There’s a line from the new space opera, The Expanse, that’s quickly becoming a grim shorthand for the futurepresent: Welcome to the Churn. Any doubts that we’re in the midst of a slow-motion apocalypse are being set aside as the multicausal factors behind the sudden rise of the Zika Virus and its many, apparently long lasting and dire implications become clear. But there’s another motto of equal power to meet this: the only way out is through.
If this is indeed the Sixth Mass Extinction, in the era now commonly agreed as the Anthropocene, then humanity is the metaphorical asteroid and we are in the process, not of affecting our own extinction, but – just as we effectively domesticated ourselves from savannah-dwelling upright chimps to become the ultimate world conquering, ecosystem shaping, invasive species – proving to be the selective filter that will determine the course of our race’s evolution. The goal is increasingly becoming simply “live through this,” and the Zika Virus is the first level boss we have to defeat. The best news of all, if such a thing can be said about this is – the sole ray of light in the imminent darkness – we can only do so by rapidly beginning the process of repairing the planet. Because, however you read this situation, it’s definitely sick, and it falls to us to heal it. To paraphrase once more from the comic Planetary: there’s no justice, there’s just us.
The UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed on Monday that the global average surface temperature in 2015 shattered all previous records and said 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000. “We have reached for the first time the threshold of 1C above pre-industrial temperatures. It is a sobering moment in the history of our planet,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.” ~ Please Stop Saying Humans Aren’t Causing Climate Change [WIRED]
Whilst this particular essay isn’t a formal part of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy (PES) series, and should more properly be considered a continuation of the themes explored in my deep reading of the TV show Fortitude, there’s definitely some overlap. The biggest point of intersection can be found in the speech from Kingsman: The Secret Service that I used to illustrate PES: Pt2. For our purposes here it’s really worth listening to again… for one part in particular.
When you get a virus, you get a fever. That’s the human body raising its core temperature to kill the virus. Planet Earth works the same way. Global Warming is the fever. Mankind is the Virus. We’re making our planet sick. A cull is our only hope. If we don’t reduce our population ourselves there’s only one of two ways this can go: the host kills the virus or the virus kills the host.
The Kingsman film is already considered a cannon telling of the Elite’s plans in many conspiratorial-minded circles. The principal question to be answered in this exploration of the Zika Virus is who’s got the upper hand right now? Is the virus killing the host, or vice versa? Is the Zika Virus a natural – whatever “natural” actually means in the context of the Anthropocene – consequence of climate chaos, or the direct result of the covert machinations of corporate interests; specifically in this case, Big Pharma in general, and two Plutocrats in particular: Bill & Melinda Gates.
Except “or” is exactly the wrong word here, the incorrect logic… this is after all the multicausal slow-motion apocalypse, which the Zika Virus is just one symptom of. Before we go any further, we need to extend our apocalyptic lexicon and appreciate just what it is to be living within the Churn.
— Michiko Kakutani (@michikokakutani) January 29, 2016
As I’m wont to do, I’m going to lean on the words of a friend and fellow writer here, and let Cat Vincent explain the full meaning and origin of the phrase I opened this essay with, quoting at length from his recent newsletter on the subject:
I read a lot of futurists, and hang out online with several: people like Warren Ellis, Jan Chipcase, Bruce Sterling — as a result, I hear the phrase The New Normal a lot. But from where I’m sitting, I don’t think we’ve stablized anywhere near enough to even try to define what that New Normal looks like yet. And, watching the latest episode of the excellent TV adaptation of The Expanse space opera novels, I realised there was a far better term for where we are.
We’re in The Churn.
The term comes from the series novella of the same name, and it’s used by the character Amos Burton, played excellently in the show by Wes Chatham. If The Expanse can be described crudely as ‘Firefly For Adults’, Amos is the crew’s Jayne Cobb: a brutal killer who appears rather simple on the surface. Unlike Jayne however, Amos isn’t actually stupid: his seeming simplicity and callousness is a product of his environment. An abuse survivor of an unrelentingly harsh upbringing in the flooded remains of Baltimore, Amos has witnessed more than his share of turmoil on the most basic bio-survival level. Here’s what he says about it in the latest episode, ‘Windmills’, in conversation with the captured spy Kenzo:
Kenzo: It must be nice, having everything figured out like that.
Amos: Ain’t nothing to do with me: we’re just caught in the Churn, that’s all.
Kenzo: I have no idea what you just said.
Amos: This boss I used to work for in Baltimore, he called it the Churn. When the rules of the game change.
Kenzo: What game?
Amos: The only game. Survival. When the jungle tears itself down and builds itself into something new. Guys like you and me, we end up dead. Doesn’t really mean anything. Or, if we happen to live through it, well that doesn’t mean anything either.
Some things are so fundamental that you can only survive them, or not: as my friend Gordon White says, they’re like weather. (And, of course, that list these days significantly includes weather.) But how we survive them matters. Until the Churn settles into whatever the fuck the New Normal becomes, we could be the looters, or the volunteers stopping them, or victims, or just bystanders. We could fall into Amos’s bitterly practical nihilism, or trust that from the chaos of the Churn, perhaps something good can come. Like the mathematics of Ilya Prigogine predicts, periods of complete chaos usually resolve in a higher order of coherence… and if you’re going to gamble, betting on the future where you survive makes more sense than the one where you don’t. But I think it helps if you actually deserve to survive… even if the very concept of deserving is one of those Little Lies we tell ourselves.
“Betting on the future where you survive makes more sense than the one where you don’t”. Amen brother. We need the words to describe our situation though, so we can chart our course through it. There’s a reason those old maps noted where all the dragons were. For me, as we sketch out the territory we must navigate, the Churn maps perfectly on to the overall period William Gibson described as the Jackpot Years in The Peripheral. I’m going to pull a quote from that book where he elaborates on the nature of a multicausal, feedback loop deathspiral; one that I’ve used here before, and may well do so again.
No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.” ~ The Peripheral, William Gibson
Why is this quote such a touchstone for me? Well, for one thing, it almost perfectly captures the circumstances that have given risen to what’s looking to be exactly one of those “disease that were never quite the one big pandemic”, as the result of many of the other factors. Just everything else…
— Dr. Glen Barry (@DrGlenBarry) January 29, 2016
The Zika Virus is letting everyone give full voice to project their eschatonic ideologies and apocalyptic mindsets to any audience that will listen. The mainstream media depiction is of the host, the planetary superorganism, Gaia, finally repelling the human infection. Dig deeper though and a far darker narrative emerges of this all being the direct result of the bleeding edge of anthropocentric activity, genetically modified organisms, industrial farming and gross negligence. A climatological horror story is one that begins merely with intersection of natural forces;a reboot of the classic trope of Nature vs Man: Nature’s Revenge.
Gaia’s DePopulation Agenda
Zika was first identified in monkeys in Uganda’s Zika Forest in 1947. In the years since, the disease has slowly migrated eastward around the globe, following oceanic trade routes with the help of infected sailors and mosquitoes trapped in the holds of ships. The first serious outbreak occurred in 2007 in Micronesia, where up to 60 people were infected, followed by cases in French Polynesia and on other Pacific islands. The current outbreak, which started late last year in Brazil, is the most serious yet and the first one in the Americas…
According to Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, the outbreak was triggered by “a perfect storm” of biological, economic, and climatic events. Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that can carry Zika, has been growing in population in Latin America since first being introduced to Brazil via trans-Pacific shipping routes in the late 1980s. Brazil is also now in the middle of a severe economic downturn, while the government is in disarray as President Dilma Rousseff faces calls for impeachment for her involvement in a corruption scandal involving Petrobras, the state oil company. That has left the country with a weakened public health system that is struggling to effectively eradicate dangerous mosquitoes. This week, Brazil’s health minister admitted he was “badly losing the battle” against mosquito-borne illnesses.
But the most important factor, Garrett said, is a mosquito population boom triggered by above-average rainfall, a product of this year’s exceptionally strong El Niño in the Pacific. Over the last month, flooding in Brazil, Paraguay, and elsewhere has been the worst in half a century, forcing 150,000 people to evacuate their homes. Those conditions are perfect for mosquito breeding.
“One of the hallmarks of these mosquitoes is they like very clean water,” Garrett said. “So rainfall is perfect for them. If it creates puddles, or accumulates in tires or any sort of containers, that will be a breeding site.” ~ Is El Niño to Blame for the “Explosive” Zika Virus Outbreak? [Mother Jones]
Understand why the Churn and the Jackpot Years are quickly becoming the shorthand to discuss the current condition? Just count up all the factors there and tell me the Zika Virus isn’t, at minimum, the worst side-effect of humankind’s continual failure to act as effective planetary custodians.
The literal geological marker of this period I hopefully characterise as being the Immature Anthropocene, implying we might actually survive to get better at all this world management business, is a world littered by plastic… the very thing the Zika Virus bearing mosquitoes are breeding in across the Americas.
“Plastics are also pretty well everywhere on Earth, from mountain tops to the deep ocean floor — and can be fossilized into the far future. We now make almost a billion tons of the stuff every three years. If all the plastic made in the last few decades was clingfilm, there would be enough to put a layer around the whole Earth. With current trends of production, there will be the equivalent of several more such layers by mid-century.”
“Plastics will continue to be input into the sedimentary cycle over coming millennia as temporary stores — landfill sites — are eroded. Plastics already enable fine time resolution within Anthropocene deposits via the development of their different types and via the artefacts, known as ‘technofossils’, they are moulded into, and many of these may have long-term preservation potential when buried in strata.
“Once buried, being so hard-wearing, plastics have a good chance to be fossilized — and leave a signal of the ultimate convenience material for many million years into the future. The age of plastic may really last for ages.” ~ Human impact has created a ‘plastic planet’ [SCIENCE DAILY]
The, um, kinda good news is that the Elite kicking around recently at Davos are all over this… sort of. When you’re at an economic forum every solution looks, strangely enough, economic. They look at oceans where the plastic content will soon outweigh the fish in it and just see inefficiency and potentially lost profits:
An overwhelming 95 per cent of plastic packaging, worth $116-174 billion, a year is lost to the economy after a single use, according to the study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation…
“In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish,” it said.
Dominic Waughray of the World Economic Forum, which jointly released the report, said it “demonstrates the importance of triggering a revolution in the plastics industrial ecosystem”.
“[It] is a first step to showing how to transform the way plastics move through our economy,” he said.
“To move from insight to large-scale action, it is clear that no one actor can work on this alone. The public, private sector and civil society all need to mobilize to capture the opportunity of the new circular plastics economy.”
A sweeping change in the use of plastic packaging would require cooperation worldwide between consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers, businesses involved in collection, cities, policymakers and other organisations, the report said.
I don’t think its too cynical to read this as treating the symptoms, but ignoring the disease. And as hard as I’d looked into this, whilst they talk about reducing the plastification of the planet, I could find no mention of reversing it. Instead, for hopeful narratives of a course through, we have to turn back to life on the other side of the Jackpot Years, as Gibson conjures it for us:
The patchers, their prime directive to cleanse the fouled water column, had assembled this place from recovered polymers. What shape it had taken was afterthought, offhand gesture, however remarkably unattractive. It made him want to shower. Coffee was starting to seep through the front of his robe.
Now Daedra was being helped to don her parafoil, which in its furled state resembled a bilobed scarlet backpack, bearing the white logo of its makers. “Is the ’foil her placement,” he asked, “or ours?”
The cams halted abruptly, simultaneously finding one another over the chosen square. Descended, above diagonally opposite corners, each capturing the other’s identical image. They were skeletal oblongs, the size of a tea tray, matte gray, around a bulbous little fuselage.
Either Lorenzo or Rainey brought the audio up. The square filled with a low moaning, the island’s hallmark soundscape. The patchers had wormed hollow tubes through every structure. Wind blew across their open tops, generating a shifting, composite tonality he’d hated from the moment he’d first heard it. “Do we need that?” he asked.
“It’s so much of the feel of the place. I want our audience to have that.”
Something was moving in the distance, to his left. “What’s that?”
Four meters tall, headless, with some indeterminate number of legs, it was that same hollow milky plastic. Like the discarded carapace of something else, moving as if animated by an awkward puppetry. It rocked from side to side as it advanced, a garden of tubes atop its length no doubt contributing to the song of the plastic island.
“Have they sent it here?”
“No,” she said. “They set them free, to wander with the wind.”
“I don’t want it in the frame.”
“Now you’re the director?”“You don’t want it in the frame,” he said.
“The wind’s taking care of that.”
The thing went stiffly on, swaying, on its hollow translucent legs.
On the upper deck of the moby, he saw, her support staff had been withdrawn. The white china Michikoid remained, checking the parafoil, hands and fingers moving with inhuman speed and precision. The ribbon on its sailor cap fluttered in the breeze. A real one, the cam with the fan absent now.
“And here we are,” said Rainey, and he saw the first of the patchers, one cam shifting focus.
A child. Or something the size of one. Hunched over the handlebars of a ghostly little bike, the bike’s frame the same salt-crusted translucence as the city and the wind-walker. Unpowered, it seemed to lack pedals as well. The patcher progressed by repeatedly scuffing at the avenue’s surface.
The patchers repelled Netherton even more than their island. Their skin was overgrown with a tweaked variant on actinic keratosis, paradoxically protecting them from UV cancers. “There’s only the one?” ~ William Gibson, The Peripheral
Posthumans healing the planet as an art project, building plastic islands and making sculptures from the rubble of the world-that-was. That’s the kind of thing that awaits the survivors of what looks more and more like a giant selective filter in motion. The Churn. Because the first real horrific element of the tale of the Zika Virus looks like this:
Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.” ~ Facts about Microcephaly [CDC]
That’s what the next generation looks like for the Americas if nothing is done to reverse the spread of this virus, or limit its effects. 4,000 births like this were reported in Brazil last year, where this outbreak originated. Columbia has now reported over two thousand women as being infected with Zika. Government after government across the Americas are encouraging their citizens to avoid reproducing until the crisis ends and/or a cure can be found. As climate change thought leader Bill McKibben wrote in his op-ed for The Guardian on the subject:
Think about that. Women should avoid the most essential and beautiful of human tasks. It is unthinkable. Or rather, it is something out of a science fiction story, the absolute core of a dystopian future…
We’re in an emergency, one whose face morphs each week into some new and hideous calamity.
A civilization where one can’t safely have a baby is barely a civilization.
No surprise then that people are constantly referencing the film Children of Men when discussing this online, or off. Alfonso Cuarón indeed offers a grim visage of the future that lurks over the dark horizon:
This species is currently present in 12 states in the United States, mostly in the Southeast. But its close cousin, Aedes albopictus, known as the Asian tiger mosquito, came to the United States in the 1980s and is now in some 30 states, including the entire Eastern Seaboard up to New York City. For now, fortunately, this species does not appear to be a significant factor in the transmission of Zika to humans. What we in North America have to worry about is whether the Asian tiger mosquito can become a more effective transmitter of the virus to humans. If that happened, we would face a very serious risk of an outbreak here.
One of the solutions to this problem is called “vector control.” It involves both eliminating the places where these mosquitoes breed, or chemically treating those sites, and spraying chemical insecticides to kill adult mosquitoes, or at least keep them away from where humans live, work and play. We must clean up the garbage to have any hope of reducing Zika infections in humans.” ~ How Scared Should You Be About Zika? [NyTimes]
That we can only save ourselves by finally beginning the great project of repairing the planet is the through line of hope, the opportunity within the crisis and great takeaway from all this. It’s always darkest before the dawn… or to echo Cat Vincent again, from earlier: “betting on the future where you survive makes more sense than the one where you don’t.”
Which brings another element that can be folded in, where this can all be the grim origin tale for a Mature Anthropocene run by a Type I Civilisation. Making a rational decision about human migration. Because if there’s anyone that is betting large on their future right now, it’s the displaced persons across the world risking everything for the chance of at life under better circumstances. The people formerly of Syria, for instance. If the Zika Virus plays out as expected, and for years no one has children, the governments of the Americas have a new generation waiting to be imported from the other side of the world. A far more inviting and permanent journey for them to take, versus the temporary asylum Germany has offered to over a million and made a point of emphasising it’s temporary nature:
Merkel said that despite efforts to integrate refugees and help them, it was important to stress that they had only been given permission to stay for a limited period of time.
“We need … to say to people that this is a temporary residential status and we expect that once there is peace in Syria again, once IS has been defeated in Iraq, that you go back to your home country with the knowledge that you have gained,” she said
Returning to what exactly? I see no Marshall-esque plan being set in motion, after all.
Imagine images of Syrian refugees being flown to the Americas from Turkey and elsewhere on our screens, instead of the constant news footage of drowned women and children. It would be a radical act to many, but the governments that do it would find themselves with a grateful injection of talented people almost certainly ready to undertake any ambitious task. Like, I don’t know, returning the Amazon rain forest to it’s former glory as a great, vast garden. If only the politicians in places such as Brazil can look past the short term consequences such as the likelihood that the Corpocratic Invasion that is the Olympics will be a complete disaster – no Westerner vaguely contemplating children will risk attending this year – and see the long game instead.
This is a far more inviting future to contemplate, versus a near future with Trump as POTUS, building a Walled America, patrolled by drones with The Gates Foundation’s mosquito zapping lasers.
The Corpocratic DePopulation Agenda
And so we come to consider the words and acts of billionaire philanthropists, Bill & Melinda Gates, and the rather suspect field trials of a branch of Big Pharma. Bill Gates seeded his global charity with what would to others be a large chunk of his Microsoft stock, and still sits comfortably atop the world’s richest list. His new mission in life involves such world changing goals as ridding the world of Malaria. You can listen to him talk about his bucketlist in this TED Talk, where he pulls cool stunts like releasing a swarm of mosquitoes into the audience. There’s one quote we need to pull out here though, because as we’ll shortly see, it foreshadows just what might be the real story of the true origin of the Zika Virus outbreak threatening the world:
But we have to be careful because malaria — the parasite evolves and the mosquito evolves. So every tool that we’ve ever had in the past has eventually become ineffective. And so you end up with two choices. If you go into a country with the right tools and the right way, you do it vigorously, you can actually get a local eradication. And that’s where we saw the malaria map shrinking. Or, if you go in kind of half-heartedly, for a period of time you’ll reduce the disease burden, but eventually those tools will become ineffective, and the death rate will soar back up again.
Remember that part. Bill’s wife and partner-in-crime… I mean, Benevolent Plutocratic Endeavours… Melinda Gates recently gave a TED Talk herself. Depending on how you read this – via whatever reality tunnel you view it through – it’s either an act of Noblesse Oblige, or one of the greatest recent instances of Plato’s Noble Lie. Especially once we call back again to Samuel L. Jackson’s words in the Kingsman film: “A cull is our only hope.” Seen through supervillain lens, this is one ominous speech:
…for an idea that is so broadly accepted in private, birth control certainly generates a lot of opposition in public. Some people think when we talk about contraception that it’s code for abortion, which it’s not. Some people — let’s be honest — they’re uncomfortable with the topic because it’s about sex. Some people worry that the real goal of family planning is to control populations.
Since we’re essentially creating another intersection with the Plutocratic Exit Strategy series here, it’s worth pointing out the other instances where it sure looks like a cull is being effected, if not by intention, then by neglect; a consequence of the chaos caused by the looting of the world. Take Flint, Michigan and the other places in North American beset by toxic water:
— Brent Staples (@BrentNYT) January 29, 2016
We really can’t blame Gaia’s natural immune response on such things. It’s unquestionably the result of a broken civilisation, falling back into the abyss of Collapse. Whilst the Exit to Mars marches on:
Personal space travel ambitions aside, Musk also talked about how important it was for mankind to reach Mars. He said that SpaceX is planning to reveal its next-generation spacecraft at September’s International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.
But as I’ve already said, this isn’t another PES installment. Pay no attention to the wizard behind the curtain. Especially when the rest of what they’re pitching fits perfectly in with your anarchist transhumanist belief system. As Tim Maly wrote on the subject in his piece “Six Radical Life-Extension Technologies for Transhumanist Consideration”, listing Clean Water and Basic Sanitation as the top two pieces of radical tech.
So when Melinda Gates says the following, I’m almost ready to swallow the rest of what she has to say:
Now, as a world, there are lots of things we have to do in the global health community if we want to make the world better in the future — things like fight diseases. So many children today die of diarrhea, as you heard earlier, and pneumonia. They kill literally millions of children a year.
This has, after all, been a priority for such past civilisations as the Roman Empire and the residents of the Indus Valley during the Bronze Age. So why can’t get we it right, here in the Peak Anthropocene? It’s a pretty freaking valid question. Thankfully there are some people working on resolving this problem… again. Researchers from Standford are field testing an innovative clean water solution in the slums of Bangladesh:
Dhaka has notoriously unsafe water supplies, with testing showing that as much of 80 percent of the city’s water is contaminated with E. coli, a major cause of diarrhea, Pickering said. The source: human waste, which is sucked into the city’s water system by cracked, leaky PVC pipes.
“There’s open sewage everywhere,” Pickering told me for a 2013 story in Stanford Medicine magazine. “There’s not a well-functioning sewer system to remove feces from the communities. The kids are playing in it, and it’s very unsafe.”
Her team, which includes a group of Stanford undergraduates, created a simple device, attached to communal water pumps, which infuses a small amount of chlorine into the water to kill viruses and bacteria and most disease-causing pathogens. It’s the first automated chlorine disinfection system in use in a low-income area.
Just the kind of technology that might be handy for a climate chaos ridden (broken) Refugee/Favela Planet. Another regretful necessity. Maybe the Gates Foundation can help them out? That would be nice, right? A nice hopeful thought to pause on before we descend into the very depths of the Zika Wormhole. Because it seems a very different field test has been going on in Brazil, and would you just guess what might be the result? Brace yourself for Full Anthropocene Horror and please adjust your conspiratorial hats before reading on.
Here’s someone on Reddit breaking it down really simply (I’ve put the maps they mention in above this quote):
This seems like a case to me where mankind’s arrogance may have backfired on us.
Here is Oxitec back in 2015 proudly announcing that their GM mosquito has decimated the local mosquito population in a field trial:
Releases of the genetically engineered Oxitec mosquito, commonly known as ‘Friendly Aedes aegypti’, reduced the dengue mosquito population in an area of Juazeiro, Brazil by 95%, well below the modelled threshold for epidemic disease transmission.
Here is a map showing where Juazeiro is located.
Here is a map showing where all the deformed babies are being born.
Zika was first confirmed in Brazil in may of 2015, but had been seen in other nations before. Question: Why didn’t it cause an epidemic of birth defects in any other countries? How exactly would you miss a tenfold increase in children born with most of their brain missing? Zika in Brazil does not seem to behave like the Zika we were familiar with before.
How could the Zika catastrophe be linked to genetically modified mosquitoes?
The OX513A strain of male mosquitoes released in Juazeiro creates larvae that normally die in the absence of antibiotics, which is supposed to help decimate wild mosquito populations when these males are released in the wild. Problem here being of course, that “life, uh, finds a way”. An estimated 3-4% of the larvae survive to adulthood in the absence of the tetracycline antibiotic. These larvae should then be free to go on and reproduce and pass on their genes. In fact, they may be the only ones that are passing on their genes in places that have their wild mosquito population decimated by these experiments.
What is the effect on these mosquitoes that grow up with a mutilated genome? It is thought that this should introduce a fitness cost, that is, they should have greater difficulty surviving. What do we know about these mosquitoes? Has adequate research ever been done on how a genetically mutilated mosquito copes with viral infections? Could the mosquito be more susceptible to certain pathogens, that it then passes on to humans? If a pathogen like the Zika virus can thrive in the mosquito without restraint, it could evolve into something far more dangerous than its original incarnation, pulling the lever on the slot machine with every replication until it hits the genetic jackpot.
Is it too much to ask for a moratorium on these type of genetic experiments?
This far more expansive article at AntiMedia took that post and really ran with it. It’s actually a pretty harrowing read that makes the Flint, Michigan & fellow cities seem almost benign by comparison. This is the Churn, people. The only peace we find is in the eye of the storm. Remember a few thousand words ago when we were just worried about plastic and clean water acting an ace incubator for a swarm of infectious mosquitoes? It’s so much worse than that. Maybe. (VERY PROBABLY.) Like, that little fact about tetracycline? Read on for a full elaboration:
The particular strain of Oxitec GM mosquitoes, OX513A, are genetically altered so the vast majority of their offspring will die before they mature — though Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher published concerns in a report in September 2010 that a known survival rate of 3-4 percent warranted further study before the release of the GM insects. Her concerns, which were echoed by several other scientists both at the time and since, appear to have been ignored — though they should not have been.
Those genetically-modified mosquitoes work to control wild, potentially disease-carrying populations in a very specific manner. Only the male modified Aedes mosquitoes are supposed to be released into the wild — as they will mate with their unaltered female counterparts. Once offspring are produced, the modified, scientific facet is supposed to ‘kick in’ and kill that larvae before it reaches breeding age — if tetracycline is not present during its development. But there is a problem.
According to an unclassified document from the Trade and Agriculture Directorate Committee for Agriculture dated February 2015, Brazil is the third largest in “global antimicrobial consumption in food animal production” — meaning, Brazil is third in the world for its use of tetracycline in its food animals. As a study by the American Society of Agronomy, et. al., explained, “It is estimated that approximately 75% of antibiotics are not absorbed by animals and are excreted in waste.” One of the antibiotics (or antimicrobials) specifically named in that report for its environmental persistence is tetracycline.
In fact, as a confidential internal Oxitec document divulged in 2012, that survival rate could be as high as 15% — even with low levels of tetracycline present. “Even small amounts of tetracycline can repress” the engineered lethality. Indeed, that 15% survival rate was described by Oxitec:
“After a lot of testing and comparing experimental design, it was found that [researchers] had used a cat food to feed the [OX513A] larvae and this cat food contained chicken. It is known that tetracycline is routinely used to prevent infections in chickens, especially in the cheap, mass produced, chicken used for animal food. The chicken is heat-treated before being used, but this does not remove all the tetracycline. This meant that a small amount of tetracycline was being added from the food to the larvae and repressing the [designed] lethal system.”
Even absent this tetracycline, as Steinbrecher explained, a “sub-population” of genetically-modified Aedes mosquitoes could theoretically develop and thrive, in theory, “capable of surviving and flourishing despite any further” releases of ‘pure’ GM mosquitoes which still have that gene intact. She added, “the effectiveness of the system also depends on the [genetically-designed] late onset of the lethality. If the time of onset is altered due to environmental conditions … then a 3-4% [survival rate] represents a much bigger problem…”
LANGUAGE WARNING: They seriously built a fucking super bug! Like, they could not have fucked this up more if they tried!!! Did they?!?! This is some full X-Files conspiracy type shit. In fact, forget that, it’s now a race between reality and the new season of the televisual adaptation of 12 Monkeys to show us what near-human extinction via engineered plague looks like:
Don’t worry though, it’s so much worse. A cool way to put out a fire is to pour oil on it, right?
Oxitec — a subsidiary of the biotech firm Intrexon (XON) — is working to control the mosquito-borne Zika virus outbreak in Brazil with its genetically modified mosquitoes.
The firm breeds special male mosquitoes that are released into the air and help stop the spread of Zika by passing along a gene to their offspring that make them die young.
Oxitec said tests in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands cut down the targeted Aedes aegypti mosquito population by over 90%, which helps stop the spread of Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses.
The latest Oxitec test in Piracicaba, Brazil, cut the targeted mosquito population by 82% in a matter of months — leading the city to announce last week it would expand its project with Oxitec and allow the company to build a new mosquito-making factory in the area.” ~ Fighting the Zika virus with mutant mosquitoes [CNN MONEY]
And since this is all super-cutting edge anthropocene horror tech, they’re not even charging people for it, but doing this all by donation. Almost like there’s a greater agenda at work, and this is just one field trial in motion.
I really wish I was making this all up. It’s so much more fun to dissect TV shows about frozen mammoths carrying fictional plagues, than frantically writing to your friends encouraging them to get at least a continent away from the outbreak zone. 2016 is just getting started. Now with the best news of all, yeah, I saved it for last. According to one expert, it’s not Zika that we should really be worried about…
Zika is here to stay in the Western Hemisphere; it will be part of life for many years to come. Even if we make vector control efforts a major initiative, it will only reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of Zika. What we need next, urgently, is a vaccine.
Some critics are suggesting that such vaccine research for Zika should have been done years ago, but this isn’t entirely fair. It was only in the past two years that there was any indication this virus could cause serious human disease. Now we have to catch up. But it’s going to be complicated. If Guillain-Barré syndrome is indeed caused by the patient’s immune response to the virus, as happens with other infectious diseases, could the vaccine itself put us at risk? This will take careful research to determine. And it will take time.
The point is, we should have anticipated that the large increase in mosquitoes would create a major health crisis. Just as we should have anticipated that a deadly hemorrhagic disease caused by the Ebola virus would emerge one day from the remote forests and threaten the vast slums of the rapidly growing megacities of Africa. We should now anticipate that the MERS virus will result in more deadly outbreaks outside of the Arabian Peninsula, as it did in Seoul, South Korea. We should anticipate that viruses such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis may spread from their jungle homes and be even more deadly than Zika.
Even more than these viruses, we should be afraid of a planet-wide catastrophe caused by influenza. The best way to avert a pandemic is to develop a game-changing universal influenza vaccine. All these crises are largely predictable and we can do much in advance to lessen the effects and diminish the spread. And believe me, the cost of acting now will be infinitely less than the cost of not acting in the long run.” ~ How Scared Should You Be About Zika? [NyTimes]
I’m going to end now and leave the vaccine part of the Zika Wormhole to another writer. I’ll just note in passing, before concluding that some very interesting wearable tech is being developed, that might prove to have, um, critical applications in an increasingly Churning, plague ridden world.
A new electronic health-monitoring device can sense a person’s temperature, analyze chemicals in a drop of sweat, and send the data wirelessly to a smartphone app — all in a package about the size of a few postage stamps.
And such is life in the Churn, as we find a path through the Jackpot Years and seek out the seeds of a better world. In the words of King Krule: “cause if you’re going through hell, we just keep going…”
Special Acknowledgement to my Dark Extropian compatriot, Emily Dare, for sending me much deeper down this wormhole than I really intended to go.