With a third of the world (or maybe more by the time this post comes out) under ‘lockdown’ rules, and a very high mortality, it comes as an easy thought that this is really a pandemic.
What is the difference from an epidemic? A disease can be declared an epidemic when it spreads over a wide area and many individuals are taken ill at the same time. If the spread escalates further, an epidemic can become a pandemic, which affects an even wider geographical area and a significant portion of the population becomes affected.
Pandemics are extreme events, but they are also cyclical events , recurring in time.
Do you know what else displays cyclical behaviour?
population numbers (or better, it should)
Let’s look at this in more details
As many of fellow ecologists will know - natural processes are what they are because of equilibrium.
So. let’s see whether we can make sense of pandemics by looking at equilibrium.Let’s take a population that grows as time goes past, assuming resources are available it will grow - but then resources will become more limited and it will start growing slower until reaching carrying capacity (see example).
Sometimes, this carrying capacity can be exceeded (remember Earth overshoot day on july 29th 2019). Earth overshoot day happens every couple of years since 1970. According to footprintnetwork.org who calculates this “ Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate in that year. Over the past 20 years, it has moved up three months to July 29, the earliest ever. This means that humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate, equivalent to 1.75 Earths. Humanity first saw ecological deficit in the early 1970s. Overshoot is possible because we are depleting our natural capital, compromising the planet’s future regenerative capacity.”
So - when that happens, nature regulatory mechanisms will come to play. These are called ‘density-dependent’ mechanisms and they can take the form of:
Aside from the predation point, I do see some likely mechanisms applying to human population in all of the other three points, and I am more and more inclined to think that what we are living right now is exactly number 4.
Should we be surprised, then ? Probably not.
This is yet another reminder of the fact that we are nature, and we shouldn’t think that we are above it. I don’t want to suggest that we should all go for the 'herd immunity' option, nor that we leave people to die because it's what is supposed to be like. But I just want to give some food for thought, that maybe it is way of nature to ' get back at us' as some have suggested in the media these days (like here or here (yes, I am an avid 'guardian' reader), or maybe it's just way of nature to do what nature does best - stay in it's equilibrated state.
We can try to fight it - we can try to find our equilibrium and help the Earth in the process - but most importantly we must find a way not to overshoot carrying capacity next. A way to do this? Consuming less. That way, the carrying capacity could be lifted higher (and we would leave the rest of nature just a little bit more at peace) . Can we do that?
And if not, at least we got a little ecology lesson here.
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