OK, now it appears safe to do so, let's have a look at the probable origins of swine flu. We take a natural system - the pig - and industrialise it - breeding for maximum production and rearing them in huge numbers in unnatural conditions. Such a system maximises the opportunities for disease to flourish, so we dose them in antibiotics, but the bugs have the same desire to survive that we all do, so they mutate and adapt. The industrial system can only be made more productive by exporting it to countries where costs are lower, standards are lower and, for the same reasons, the local health infrastructure cannot cope with the results of the recipe for pandemic we have created. And guess what we get?

We appear to have been lucky this time - this flu spreads quickly but apparently doesn't have the proteins necessary to cause widespread death, but I get the impression that this is down to luck rather more than anything else.

All our environmental problems come from the same root cause - we are happy to exploit the natural resources around us (land, oxygen, animals, plants, fossil fuels, minerals etc, etc) without worrying about the sustainability of supply of those goods and services ie how they fit into the planet's natural cycles. One of the godfathers of the permaculture/organic farming movement, Masanobu Fukuoka, famously said:

"If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork."

This disregard for the physical realities of the piece of rock we inhabit can lead to slow(ish) degradation like climate change and sudden disasters like pandemics. It is down to human nature that we fear the latter much more than the former, even though the impacts are often fleeting.

But both tell us we have to learn to respect the natural limits of the planet we live on - this is what we call sustainabilty. That will take ingenuity, innovation and some restraint. But we can, and must, do it.

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