Thursday, 11 August 2005

Bird 'flu' and the population crisis

The outbreak of bird'flu' in Asia is gradually getting more publicity in Europe, but still very little in North America. But it is there, and potentially it is going to alter the face of the world. Anyone who has kept abreast of the out break will be aware that at present, the human victims have caught the infection from poultry. And those that catch it, have a relatively high chance of dying from it. Fortunately, so far it does not seem to be transmitted from human to human, but when that occurs, the results will probably be devastating.

Most people are probably aware, that the 'flu' outbreak after the first World War killed more people than the war itself. And since then pandemics have regularly swept the world. Once the bird 'flu' mutates so that it can pass from humans to humans, another lethal pandemic could well be on its way. And while health officials in Britain and other parts of the developed world are at last waking up to the fact that there are no vaccines available, the less developed parts of the world won't get access to vaccines even if they are developed. The problem is that until the outbreak occurs, a specific vaccine cannot be developed, and no one really knows how fast it will spread. Unlike the situation when the earlier out breaks of 'flu' occurred, the world's human population is now much more mobile. Cheap air travel will ensure that the new virus reaches the parts other viruses couldn't reach with alarming rapidity.

I cannot even begin to speculate on the impacts on the infrastructure of our civilizations, and the impacts on western economies. But I can speculate that the impacts on environmental issues may well be positive. Even a 10% reduction in the human population of the energy and resource consuming societies will have a significant impact. But the most significant short term effect may be a sudden and dramatic drop in air travel. The results of the empty skies in the USA after 9/11 were dramatic, and a 'flu' out break may well lead to both restrictions by governments, and a fear of travel by individuals. This would lead to cleaner skies, the collapse of airlines, and possibly long term environmemntal benefits. It would be interesting to hear of any other speculations on the environmental impacts of a 'flu' pandemic.

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