BC’s Tales of the Pacific | Reminders that we’re not in control

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The control of nature is a phrase conceived in arrogance.

— Rachel Carson

You have no control over a natural disaster. That’s what’s scary about it. You’re helpless.

— RL Stine

The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control, and not the other way around.

— Dr. Ichiro Serizawa in Godzilla

THE past few weeks have given us ample reminders that we are not the masters of the planet we imagine we are. Reflect on these and remember how weak humanity is.

Australian wildfires. As millions upon millions of acres turn to ash, the government and firefighters of the country are doing everything they can to limit the damage. Abandoned long ago was the idea of getting the wildfires under control, now they speak of defending, rather than attacking the fires. A lesson in humility. Firefighters cheer when the weather cools or rain moves in. Only nature can fight nature on anything like equal terms.

Mount Taal eruption, the Philippines. Taal is considered a small volcano, but its effects on the urban citizenry of Luzon has been enormous. What if a large volcano erupts anywhere near that heavily populated country?

Coronavirus, China. It has already infected more people than the infamous SARS outbreak of 2003. A dozen countries have already closed their borders, at least to China, and by the time you read this that number will have grown substantially. The illness has spread to seventeen countries: most of Asia, Europe, North America and Australia and shows no sign of slowing, and all efforts by human agencies to stop the spread have come to nothing. We have seen this kind of global disease disaster before: the Spanish Flu in 1918-19 and the Bubonic Plague of 1348-50 to name just two. In both cases the disease was not defeated, it only went away because it killed all who were vulnerable then went dormant. In other words, these super-germs are still here, sharing the planet with us, waiting to strike again.

The differences between then and now do not work in our favor. First, the population of the world is much greater than during either of those earlier pandemics. Logically, having many more people around, living in closer proximity than ever before, means many more people are available to get infected.

Second, the world is more closely connected than ever before. With intercontinental air travel that allows a person to fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo, to Shanghai, to Moscow in one day, an infected person could spread a disease to multiple far flung locations before health workers could react.

These are merely three of the latest examples to illustrate that, for all our technology and pride, we are not the masters of nature we think we are.

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.

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