As yet another disease evolves within the farming community sweeps the planet, everyone is talking about the bird flu. Both older farming methods in Indochina and modern factory farming ratchet up the dangers of plagues. Attempts at getting rich by overloading the farm enviornment enables plagues. And all domestic animals are, by their domestic natures, prone towards disease and weakness.
Tens of thousands of turkeys are being gassed at a poultry farm in Suffolk in a bid to contain Britain's first mass outbreak of Asian bird flu.
A biosecurity zone has also been set up around the Bernard Matthews farm near Lowestoft - where the H5N1 virus was first discovered - as a precaution.
Owners of domestic fowl are being told to keep their birds indoors.
The H5N1 virus can be fatal if passed on to humans but health experts said that risk was "very low".
All germs mutate. They do this quite rapidly due to their short lives as individuals. They don't like oxygen all that much so after single-celled creatures 'polluted' the atmosphere with oxygen, they found a secure home as parasites within the bodies of the oxygen-producing or loving creatures. Since they play a spectacular evolutionary role in the ecosystem, these ancient pieces of often raw genetic data can colonize nearly anything that has evolved on this earth.
The main way most species cope with these ancient interfering creatures is to allow death to cull their ranks of the weaker creatures and the survivors are, ipso facto, stronger. To insure future survival, all living creatures evolved various strategems: some use the earliest form of propagation, to spread zillions of copies of themselves. Only the most primitive sorts of creatures with little control over their reproduction do this.
Indeed, this is how germs reproduce: they madly make copies of themselves, drawing on the materials provided by their hosts! Sex evolved very early on in the history of life on earth because the activities of these parasitic entities we call germs meant, any creature that was identical to all others would be wiped out if the parasitic entity was too aggressive in hijacking the host's own resources. From a germ's point of view, if they could see, killing all the hosts stinks because the ecological niche disappears and so do the germs! Swift-growing, fatal germs therefore appear only infrequently since the germs themselves go extinct after killing all their hosts.
Most importantly, one could say, the evolution of sex probably was driven by germs decimating totally various monotonous copies of whatever species colonized by germs. The mutation which started all sex in nature probably, like all tremendous revolutions in nature, in one tiny colony of creatures. Because hostile germs couldn't kill all the sex-enabled multi-cellular creatures like sponges, for example, they proliferated into all ecosystems except for high-sulfur, high temperature waters.
We primates evolved from sponges, etc. thanks to the driving forces of environmental change, lots of raw sex and germs. Oh, and eating each other. This crazy-quilt system which Darwin so wonderfully explained, is responsible for not only the wonderful variety of nature but also for re-colonizing this planet every time geological/astronomical disasters wipe the slate nearly clean, repeatedly.
Understanding the history of our flora and fauna and understanding the iron rules of that very dangerous Lady, Mother Nature, is vital if humans want to live in harmony with all other living things on this sweet earth of ours. Most emphatically: 'You break it, you WON'T own it,' applies to this situation. We break the laws of Nature, we won't own squat diddly.
Early on, about 10,000 years ago, humans invented something new: deliberate domestication. This was, as all revolutions in nature, a one-time event somewhere in Asia. Nearly universally, all hunting species cull the weak. This is so strong a force in nature, many animals that don't hunt but graze, give up when they get even slightly hurt. This sense of fatalism has been 'bred' into them by relentless predators.
The first human clan to allow a weak wolf to shelter with them and we can assume this weak wolf was a female probably starving after being kicked out of her own clan by a dominant female, stumbled upon the concept of domesticating rather than simply taming one wild individual when they accepted this weak wolf's puppies. Probably, they ate the ones they didn't like but since wolves kill non-dominant female's pups, so the first tamed wolf that let humans choose which puppies to keep, didn't object to this culling operation.
The evolution of the dog then shot forwards rapidly as humans traded these tamed, weak canines with other tribes. Since they guarded the humans from wild wolves as well as lions, tigers and bears---not to mention hostile humans practicing cannibalism---clans keeping these animals with them prospered. Due to the human culling of hostile dogs, the already weak species became nearly totally dependent upon humans for survival.
Enough wolf genetic material survives so that dogs can go wild but this is only where there is no real wolf competition. If a wolf pack and a dog pack intersect, the wolves kill off the dogs. This is another reason why dogs love humans: we fight their ancient adversaries for them.
The evolution of domestication of animals and plants is based on protecting the weaker varieties in nature. The very act of selection and breeding is anti-evolutionary. Namely, it is not the strong surviving but rather, the desirable for humans surviving. And often, the things we want from nature fly in the face of evolutionary survival.
The passage of humans through nature is a long tale of extinctions punctuated by attempts at domestication. Attempts at preserving wild nature usually means eliminating humans or not allowing them access. This is wildly unpopular with humans, by the way.
Douglas Tompkins calls himself a 'deep ecologist'. He is a millionaire on a quest to preserve some of Argentina's last frontier lands from human encroachment by buying them and turning them into ecological reserves.
But Argentina may not permit him such philanthropy. Opponents are branding him a new-age 'imperialist gringo' and claim he has a secret aim: to help the US military gain control of the country's natural resources. Tompkins, who sold his Esprit clothing firm in 1989 for a reported $150m to devote his time and wealth to ecology, takes such attacks in his stride. 'Land ownership is a political act; it arouses passions,' he says.
This is the rocky shores upon which all environmentalists crash into: throughout history, the ruling elites always wanted to preserve wild nature in all its glory and beauty and to do this, they kill peasants who want to 'tame' nature.
The royals of Europe saved many forests by brutally suppressing the peasants who want to turn every nook and cranny on earth into a farm. The farming revolution was so wildly successful, humans no longer had to worry about restricting themselves and this is why there are so many of us. We are all peasants, once upon a time. Except for the aboriginal natives of very few places.
Most American Indians, for example, were farmers. Even the Plains Indians were until horses showed up (humans exterminated American horses earlier). Indeed, the noble steed who carried the early herdsmen into battle was saved from extinction in Asia only because of the wonderful utility of riding an animal into battle meant horse riders could exterminate other humans more easily.
Back to the bird flu: peasants get richer if they can cram more animals of dubious genetic strength, onto as little land as possible. This leads to several things: pollution due to defecation/urination, over-grazing and over-crowding. Germs love domestication with a passion. Unlike in nature where the weak are eliminated rather rapidly, the ecosystem set up by human domestication is a wonderland for germs!
It has all the elements germs desire! If I were Queen of these dubious genetic pirates, I would cook up in my lab, a human so they could do all this for my mighty empire. Heh. But I am a human! So I look at all this with rising fear.
As the world press scares everyone with the inevitability of some flu germ sweeping millions of us to an early grave, what I see is nature correcting the ecological balance in her usual, brutal way. Most of the world's epidemics start where domestication is the oldest: in China or the Middle East. Sex epidemics start where there is a lot of warfare. This is because humans hunting humans like to also rape. Rape and plunder spread sex diseases. This is why AIDS probably sprang up in the Congo during the long horrors of the internal wars there.
As I pointed out earlier, creatures back at the very beginning of life on earth, evolved sex in order to outsmart germs. But Mother Nature decrees, no evolutionary trick will ever allow any creature to overwhelm the environment. And if they succeed, they will still die and probably go extinct because the environment can't support uniformity due to geological and astronomical forces!
And thanks to germs being able to evolve rapidly to overcome any schemes, it fails for that purpose.
I opened this meandering stream of a story with a spread from National Geographic which was from a really pathetic article written in 1970 boasting about how domesticating humans will overwhelm nature by building factory farms that would be 'sanitary' and unnatural and thus, foil Mother Nature and her handmaidens, the germs.
Of course, this has been a hideous failure, nay, an ecological and generational disaster! We no longer see contented cows lolling around open pastures, for example. They now stay indoors and are milked more frequently and dairy farms smell worse and worse as the few remaining farmers try to cope with waste problems: cows drop very wet stuff. In nature, many creatures colonize this stuff and it renews the plains and replentishes the ecosystem but in a factory farm, this is a huge menace that pollutes the water table and spreads disease as well as smelling hideous.
Ditto the modern pig factories. Instead of wild boars fertilizing the forests, we have huge lagoons filled to the brim with water under a hot sun: this is germ paradise! It is the primordial soup with a vengence. Heaven for germs, hell for humans.
Today, even the ancient forms of farming practiced by the hard-working, frugal peasants of China have been warped by recent attempts at over-production of ducks and pigs, two of the dirtiest animals domesticated. These animals love water. They love mud. They need to defecate in both. Unlike cows and horses that hate muck but can be forced to stand in it, the ducks and pigs seek out muck and root through it.
This is a bonanza for germs who don't like the oxygen atmosphere very much but love water.
So they colonize these many ducks and pigs that are escorted and protected by many humans. So germs can mutate and hop over to the humans easily due to proximity and genetic weakness for humans protect weak animals and breed them for a weakness for germs.
Ducks and pigs have coped with this ancient germ warfare by evolving a system for quickly reproducing. Recently, avian flu and cholera have killed off millions of ducks and other waterfowl. But in a few springs, they will return in huge numbers as each survivor lays 20-30 eggs and hatches them. And since other waterbirds will be dead and not competing, they will have plenty of resources to lavish on their own offspring!
Pigs have huge numbers of babies, too, for the exact same reason. Horses have only one baby a year, they move rapidly across the lands so germs can't get to them so easily. But humans can and when we nearly killed them all off, they took a long time, under our control, to survive and return in numbers. This is why there are really no wild horses at all, just domesticated ones returning to nature.
And with the invention of automobiles, the world population of horses has plummeted! Cows are the same as horses. Sheep, even with human help, are more precarious which is why they often have twins. Sheep from the very cold climates in the mountains have up to four babies at a pop.
Primates have, in nature, babies only once every three years or less. Humans have many more only because we have tamed ourselves and living in an agricultural matrix means we, too, can protect the weak and degrade ourselves, as far as Mother Nature is concerned, by using tools and our brains to figure out how to manipulate Nature for our own ends and thus, a typical farming woman will have up to 12 children in her own lifespan which is why the world's human population has literally exploded across the planet.
The avian flu we all fear today is due to all these forces. The turkeys in England in the BBC story live degraded lives, crammed into small spaces when one considers wild turkeys. I have a flock of about 15 wild turkeys who live on my mountain and visit my farm daily. The wander over 4 square miles. Their flock overlaps with the territories of several other turkey flocks. These tend to congregate near working farms like mine.
They have pow-wows were the toms strut and fret surrounded by a ring of excited females all shrieking their sexual joy at the sight of so many feather displays. And the turkey toms huff up and say to the females, 'Look at how high my head is! Look at my shiny, bright feathers! See how big my tail is! My head is redder than his head! Ha!' Only occasionally do any of the toms attack each other, nearly always, it is the biggest ones with the biggest brushes on their breasts---the brushes grow with age and the hens eye them to judge who is the oldest tom.
And the hens love old toms! Age matters! It means the tom has genes that the germs couldn't terminate! It spells success. So wild turkeys are not very fat, they have lots of feathers that they can puff up to look fat, wild animals love fat mates, it means they are healthy, but 'fat' to them isn't what we like to call 'fat'. We want fat we can EAT, not have sex with (unless one is really peculiar).
So here we are, trapping a bunch of fat, weak, feeble, sickly turkeys in close confinement where any germ can swiftly colonize a huge population in no time flat.
On top of all this, scientists moving farming along this disastrous path---are now cloning animals. This is beyond stupid. It is an attempt to destroy ALL of evolution! The reproduction of one life-form that never changes is how we all began! Geological forces coupled with the sun's energy messing up the DNA and the amino chains kept evolution creeping along for around a billion years until the sun's rays accidentally jiggled some genetic materials and spawned sex, the tremendous force that made all of nature possible as we know it today.
Why in the name of all the gods past and future, are we trying to kill this? Our attempts at domesticating animals was done by simply manipulating who has sex with whom! The wild variety we see in humans and domesticated animals is due 100% to us messing around with sex, imposing our own views upon the natural sex lives of animals and plants! We just can't let this alone.
And farms of the future? A disaster area! Farm factories are a hazard to all living things and might possibly kill all of us. For the need to keep everything germ-free simply means we will move these deadly foes faster and faster along their favorite evolutionary path: eliminating the weak and strengthening the strong!
The evolutionary accident that created photosynthesis nearly destroyed these guys, briefly, long, long ago. We are the beneficiaries and final product of the photosynthesis/sex evolutionary cycle. Will we end it all?