too late or too costly.