Love in the time of Ebola

Children in the town of Gueckedou, the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea. Photo: ©afreecom / Idrissa Soumaré / European Commission DG ECHO via Flickr.
Children in the town of Gueckedou, the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea. Photo: ©afreecom / Idrissa Soumaré / European Commission DG ECHO via Flickr.
The human family must come together now to stop Ebola in West Africa or risk a global pandemic that could potentially kill billions, writes Glen Barry. And that will mean solving, with equity and justice, the disease's root causes: rainforest loss, poverty, war and overpopulation.
In order to avoid global pandemic, the human family must show it loves each other and our shared Earth more than consuming stuff and political partisanship.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is doubling every 20 days, killing 70% of those infected.

We are approaching a total of 10,000 official infections, though the actual number is almost certainly much higher. At this rate of growth, we can expect 10,000 new cases a week in December, with a far greater chance of the disease spreading internationally.

It is clear that if Ebola is not stopped in Africa in the coming months, it will never be kept from Europe, America, and the rest of the world.

Despite some success containing the disease at its periphery, all who love the human family and Earth understand that avoiding a global pandemic depends upon the international community marshaling resources and rushing into the Ebola maelstrom to decisively stop it at its source.

Our response is insufficient!

Efforts from the US military sending troops for logistical support, Cuba sending doctors, and Doctors Without Borders taking the lead in treatment and stopping infection are commendable but are too little and haphazard.

We have under two months to stop the deadly Ebola virus from - well, going viral. We must stop bickering, roll up our sleeves, and rush into the fire. Doing so will require massive amounts of aid, as only 1/4 of the initial $1 billion necessary to fight Ebola in Africa has been raised.

Western democracies have plenty of money to wage perma-war but apparently meager funds and few doctors to avoid global pandemic. This is a shocking betrayal of international security by the world's nations, and must not be tolerated. [1].

Ebola's real threat lies in its exponential growth and virulence, unleashed by overpopulated, sick ecosystems. Ebola is emblematic of the types of natural responses we can expect as planetary boundaries including the loss of terrestrial ecosystem are lost.

As long as Ebola rages in Africa, no one in the world is safe from the threat of global pandemic.

Political partisanship, conspiracy theories, and scientific denial

The poor initial response to a few Ebola cases in the United States is largely a result of public health budget cuts, anti-science partisans, and an inability to focus upon non-military threats to our security after a decade of war.

It has been interesting to see politicians who deny climate change science and call overpopulation a myth act qualified to instruct us on Ebola epidemiology.

It is deeply irresponsible for scientifically illiterate people to pick and choose truth, as well as to spread conspiracy theories for political advantage.

In addition to the current Democratic administration's continued displays of incompetence; the anti-science, anti-intellectual bias of the GOP and the Tea Party in particular is partially responsible for poor Ebola (and climate change) responses.

In order to avoid global pandemic, the human family must show it loves each other and our shared Earth more than consuming stuff and political partisanship.

It is un-American (a term I do not throw around lightly) - when the United States and the world are faced with the risk of an Ebola pandemic - for political partisans to be primarily concerned with scoring points rather than with honest policy needed to minimize human suffering and perhaps avert civilization's collapse.

The gravest threat of Ebola spreading in the United States comes from conspiracy theories, political partisans, and anti-science haters.

Having an opinion based on superstition, limited experience, and indoctrination is not the same as spending a life studying to become a scientific expert, thus earning the right to speak truth authoritatively. With Ebola, as with climate change, we must either listen to the experts or face the threat of willful ignorance leading to our own ruin.

The implications of exponential growth

For example, few understand the profound scientific implications of a disease that spreads exponentially. To illustrate, if a small patch of lily pads grows exponentially by doubling in extent daily to cover a pond in 30 days, on what day is the pond half covered? Day 29! On day 26 just over 6% of the pond is covered, and the situation looks manageable.

Exponential growth sneaks up on you, and when the problem becomes clearly evident, it is too late. Overpopulation, ecosystem loss, climate change, and Ebola itself are all growing exponentially.

I do not believe calling America's reaction to Ebola 'panic' is accurate or fair. The shockingly deadly emerging disease grows fast and kills violently, and once established, it spreads widely. Thus concern and fast action are prudent.

The greater revelation has been how the United States has been exposed as a deeply self-absorbed society - worried about the latest iPhone app, celebrity antics, and dumping buckets of cold water on their heads while showing or even flouting a lack of interest toward the global environmental decline and poverty which have led to Ebola and threaten global ecological sustainability.

We know how to stop Ebola. Rapid quarantine (or voluntary isolation) and rapid, close tracking of those who were in contact with infected individuals are key to breaking the cycle of exponential growth.

The current epidemic in Africa will not play itself out until on average each Ebola patient spreads the disease to less than one other individual. Fighting Ebola and ensuring that conditions no longer persist for further disease outbreaks requires money from governments. It should not be up to business leaders and celebrities to foot the bill.

Long-term root causes

Ebola is what we can expect when inequitable overpopulation destroys ecosystems, leading to abject poverty, perma-war, and disease.

The best ecological science indicates that Ebola existed at low levels in intact rainforests, only emerging as forests were overwhelmed by over-population and as people resorted to eating bushmeat, bringing people into contact with infected blood.

It would be hard to custom-build a prime habitat more encouraging to disease organisms than the one in western Africa: overpopulated humanity crowded together in destitute conditions, leading to hunger and weakened immune systems, with impoverished communities arrayed across vast, ecologically weakened landscapes.

Ebola is a brutal reminder of the consequences of ignoring scientific truths on ecology, public health, and overpopulation - all multiplied by climate change.

My recently published peer reviewed scientific article entitled 'Terrestrial Ecosystem Loss and Biosphere Collapse' identified a critical threshold of 2/3 of a particular bioregion's ecosystems being lost as resulting in severe environmental decline. [2]

West Africa's 90% loss of natural habitat is well beyond this level, and Ebola is symptomatic of this ecosystem collapse. In a globalized world we cannot continue to ignore such deteriorating social and ecological conditions and expect to avoid more Ebola-type crises.

Ebola has been worsened by militarization and massive spending on war - both in Africa and by Western democracies - as governments have turned a blind eye to non-military threats to security, slashing budgets for public health, anti-poverty measures, environmental preservation and reclamation, and community development. Pervasive economic inequity also contributes to Ebola.

The disease is fed by poor socio-economic conditions: according to the World Bank over a billion people live in extreme poverty on less than $1.50 a day, while 300 individuals live as opulent oligarchs, having as much wealth as half of the planet's people.

Population growth - West Africa's population doubles every 25 years

Perhaps no Ebola causative factor is more troubling - or more insistently denied - than overpopulation. West Africa is one of the most obviously overpopulated places in the world, and those that deny the part that plays in the Ebola crisis are in denial of basic science.

Hunger and illness are pervasive, women are not well educated to control their own lives and fertility, and the result has been a nearly constant state of war.

West Africa's current population of 317 million people continues to grow 2.35% annually - meaning it is doubling every 25 years. The subsistence needs of these masses have already destroyed 90% of West Africa's forests, causing poverty, war, and ultimately Ebola.

Those denying that the growth of human numbers from 1 to 7 billion in 130 years while overwhelming natural ecosystems poses a problem are not paying attention and betray both their captivity to indoctrination and their ignorance.

I have recently begun writing [3] and speaking [4] more about overpopulation and ecosystem loss, highlighting and communicating how both are the root causes of biosphere collapse.

Yet let me be clear: to note West Africa's profoundly overpopulated landscapes and depauperate ecosystems is not to wish death or depopulation on anybody. It is merely to point out ecological truth that is self-evident to those who observe carefully and think freely.

Post-Ebola, we must rid ourselves of the ridiculous notion that permanent poverty, inequitable overpopulation, rainforest loss, and continual war in Africa do not affect us all. Otherwise, we can expect more Ebola-type crises as these forces of ecocide overwhelm the biosphere.

Love in the time of Ebola

Please have empathy for human suffering in West Africa as thousands (and perhaps soon millions, or even billions) face painful, vicious death from Ebola. No humane person wishes such a fate upon anyone.

And even as we come together to rush to put out the Ebola fire, it is vital we address the disease's root causes before they become a global emergency in their own right. We show our love for the world by justly and equitably addressing these ecological and social crises before they kill us all.

Let us hope that the initial spread of Ebola in the United States is over. Clearly the fledgling outbreak has caused a massive increase in awareness of the danger posed by Ebola, if not yet of the outbreak's underlying causes, and how similar crises can be avoided.

At the very least we have had good practice in tracing and isolating those who have come into contact with the virus and in treating the disease, which will prove crucial in dealing with many more infections before humanity stops the epidemic in Africa.

Besides preparing yourself and your family to weather a possible Ebola pandemic, the single biggest thing you can do to stop Ebola at its source in West Africa - thus avoiding a global pandemic - is to donate to Doctors Without Borders, who are at the forefront of providing the necessary quarantined hospital beds necessary to break the cycle of continued infections. [5]

Please avail yourself of Ebola newsfeeds from EcoInternet [6], which is committed to communicating ecological aspects of Ebola and stopping the disease and other manifestations of ecosystem collapse at their source.

Love, justice, equity. And science ...

Finally, in times of Ebola, climate change, poverty and environmental collapse, make sure that whoever you vote for supports and respects science.

In order to avoid global pandemic, the human family must show it loves each other and our shared Earth more than consuming stuff and political partisanship.

Post-Ebola a better world is possible that is based upon justice and greater equity, where all people's basic needs are met (even as those that are smarter and work hard have more), and humanity lives within Earth's natural limits.

We earn the right to continued existence by coming together to beat Ebola in Africa, while committing to solving the disease's root causes of rainforest loss, poverty, war, and inequitable overpopulation.



Dr. Glen Barry is the founder of EcoInternet - the environment portal & search engine.

This article was originally published on EcoInternet.

Support EcoInternet:

Action: Demand More Aid to Africa to Stop Epidemic at Its Source


[1] Ebola Is Ecosystem Collapse, More Doctors and Hospital Beds Needed NOW. EcoInternet Action Alert, October 4, 2014. With background essay Ebola a Symptom of Ecological and Social Collapse by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet, October 1, 2014.

[2] Barry, G. (2014), "Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse ", Management of Environmental Quality, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 542-563.

[3] On Overpopulation and Ecosystem Collapse - essay by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet. May 17, 2014.

[4] Too Many Humans; Not Enough Biosphere. Dr. Glen Barry Interview on 95bFM

[5] Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

[6] Ebola is Ecosystem Collapse newsfeed and blog at and Twitter newsfeed at


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