Vaccines or none, human resistance is going haywire. So it appears from health headlines.
Epidemic diseases, morphing superbugs, allergies to everything — eggs, meat, wheat, wind, dirt, flowers, trees, life.
Add in the invasive species, chemicals and weather extremes eroding resilience for entire ecosystems, and it’s easy to feel fatalistic. What difference can one small personal effort make in the big scope?
Plenty. That’s according to a new groundswell of microbial research. A closer look at the microscopic life we’re now discovering, within us and without, suggests that our big health crises/opportunities are actually small and close at hand.
Consider that superbug.
Why would one species want to dominate, sicken and kill off its own environment?
Behaving like a spreading, unstoppable pathogen, as ecologist Evan Eisenberg has put it, means “you drag your host with you to extinction.”
This doesn’t seem too bright. Yet microbiologists keep telling us microbes are smart.
Their intelligence, after all, can turn sunlight into sugar, phytoplankton into rainforest, manure into roses. They turned a ball of rock into a blooming, singing, fragrant world of surreal beauty.
Networks of microbial life, cooperating for the good of the whole system, generate our own intelligence. They help us eat, digest, see, taste and fathom concepts like “the whole system.”
And that’s the difference. Working together for the larger, long-term good is much smarter than unhinged, superbug self-interest.
By giving up a little autonomy to serve a whole, single cells evolved into higher organisms — fish, birds, leopards. Who wants to remain a mere fungus when you can join the life of a soaring hawk, a forest, a human amazed by it all?
This wisdom illustrates the old concept of “common weal.” It describes a creative, just state far more resilient than the brief “prosperity” of a cancer cell or cell of robber barons.
Everything is interdependent, despite all the “freedom” hype from billionaire coalitions. Even the success of a superbug requires help from other species.
Ours, for instance. We ourselves cultivate superbugs via efforts to exterminate stuff we don’t even understand.
The antibiotics now regularly dosing people and most U.S. livestock (to grow them faster and fatter), can allow resistant bacteria to take hold, competition-free. They then teach this resistance to others.
A recent 2015 report from Finland illustrates this effect. Thirty-seven percent of a study group of travelers who used antibiotics while overseas brought home drug-resistant bacteria.
Broadscale bacterial extermination is risky because much of the immune system itself is microbial — a diverse, microscopic ecosystem.
It exists not merely within but “outside” of us, in our whole biosphere. Destroying chunks of that larger immunity is the story of deforestation, soil depletion and the ubiquitous household/lawn biocides now eroding our resilience.
Consider Ebola. Research into its jumpstart in Africa implicates the vast deforestation there of previously undisturbed, microbe-rich ecosystems.
Wiping out millions of years of the intelligent life that allowed humans to thrive isn’t smart. For centuries, we did so in oblivion.
Now we know better. Why not act better? Epidemic fatalism abounds these days, encouraged by powerful, reality-resistant superbug interests. But you need not succumb.
Why not rouse up those trillions of intelligent microbes, all working for you, and coordinate some action? You’re the big cheese, after all, the head honcho of one huge microbial org.
Some steps to better health:
1. Use antibiotics — for you, your kids, your pets — as a last resort, not common protocol.
2. Buy antibiotics-free meat. Why eat a supper of drugs that attack the very microbes you need for digestion, not to mention health — yours and the microbes and rivers downstream?
3. Unplug from superbug mindset. Denial and fatalism are infectious. Find out who funds which science-immune “think” tank, PR machine and corporate-political coalition.
4. Toss the germicides. And not down the drain. Triclosan — the pesticide now added to myriad “antibacterial” shampoos, toothpaste, deodorants, detergents, cosmetics and sunscreen — destroys the skin’s valuable microbial defenders. It can easily enter the human bloodstream, as well as water streams where it poisons aquatic life. It’s even linked to cancer.
5. Quit biociding the land. Instead, generate humus and compost-rich soil in your yard. Their diverse microbial life contains an immune system for plants and trees, helping them weather droughts, extreme temperatures and invasive pathogens.
6. Act well. Healing your tiny corner of influence brings life to the whole common weal, which brings big life to you.
Liza Field (LField@wcc.vccs.edu) is a teacher, hiker and tree planter who writes from Southwest Virginia. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.