Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Knowledge is good?

You may not have caught the news about a Dutch virologist who has cooked up a genetically engineered strain of influenza which he claims could kill half of humanity. I was tempted to say that how I feel about that depends on which half, but on second thought, I'd call that a bad idea regardless.

What he has done, as I understand it, is to marry the lethal properties of the H5N1 avian flu virus that has been bouncing around Eurasia for a while with properties that make the virus highly contagious among humans. He's just guessing what the consequences would be of letting it loose but nobody wants to find out for sure.

He thinks he should publish his work so that people who want to come up with defenses against bioterrorism will have a heads up. Others think that would be not smart. I tend to agree with Others. We already grok the concept, which is about all you need to know to think about preparing. Publishing the details would make it easier for the Gingrich administration to actually make the stuff to use in the War on Terror, as any smart historian would do.

All that said, there are too many people in the world, and there will be way too many more in due course. For the past 20 or 30 years, it has been unfashionable for environmentalists to focus on the size of the human population. This is because it was considered more philosophically correct to worry about the other factor, the net negative environmental impact per person. Supposedly if we could make that low enough it would be cool for there to be zillions of people.

I say pish tosh. Of course we need to live more sustainably, but you have to multiply the burden each of represents by how many of us there are to get to the total problem and frankly, we're heading in the wrong direction on the first factor. The International Family Planning Conference just concluded, to exactly zero interest on the part of the U.S. corporate media. The truly bizarre, ugly and evil religious fanaticism that says giving people, notably women, control over their own reproduction is immoral must be relegated to the netherworld of ideas where racism and fascism now reside.

Otherwise, we will indeed experience a major reduction in the human population, the hard way.

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