DOI: 10.12924/johs2020.16010053 |Publication Date: 18 December 2020

Plagues, Pandemics, Health Security, and the War on Nature

Colin David Butler
The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

This editorial presents a brief review of pandemics from antiquity to COVID-19. Although all large-scale epidemic diseases ("pandemics") can be considered ecological "checks" on human population size, and although COVID-19 is the biggest such pandemic since HIV/AIDS emerged it is not likely to approach the deathtoll of earlier pandemics, such as the plague. There are two major hypotheses to explain the origin of COVID-19. One is the "natural origin" hypothesis, the other is that it might have escaped from a laboratory, with its origin subsequently hidden. Although most scientists support the natural origin idea the other cannot yet be dismissed. Evidence for each hypothesis is presented. If the first theory is correct then it is a powerful warning, from nature, that our species is running a great risk. If the second theory is proven then it should be considered an equally powerful, indeed frightening, signal that we are in danger, from hubris as much as from ignorance. More pandemics are inevitable, but their severity can be reduced by greater transparency, international co-operation, and retreat from planetary boundaries.

Keywords: bats; China; COVID-19; ecology; health; medical history ; limits; security; pandemics


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