Let’s all resolve to be more like the coronavirus
In the two years since it began to infect humanity, it appears the coronavirus has quickly adapted to become more contagious and less deadly.
We could learn a lot from this little virus.
Early in 2020, there was a common thought expressed that “humans are the real virus,” after seeing the swift and visible improvements in air and water quality in some industrialized areas as humans drove, manufactured, and polluted less.
The earth is our host, the thought went, and we are but a virus on it.
Even with the striking environmental gains, that sudden shift was absurdly untenable. The costs that came with it — isolation, economic attenuation, and interrupted food distribution, to name but a few — were far too high to keep us from evolving our “new normal” into a new standard.
The humans-as-virus idea faded since those early pandemic days. We’ve had maybe a few other things on our minds.
But with the rapid rise of the omicron variant — an iteration that is highly contagious, but appears to commonly produce milder symptoms among the vaccinated — maybe it’s time to see what would happen if we modeled ourselves after this version of the virus.
“Less of a threat”
Based on early research, the key to this variant’s successful contagion seems to be that it binds itself tightly to its hosts and evades the body’s defenses by appearing to be less of a threat. Perhaps the virus has learned that if it adapts itself to its host without trying as hard to destroy it, it’ll survive a lot longer.
If we use this idea to frame our thinking, we could see that our best path to survival as a species is to bind our own survival to the features of our host planet, not devastate its systems.
In February, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, “Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive. […] we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature.”
If we threaten our host, it simply responds in kind, creating extreme climate variations that threaten our ability to rely on nature’s stability for our own survival.
We have the ability to adapt to our planet, but we’d be foolish to expect it to accommodate us. When we seek to dominate and plunder the natural systems in our world, it’s not the planet whose survival is in danger — it’s ours.
Be annoying, not devastating: Lessons from the common cold
The omicron variant will certainly not be the last adaptation of the coronavirus, but its rapid dominance should make us take notice. Scientists are still studying it closely to figure out the secret of its success, but it could be learning the same lessons as another viral disease that has long flourished: the common cold.
“Adults on average get a ‘common cold’ about 3–4 times a year, kids get it anywhere between 6–10 times,” Peter Barlow, professor of immunology and infection at Edinburgh Napier University, told Reuters UK in September 2020.
Data on its mortality is extremely hard to find because the number is staggeringly low, lower than the 0.1% mortality rate caused by the flu in 2019.
The common cold is a subset of viruses, not a single virus, but it’s been around for centuries. It’s adapted to cause (for most people) symptoms that are not harmful, but merely annoying.
What a concept for us humans when it comes to our impact on our planet: to be not harmful, but merely annoying.
If the coronavirus is truly learning the survival lessons of successful infections like the common cold, then humans are certainly capable of doing the same. For 2022, let’s resolve to be more like the coronavirus when it comes to interacting with our environment by becoming more contagious and less deadly.
We depend on our host planet much more than it depends on us. Having zero impact on nature is not realistic, but if we are to survive and thrive, we must stop seeking to devastate it. Instead, let’s try only to annoy it.