COVID-19 in Perspective

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COVID-19 in Perspective

The following statement is offered as a short preface: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But the author has researched the statistics diligently and uses them in good faith.

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he following statement is offered as a short preface: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But the author has researched the statistics diligently and uses them in good faith

As of May 5, 2020, a Website that provides statistics of cases of COVID-19 globally and country-by-country (https://virusncov.com/) reports that the virus has caused 252,746 deaths. Since the emergence of the virus in late December, 2019, that figure equates to about 63,000 deaths per month.

Opportunistic viruses and bacteria can kill many of the old and infirm and COVID-19 is the latest iteration on the list of potential threats.

Looking at deaths from COVID-19 in the context of global figures for the number of births and deaths, the Website https://ourworldindata.org/births-and-deaths indicates that for the year 2015 there were approximately 141 million births and 57 million deaths for a net annual increase in population of 84 million. The annual increase in human numbers has remained about the same for the past few decades.

For 2015, the monthly death rate from all causes was 57,000,000 divided by 12 or approximately 4,750,000. The monthly death rate for COVID-19 in the first four months of 2020 is about 1.33% of the figure for monthly deaths from all causes in 2015.

An article in The Globe and Mail of April 28 stated that: “Canadian seniors are suffering the most from COVID-19, with 79 percent of all deaths in the country now connected to long-term care and seniors’ homes.” It is well documented that COVID-19 is a serious threat to old people with compromised immune systems. Most people in homes for seniors are unable to function on their own without assistance and are near the end of their lives. Opportunistic viruses and bacteria can kill many of the old and infirm and COVID-19 is the latest iteration on the list of potential threats. Many deaths that might have been precipitated by other causes are now attributed to COVID-19. Meanwhile some initial random samples for COVID-19 in the general population indicate that the virus has spread more widely than expected but many of those infected showed mild or no symptoms. This suggests that the COVID-19 virus may not be nearly as lethal as initially feared.

The human threat to the health of the planet is the most serious problem humans face. Considering COVID-19 in the global ecological context, it is well documented that the rapid growth of human population and consumption over the past two centuries has caused great damage to the ecosphere that sustains all life. It took two hundred thousand years for the human population to reach one billion in the early 1800s and the population of the world has increased almost eight times in the past two hundred years. The list of environmental ills grows longer.

It is imperative that humans reduce their impact on the Earth but the human species does not seem to have the psychological capacity to come to terms with its own excesses.

It is imperative that humans reduce their impact on the Earth but the human species does not seem to have the psychological capacity to come to terms with its own excesses. Therefore, one of the obvious consequences is for nature to do it. In this context, COVID-19 is a relatively benign virus that thins the human herd by taking out primarily the old and the infirm thereby increasing the overall health of the herd. This is consistent with the effect, for example, of wolves on herds of elk. The wolves take the old and the weak and reduce the danger of the elk overgrazing the land. This practice coincides with the theory of evolution which most scientists accept.

As mentioned above, the global death rate attributed to COVID-19 has been about 63,000 per month primarily affecting the old and the infirm. If this rate remained constant for a year, the number of deaths would be 12 times 63,000 or 756,000, which would put an insignificant dent in the annual global population increase of 84 million per year. Even if the number of deaths increased tenfold to 630,000 per month or 7,560,000 on an annualized basis, the effect would be to reduce the annual population growth for the year by less than 10%.

Human population growth and consumption is a much greater threat to the human future than COVID-19. Furthermore, COVID-19 is likely a result of human overexpansion into areas inhabited by other life forms, many of which are now facing extinction in the face of the human onslaught. The viruses endemic to some other species are adapting to finding homes in the human masses squeezed into ever more crowded and squalid living conditions.

To combat COVID-19, the Government of Canada has increased the expected budgetary deficit for the current year tenfold, from approximately $25 billion dollars to $250 billion dollars to support people suffering from a lockdown of the economy. When an economy is curtailed thereby reducing production, and the money supply vastly increased, the effect can only be inflationary, which is a tax on savings. A surge in expenditure now will diminish public spending options in the future. The ease of expanding a digital currency could result in hyperinflation, which is simply the result of too much money chasing too few goods and services. The effect of such an inflation on society is catastrophic.

The COVID-19 virus is a genie out of the bottle, so eventually it will work its way through the human population until the population will develop resistance. That is the way of evolution. The media have been bewailing the spread of the virus when they should be celebrating the steady progress towards herd immunity.

One of the major reasons given for the lockdown was to avoid overloading the health care system. Some current reports suggest that the health care system is not overloaded with cases of COVID-19. It may be that the lockdown succeeded in sharply reducing the case load, or, possibly, there is a cycle to the virus which may have peaked and is now in decline.

The range of national responses to COVID-19 from strict lockdown to much less stringent approaches has had a variety of outcomes that may reflect the nature of the societies involved. As officials state correctly, there is much that is not known about this virus.

The facts as listed above (within the caveat that much more information is needed for a better understanding of COVID-19) suggest that a strategy is needed to work COVID-19 through the herd as quickly and smoothly as possible without over-burdening the health care system. That process can be sped up if an effective vaccine for COVID-19 is developed.

The segment of the population most at risk are seniors in old age homes, especially those seniors with chronic illnesses. More emphasis needs to be placed on protecting that population and on providing care for seniors. Other options are urgently required. For example, a more reasonable policy providing much more liberal access for seniors to medically assisted dying would allow those who want to avoid a long period of helpless dependency to choose a quick and painless death with dignity. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed “palliative care” for what it is – a slow and tedious process of dying at great personal and public expense.

COVID-19 is a warning that humans are not in control of the Earth and never have been.

The main part of the population, those under 65 years of age, should resume normal living. The social and economic costs of severe lockdowns may be far greater than are generally recognized.

The experience of COVID-19 has been a shock to humanity but it also provides a useful reminder. It is well known that human expansion on planet Earth has been excessive over the past two hundred years but especially in the past forty years. Since 1980, it is estimated that humanity has caused as much damage to the living Earth as in all the years prior to 1980. Humans have been doing this with the full knowledge of the environmental consequences, but with their tendency to focus on their own needs in the short term, they simply have not cared enough to change their habits. With the response to the threat of COVID-19, human activity has shriveled. On a positive note from an environmental perspective, the consumption of fossil fuels has diminished by about 30% and the air quality of industrialized countries has vastly improved. These surprising side effects are a cause of hope for they remind us that, if motivated, we humans can address climate change and the long list of environmental abuses that humans have inflicted on the living Earth.

COVID-19 is a warning that humans are not in control of the Earth and never have been. Humans did not create themselves but are just one product of the complex living system on which humans are completely dependent, the ecosphere of planet Earth. The intelligence is in the living system, not in the human brain that evolved to survive within the ecosphere.

COVID-19 reminds us to address the question: can we humans dwell in the living system of the Earth as well-behaved guests, conscious of and following the informal rules and able to constrain our desire for more of everything and for endless novelty? If not, there will be other surprises in the future more dire than the relatively benign COVID-19.