Is this not all getting very biblical?
Are we not all reliving Exodus and the 10 biblical plagues?
I have not quite figured out who is today’s equivalent of the pharaonic enemy, or of the people of Israel, but maybe that will soon become clear.
Rereading Exodus, I see eerie parallels with today.
The first plague was water turning into blood: we now see deep red algal blooms in the seas off Hong Kong too often for comfort.
Then, plagues No 2 to No 4 were frogs, lice and flies – with locusts eventually arriving as plague No 8.
Today we watch gruesome footage of billions of locusts sweeping across East Africa, into Pakistan and India, with fears they may invade 60 countries and 20 per cent of the world’s land surface.
China’s Forestry Ministry is on high alert, where they say locusts already destroy an estimated 10 million hectares of crops every year.
Plague 5 was pestilence of livestock: today we have hundreds of millions of pigs culled in China, victims of African swine flu, and billions of farmed shrimp succumbing to Decapod iridescent virus 1, or DIV1, across 11 Chinese provinces, on top of the almost annual cull of chickens downed by avian flu.
And let’s throw in the bacteria and fungi cutting a swathe through Europe’s olive orchards and the world’s Cavendish banana plantations, as well as the collapse of honey bee populations.
Plague 6 was boils, and here perhaps we should not be too literal, though given a choice between boils and the current pandemic, Ebola or other recent epidemics, I think the Egyptians got off lightly.
Plague 7 was thunderstorms of hail and fire, and again I think the Egyptians got off lightly, compared with the Americans and Australians who have survived recent wildfires, and the millions falling victim every year to typhoons, hurricanes and other wild weather. Did you see this terrifying hail in Del Rio?
After locusts, the ninth plague feels familiar: “…total darkness covered all the land of Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else, and for three days no one left his place.” That sounds eerily like the lockdowns, which for many are now in their third and fourth weeks.
The final plague – and the one that finally got the Pharaoh to relent and give the Israelites their freedom – was the death of all firstborn sons.
Is there not a dreadful resonance with this week’s briefing from the UN’s World Food Programme, warning that we are “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” that could result in “multiple famines of biblical proportions” as the pandemic spreads, silent and deadly, to already impoverished parts of the developing world, in particular in Africa, pushing perhaps 130 million or more people “to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020.”
The 10 plagues of Egypt a metaphor?
Or are Egypt’s firstborn sons a metaphor for those now being culled by the thousand in the cities of the rich Western economies that have through their unsustainable addiction to hyperconsumption pushed our planet to the brink?
I don’t like metaphors, and this would not be a tidy one, but there must be a biblical thread here that suggests we are being punished for – and warned over – our profligate disregard for maintaining balance in our global ecosystem.
Looking back at Exodus, there are other untidy threads. Unlike the Israelites, we have nowhere to escape to. As so many say, there is no Planet B.
And while with the Egyptians, God relented after 10 plagues, we still seem set for several to come.
As our population continues to grow towards 10 billion, there seems every likelihood that more grim pestilences will be visited on us, sooner rather than later.
Think about the growing strain on the world’s fish stocks. Think about sea-level rises displacing millions worldwide and aggravating already grievous migration pressures.
More forests will be sacrificed to our need for more farmland, and pressure on food productivity will intensify as weird weather disrupts the scientific miracles that have been performed over the past century to keep at bay Malthus’ dire scenarios in his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population.
True, Malthus has been proven wrong for 222 years, but… Even the current epidemic, and the economic recession triggered as we struggle to keep the pandemic under control, might provide more nasty surprises.
Immense strain has been put on the world’s food supply systems, and the potential for tragic food scarcity remains, even though several years of good harvests worldwide have lifted food stocks to healthy levels.
Restrictions on cross-border movement of people as far afield as the United States and Germany have slashed the supply of migrant farm labour worldwide, raising the danger of healthy crops not being harvested.
The lockdowns which have sabotaged restaurants and food manufacturing businesses, and forced families to eat at home, have also left food supply chains in chaos.
Supermarkets are struggling to get supplies of family-sized food packages for diners at home, while the large-scale demand that usually comes from food factories and restaurants has withered.
Such mismatches along the food chain are forcing farmers to destroy rotting crops.
Just as family incomes have crashed because of work shutdowns, so food prices have leapt for many staples needed by families in hardship.
It is sobering to note that, while few countries worldwide hold more than two or three months of supplies of most food staples, a rerun of the colossal Tambora volcanic eruption in 1815 would destroy or badly disrupt crops worldwide for perhaps four years.
Our two-month stockpiles would mean little then. Back in 1816 and 1817, crops failed worldwide from Yunnan to Europe and even to the New England states in the US, without anyone understanding why. And we are unprepared for such a massive volcanic eruption.
If the God of the Israelites really wanted to drop the plague of all plagues on us, a Tambora-like natural catastrophe would be high on his list.
These are indeed biblical times, and it makes me nervous to see so many of our leaders worldwide with their eyes fixed on petty political point-scoring rather than keeping the plagues in check. More biblical news on Strange Sounds and Steve Quayle. [SCMP]