COVID-19 is telling us something. Are we listening?

Introduction

The emergence of the COVID-19 (the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has altered contemporary social dynamics. COVID-19 has caused a worldwide escalation of emotional distress, compromised physical wellbeing, and death. Additionally, attempts to curtail the transmission of this virus has culminated in the almost total disruption of social, economic, and political activities. On April 5, 2020, “Worldometers” presented statistics that indicated that COVID-19 had claimed 69,169 lives internationally, having infected 1,266,614 individuals in over 200 countries. Considering the worldwide disruption of flight and travel operations together with the formalized suspension of industrial and commercial activities, a global economic crisis is unavoidable. Further government actions imposing additional restrictions on movement and activities perpetuate the prospects of a global economic catastrophe. Environmentalists have long warned that human population is the source of many of our most serious challenges; from climate change, to biodiversity loss, to food production. As bad as the COVID-19 pandemic is, there may be some positive elements that will lead to improvements in the environment. These improvements can result from two mechanisms. First, as a global society, we could learn from this pandemic to help us avoid subsequent and even more deadly density-dependent pandemics. Failure to heed the warnings provided by COVID-19 could result in a second, more indiscriminate mechanism: Mass death as the Earth, behaving as an organism, works to rid itself of its unsustainable “infection” with humans. Ultimately, reduced population, modifications and reductions in transportation, and the deferment of industrial and commercial processes are likely to produce positive impacts on the environment. This includes the reduction of pollution, decreased exploitation of resources, and a decline in environmental factors attributed to urban activities.

Problem Statement

In Early April 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading exponentially. This troublesome development necessitates the implementation of urgent precautionary measures that will curtail the progression of the disease. Currently, there is no treatment for the disease, and no vaccine. However, most research has centered around the negative aspects of the pandemic. As there is plenty of work being done to curtail the spread of the virus and save lives, there is little being done to explore what COVID-19 might teach us. It is possible that, as painful as this pandemic is, it may teach us how to sustain ourselves on this finite planet.

Objective of Study

The key objective of this study is to establish if, and how COVID-19 might be beneficial to the environment. Verifiable data will be examined to establish the correlation among different research findings. Ultimately, this paper will address the shortfall in academic research while simultaneously evaluating the environmental impact of the pandemic. Using these observations, this work will highlight what we are learning about our vulnerabilities and our impact on the environment, in hopes that it could finally shake us into environmental action. If we don’t, the Earth may very well take care of itself by getting rid of us.

Research Design and Methods

This paper interprets the data from primary and secondary sources. COVID-19 as a current phenomenon, could be a harbinger of things to come. Despite the subjective nature of this methodology, it remains appropriate to discuss opinions backed by research in an in-depth analysis of global social-economic trends and phenomena.

The design of the research is predominantly comprised of qualitative parameters and uncomplicated statistical analyses that capture historical and contemporary trends pertaining to the impact of mass fatalities on the environment. A loosely organized keyword search was conducted on organizational and media websites, journals, and other publicly available sites. These internet searches effectively facilitated access to multiple sources of pertinent data that were progressively scrutinized by skimming, scanning, in-depth analysis, and summarization, resulting in a selection of sources deemed to be reliable.

Random probability sampling was utilized to search and select secondary datasets based on pre-determined 3-step criteria. Initial searches were confined to material originating from the past five years (2015–2020). Secondly, scholarly sources and credible organizational websites (such as WHO, CDC, and United Nations), and international media platforms were prioritized over secondary sources, which were reviewed for ideas, but not trusted. Finally, sources originating from authors and organizations in countries that reported the highest instances of COVID-19 were included in this process while additional consideration was attributed to countries with the most infections including China, South Korea, Spain, Italy, and the United States. Due to questions about the veracity of reports, Iran was excluded. These countries were attributed with additional consideration, as they are regarded as primary illustrations of the effects of the virus and have the research capacity to study this pandemic.

The first search identified 40 disparate sources. However, four of them were older than five years, and five more were deemed to be unreliable secondary sources from unverifiable internet sites such as blogs and subjective opinion pieces. During the final assessment, the 31 remaining sources were subjected to a final process of scrutiny, resulting in five additional sources failing to encompass a correlation between the environment and the pandemic. Ultimately, 26 sources were selected and utilized for the research.

Results

COVID-19 has already slightly reduced the global population. Although the majority of the world’s countries are affected, China, the United Kingdom, France, Iran, Italy, Spain, and the United States have reported the highest death and infection statistics to date. This is likely to change as the pandemic spreads through Africa and Latin America, but the research we have is coming from relatively wealthy countries with robust healthcare infrastructures. COVID-19 has disrupted key activities such as transportation, industrial operations, learning, and business operations globally. The suspension of key activities due to COVID-19 is likely to affect the environment in disparate ways that include; a temporary reduction of air pollution, a pause in resource exploitation, increased availability of open spaces, and a decline in activities associated with urbanization.

Mortality rate estimates range between 0.25% (Wilson et al., 2020) and 20% (Baud et al., 2020). Infection rates could be as high as 40–70% worldwide (Lipsitch, 2020). This leads to a range of deaths from 93 million to 1.1 billion people, or a 1–14% population decrease. Taken in isolation, a single pandemic does not change population growth dynamics directly and under one model, human population growth is delayed but then picks up at the same exponential growth rate. Under this model, human population still reaches an unsustainable number, but at a later date than without the pandemic.

COVID-19 is mild compared to a hypothetical virus that could be as contagious as measles, and as lethal as Ebola. Given that the Earth has a limited carrying capacity, another scenario states that density-dependent, recurrent pandemics control human population, as if the Earth were an organism trying to fight off an “infection” of humans that blindly continue to degrade the environment that sustains them. Finally, since humans are sentient beings that are capable of working together under a crisis, it is possible that we could work toward a sustainable future by altering our behavior. Under this context, COVID-19 could be a harsh but necessary wake-up call to prevent the other less desirable outcomes. COVID-19 has given us tangible examples of how the environment could recover without constant inputs of human pollution.

Discussion

COVID-19 may significantly reduce the world population by claiming millions of lives. By early April, Italy, Spain, the U.S., France, the UK, Iran, and China had reported the highest number of fatalities (in the order listed above). These countries, even when including China, represent less than half the world’s population, which is estimated at 7.8 billion people (Worldometer, 2020). The death toll in China is no longer in exponential growth, but new infections are likely to continue. In addition to the personal tragedy of each death, the combined fatalities have significantly affected the sustainability of various countries and their intrinsic economic activities. Despite disparate countries implementing decisive measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19, the impact of the environmental effects of this virus has already become evident.

Calculating COVID-19 mortality rates is complicated by two interacting factors. Crude estimates of mortality simply take the stated number of deaths and divide it by the number of confirmed cases. For example, on March 30, 2020, there were 37,788 deaths, and 784,794 confirmed cases worldwide (Worldometer, 2020). 37,788 divided by 784,794 = 0.04815, or about 5% mortality. There are two problems with this. The first involves measuring the number of infections. People who suffer from a low fever, and a slight cough are likely to spend a few days in bed and then recover without ever reporting that they were sick. Therefore, there were likely far more than 784,794 cases worldwide by March 30. Testing is dependent on the availability of tests, which were made widely available by the WHO. However, in the U.S., the CDC decided to develop its own test, but the first batch failed due to a manufacturing error, creating a backlog for testing. Death, however, is hard to mistake for something else and confirmed deaths are likely to be more accurate (although some will inevitably be missed as the pandemic spreads through the developing world). Correcting for undocumented infections, some models have placed the mortality rate closer to 3%. Another confounding factor is that the deaths occurring today are the result of infections that began 2–6 weeks ago. Verity et al. (2020) found that the average time from the onset of symptoms to death was 17.8 days. The onset of symptoms is generally the trigger for testing, which then can take 2 more days for results (4–7 days post infection). This lag time means that one should divide today’s cumulative death toll by the number of infections from at least two weeks ago. Using this correction, 37,788 deaths divided by the 182,414 confirmed cases as of March 16th, gives a mortality rate at about 21%! (Fig. 1). If COVID-19 infects 30% of the population, with a 21% mortality rate, that would result in 491 million deaths. Left uncontrolled by the drastic containment measured being applied, if 70% of the Earth’s population contract COVID-19 with a 21% mortality rate, then the result would be 1.1 billion deaths. This is why the WHO and national governments are taking this pandemic so seriously. We know the death toll, but since we don’t know the number of infections, we cannot accurately calculate the mortality rate. However, it could be catastrophic, even under conservative estimates. Without a cure or vaccine, the only thing we can do is reduce the rate and hopefully the number of infections. The question under examination here, however, is whether COVID-19 could, in the long term, be good for us and the environment.

Figure 1: The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases (top, in orange), and deaths (bottom, in blue) worldwide in the past two months. Vertical axis is logarithmic. Mortality rate of 21% comes from the number of deaths on March 30, divided by the number of cases from two weeks earlier, since it takes, on average, two weeks to die from COVID-19.

Environmental Impacts of COVID-19

A reduction of the global population due to COVID-19 presents the possibility of reducing the current quantities of gaseous emissions that contribute to air pollution. In addition to the immense strain that human activities exert on natural resources, these processes are directly associated with the generation of carbon air pollutants. A population decrease would reduce the demand for essential commodities while additionally contributing to a decrease in the quantities of carbon emitted from human activities such as energy production. By late March, although deaths had resulted in a population reduction of 0.0004%, the pandemic has catalyzed the introduction of stringent confinement measures that have reduced overall air pollution.

The environment has benefited significantly from transportation restrictions and in this instance, the limitations on air travel presents a compelling illustration of the benefits associated with the containment efforts to slow the transmission of COVID-19. The air travel industry comprises one of the foremost emission-intensive sectors in the world. This industry directly contributes to quantities in excess of 2.6% of global carbon dioxide emissions (Peters, 2020). However, COVID-19 has resulted in the cancelation of thousands of flights, and consequentially global air traffic decreased by 4.3% in February 2020 (Watts, 2020). Travel restrictions have been imposed because air travel confines people to an enclosed environment for extensive periods. This creates an ideal environment for the inter-continental transmission of the virus. Since the enactment of global lockdown measures, CO2 emissions from aircraft use has already diminished. This precautionary dynamic will inevitably revert to the original status quo, however, the current restrictions on frequent air travel allude to beneficial developments for the environment. Mooney (2020) observes that apart from reducing the global rate of pollution that emanates from air travel, the quarantine measures that purport to curtail the transmission of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom have contributed to a significant improvement of the air quality in this region. For decades, climate scientists have been frustrated by the lack of urgency in government response to climate change. An argument could be made that if we can mobilize the whole world for this pandemic, why could we not take drastic actions to protect the environment as well?

Decisive quarantine measures, which greatly reduced individual movement and business activities, have led to a significant decline in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that leads to significant climatic change. According to a 2017 UNEP report, the main sources of carbon dioxide air pollution include fossil fuel emissions that result from burning coal, heating, transport, industrial furnaces, agriculture, and domestic waste. Reductions in transportation, business and production activities reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. As a tangible example, Mooney and colleagues (2020) note that Italy is currently experiencing cleaner air following the ban on transportation (fig. 2).

Figure 2: Sources of Nitrogen dioxide in Italy

The quarantine measures implemented in China and the United Kingdom effectively contributed to a reduction in the emission of Particular Matter (PM2.5), which is a measure of air pollution. According to Wright (2020), the air quality in Hong Kong has improved since the city declared a partial lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19. A survey of 3 crowded areas in Hong Kong indicated a 32% decline in PM2.5 (Fig. 3; Wright 2020). A similar situation is observed in the United Kingdom where the daily pollution rates have decreased by 0.8% following the ‘stay-home policy’ (Morrison, 2020). Pollutants from these sectors have decreased because of government directives that require people to work from home while simultaneously restricting the operations of industries. Ultimately, this paradigm negates the necessity to travel to and from work while additionally decreasing the demands for modes of public transportation. However, this decline may revert to ‘normal’ concentrations of PM2.5 in the atmosphere, and even increase as countries will inevitably engage in intensified industrial production to recover from the effects of the current economic downturn. Alternatively, the pandemic may modify our behavior as we learn to work from home more efficiently, even without the threat of contagion.

To control the transmission of COVID-19, the enacted quarantine and lockdown strategies have also resulted in the cancellation of key international pollution-causing activities, several of which are linked to the fossil fuel industry (Watts, 2020). For example, the pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of the ‘Geneva Motor Show’ and the ‘Formula One Grand Prix’. Additionally, various international conferences, such as the London Book Fair and Adobe’s annual live summit, were canceled due to the pandemic. Although temporary, these precautionary measures have reduced pollution-creating travel while further negating the necessity to engage in other preparatory activities that possessed the potential to increase pollution. More importantly, businesses and scientific groups have begun to consider how they might attend “virtual conferences” in the future. It may be that what we learn from the pandemic will result in a permanent increase in remote work, and conferencing.

Figure 3: Average PM2.5 emissions between January and February 2020 (Wright 2020).

The rising fatalities from COVID-19, and the correlating decrease in global pollution, will reduce greenhouse gases produced by agricultural practices. The production of food for 7.8 billion people is one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gases into the environment. For example, farming fields produce 8% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (Crystal, 2020). The contemporary paradigm must change to reduce the carbon footprint and other gaseous pollutants. A reduction of the population from a pandemic would be one such way to decreases the demand for farm products while minimizing the prevalence of mass-farm-production and the need for agricultural land. However, even a one-time reduction of 14% would only delay the explosive growth in human population without changing the dynamics of continued expansion. However, recognizing the direct relationship between population density and our vulnerability to pandemics, perhaps one much worse than COVID-19, could energize efforts to reducing population growth. Once again, COVID-19 could be opening our eyes to what epidemiologists have been screaming for decades.

Resource Exploitation

A diminished population will inherently decrease demand for resources, energy, and reduce the exploitation of natural resources. According to Zaman (2015), a high population density increases pressure on the land through activities such as over-cultivation, grazing, woodcutting, and the use of pesticides that causes pollution. In this case, a significant population decrease from a pandemic leads to an increase in the sustainability of the Earth’s natural resources. Under this hypothesis, an intrinsic link exists between supply and demand; fewer people leads to lower demand. Similarly, the International Energy Agency predicts a reduction in energy consumption, and this forecast is substantiated when observing the current energy-related developments in China. According to McGrath (2020), energy consumption and atmospheric emissions in China were 25% lower in March of 2020 than the previous month. In relation to the protection of natural resources, a decreased global population essentially avails additional land for global vegetative cover.

Connelly (2019) emphasizes that contemporary global societies exert significant pressure on the vegetative cover of the earth’s surface. In addition, the Food and Agriculture Organization (2018) states that a high population density increases the prevalence of deforestation as people clear land for settlement and cultivation. This widespread clearing of forests culminates in the reduction of global vegetation cover and increases in the exploitation of other natural resources. A decrease in the global population would allow for an increase in high-ground vegetation cover. In addition to providing favorable conditions for regeneration, diminished populations directly advance the preservation of the rain forests and other natural vegetation while slowing climate change and altered rainfall patterns. When analyzing these perceived benefits, the fatalities from periodic and serious pandemics could reduce the rate of deforestation while simultaneously providing additional land for emerging natural vegetation. There may be a kind of ceiling to human population density, beyond which, we are subject to periodic “corrections” (Lovelock and Margoulis, 1974).

A decrease in the global population essentially reduces the demand for agricultural land, while protecting the ecosystem from exploitation. Population growth intensifies the need for agricultural land, thus leading to an increase in competition, which results in the conversion of woodland to farming space. The change in land use affects various components of the environment. Environmental phenomena, such as climate and biodiversity, are not independent of one another, as these facets comprise integral components of the holistic ecosystem. Overpopulation contributes to the exploitation of natural resources and the destruction of animal habitats through land conversions. Therefore, a decrease in population reduces the demand for agricultural land, which conversely curtails the overexploitation of the environment. Recurring pandemics would reduce the rate of global urbanization, but at a terrible cost.

The deaths resulting from recurring pandemics could fundamentally change the exponential growth of human population, thus protecting rain forests and natural vegetation. In her study, Starkey (2015) explains that the excessive global population has fundamentally destroyed 80% of the world’s ‘old-growth’ forest, while directly perpetuating the destruction of indigenous animal habitats. The author continues by stating that overpopulation is a primary factor in the destruction of 32 million acres of forest each year. Deforestation is driven by the need to create new land for agricultural production, whether it be commercial or substance farming or to clear areas for human settlement for a growing population. Consequently, this destruction of natural forests increases the risk of desertification of vulnerable land. Starkey (2015) concludes that desertification affects over 250 million people globally and that this form of environmental devastation essentially presents the potential for far-reaching detrimental future consequences. Ultimately, if the resulting fatalities from periodic pandemics continue to escalate, the exponential growth of human population could be curtailed, which would result in the recovery of forests and other natural vegetation. This situation will further minimize the demand for food, which prevents environmental devastation and pollution.

A reduction in the global population will essentially facilitate a decrease in the demand for food while advancing the prevention of environmental devastation. Askew (2017) determines that the current escalation of the global population dictates a necessity that food production should increase by 70% over the next 30 years. This increased demand for food resources places continued and increasing strain on the environment. Agricultural practices are fundamental factors in the processes of water and atmospheric pollution and farming significantly contributes to carbon emissions (Land Roots. org, n.d). However, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, and the associated effects of this pandemic, has temporarily reduced the prevalence of mass-agricultural production. A reduced global population reduces the demand for food, which will then mitigate the effects of environmental devastation.

The implementation of restrictions, to curtail the transference of COVID-19, has facilitated the improvement of water quality in canals. When observing the current condition of the canals in Venice Italy, the quarantine measures indisputably exemplifies how the reduction in human-caused pollution allows for the natural purification processes of water to function. Stickings (2020) ascribes the improved clarity of the Venetian waterways to both a significant decrease in boat traffic in the city and the implementation of the nationwide lockdown reducing tourist activities in Italy. The reduction of boat and tourist traffic allows for natural sedimentation of otherwise continuously disturbed suspended particles. As a result of the decreased traffic, various species of land and aquatic animals have returned to these waterways.

The reduction in daily coal consumption, by major power plants in China, will benefit the environment significantly. The daily consumption of coal utilization was reduced by 42.5% in February 2020 compared to February 2019 (Tan, 2020). This industry witnessed a general decrease in the workforce due to the government interventions that required citizens to self-isolate to slow the spread of what was then an epidemic. This reduction in coal burning improved the air quality across major Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Ultimately, this development advanced the sustainability of China’s environment by facilitating the reduction of pollution that emanates from the burning of fossil fuels. Coal is one of the primary causes of both global and local air pollution. However, economic stimulus that attempts to regenerate essential service industries, could return to the excessive consumption of coal that will inevitably escalate the production of greenhouse emissions. However, people who venture out into the now clean air in Beijing might push for a more rapid conversion to clean energy.

Urbanization

COVID-19 has temporarily reduced urbanization activities in major cities throughout the world. Over half of the world’s people live in cities (Ritchie, 2018) (Fig. 4; United Nations, 2018). This figure is predicted to grow to 68% over the next 30 years (United Nations, 2020). According to Lessler (2020), the COVID-19 pandemic could infect between 40% and 70% of the global population. If true, depending on the still unknown mortality rate, the Earth would experience a 1–14% decrease in population this year. Despite the horrific loss of human lives, a decline in global population could have some positive effects that should not be ignored. If human population growth is unsustainable, we can predict future pandemics. The next pandemic could be much worse. Imagine a pandemic as contagious as measles, and as lethal as Ebola. Such a virus is not in the realm of science fiction, but rather, a real possibility that would end human civilization and make the Hollywood doomsday portrayals of the apocalypse look entirely plausible. In the face of this reality, we could learn from this relatively mild pandemic to avoid the “big one” to come. In essence, the emergence of COVID-19 represents a defining moment in contemporary social constructs that could teach us to prevent future pandemics that have the potential to end human civilization. The fear we have experienced with this relatively minor pandemic could catalyze an aversion towards urban areas while additionally minimizing the prevalence of rural-urban migration, which is a direct cause of increased pollution.

Figure 4: The number of people living in urban areas worldwide in millions)

Pandemic deaths reduce urban environmental problems. Rai (2017) explains that urbanization directly contributes to air and noise pollution from aviation, automobiles, and industry, which is directly responsible for shortages of natural resources such as water, energy, and fossil fuels. Additionally, an escalation in urban populations presents a challenge of solid waste management while facilitating the development of slums (Rai, 2017). In this context, there is a direct correlation between the rate of urbanization and population escalation. This contention is substantiated when considering the disparities between the respective availability of employment opportunities and infrastructure in rural and urban areas. However, a sustained reduction in global population would reduce the process of urbanization. Also, fewer people provides more land for human settlement.

The attenuation of the global population from periodic pandemics reduces the demand for urban sprawl. Urbanization is a prevalent international practice that emerges from overpopulation and the demand for resources. Overpopulation contributes to the global demand for housing, infrastructure, industrial production, land availability, and various other economic resources (Acheampong, 2019). Consequently, urbanization increases the pervasiveness of built-up areas, which creates lasting effects on the natural environment. Additionally, urbanization perpetuates the exploitation of natural resources, such as forests. Predominantly, the process of deforestation is attributed to the demand for agricultural land, building materials, residential developments, and the construction of industrial facilities that supply the perpetually increasing demands of the global population (Acheampong, 2019). Recurring pandemics would curtail population growth while minimizing the environmental impact of urbanization. We have the opportunity to slow the growth of our population through social changes that we choose to make, or the choice could be made for us by density-dependent disease.

Climate Change

Unfortunately, the pandemic has effectively delayed the implementation of ‘Green Energy’ initiatives, increasing the risks of climate change. Newburger (2020) concludes that the emergence of COVID-19 has reduced investment in ‘Green Energy’ while weakening the energy industry’s aspirations of reducing greenhouse emissions. The author further asserts that the pandemic has delayed the production of environmentally viable alternatives while inhibiting investments in alternative energy resources such as solar energy. Consequently, while impeding investments in the global renewable energy supply chain, the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively exposed the environment to the risk of pollution that originates from the combustion of fossil fuels and other natural resources. Ultimately, this paradigm presents an alternative conclusion to the overall purport of the beneficial attributes of COVID-19 on the environment, as this pandemic possesses the capacity to have a negative impact on the global climatic conditions of the future. However, while acute catastrophe tends to disrupt baseline activities, if pandemics could be seen as a recurring event, they could be used as motivation for significant change.

Conclusion

In summation, COVID-19 has provided a lesson in how recurring pandemics might change our perception of what is tolerable in terms of human population density. Such a lesson could provide significant benefits for the environment, should we choose to act on the obvious ramifications of overpopulation. One way or another, we must reduce global population. Pandemics are one mechanism that would reduce our population, but at a terrible cost. There are much less drastic ways we could do this, such as changing attitudes about family size, available contraception, family planning, and delayed reproduction, but it must be done, one way or another. A decrease in human population will advance the rejuvenation of forests while reducing the pressure to clear more land for residential and industrial developments. There is an undeniable correlation between the necessity for sustainable food production and the enormity of the contemporary global populace. Ultimately, the corresponding fatality statistics of the pandemic proffers an opportunity to stabilize food resources in the absence of extensive over-farming practices. Secondly, this pandemic has compelled governments and other non-governmental organizations to engage in processes of decisive action to prevent the continued transmission of COVID-19. These restrictive protocols have directly contributed to the deceleration of activities that perpetuate fundamental threats to the continued sustainability of the environment. They have provided a glimpse of what is possible, and an example of what we could accomplish. We have seen a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, and a temporary clearing of the air and water. The global travel restrictions have reduced fossil fuel use and the suspension of industrial activities has illustrated the beneficial aspects of this reduction.

Holistically, COVID-19 could contribute to a reduction in the exploitation of natural resources while advancing the restoration of the global environment through teaching us what is possible and warning us of the catastrophe to come. We must not ignore the tragic consequences of COVID-19 to the victims, just as we must not ignore the warning it provides. Despite the tragedy, this study asserts that a holistic approach to the presented data ultimately negates the conclusion that this relatively minor pandemic is solely bad. In an entirely objective view that ignores human suffering, recurrent pandemics are good for the environment. However, if human population growth is unsustainable, then mass death through pandemics or starvation is inevitable. When scientists model population growth as “unsustainable”, they are talking about “impossible”, not just “unpleasant”. Scientists are culturally discouraged from hyperbole; they report what they find and hope that the politicians will do their jobs. The models could be wrong of course, but scientists have been warning us. We have the ability to select the means of population reduction with family planning that includes available birth control, smaller family sizes, and later reproduction (which reduces the generational overlap). Pandemics are a crude and much more painful means, but certainly not the only one. In support of this assertion, the tested veracity and overwhelming congruencies from disparate sources illustrate the environmental benefits of population reduction. SARS-CoV-2, and the subsequent effects of this global pandemic, represents a fundamental juncture in the continued sustainability of human civilization. In contrast to the tragedy of death, COVID-19 presents humanity with an opportunity to transpose an ailing environment with a viable alternative.

Mass death tends to focus societies attention to change. As a reference, 85 million people died as a direct result of World War II (3% of the World’s population), changing the fabric of our world. Twenty-six years earlier, the “Spanish flu” pandemic infected one third of the world’s population, killing 50 million (then 3% of the world’s population) in addition to the deaths from WWI. The world of 1920 was very different from the world of 1910. However, it is not just about the numbers. The 9–11 terror attacks of 2001 directly killed 2996 people, or 0.00004% of the Earth’s population, yet changed the world in very significant ways. This example shows that what we choose to pay attention to is based more on emotional response than on the numbers. COVID-19 could catalyze the emotional response needed to avoid an intolerable future. Population will be controlled, whether it be through starvation, war, conscious and prudent choices, or a hypothetical virus that could be as contagious as measles, and as lethal as Ebola. Should the method be a super virus like this, it would put an end to human civilization, as 7 billion people die, leaving the natural world to recover as the surviving humans murdered one another for scraps. However it may happen, the methods of population control are up to us.

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Milan Kordestani is a 21-year-old serial entrepreneur whose most notable startups include Guin Records, Dormzi, and The Doe.

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