Monsters trapped in the ice, patiently waiting to be freed


As any informed citizen of the world should know, the polar icecaps are melting at a freakishly rapid pace, at least in comparison to the Earth’s pre-human history.

But the conversation of anthropogenic climate change was put on the backburner after a more immediate threat caught the world by surprise. COVID-19 seemed to come out of nowhere, and as of the moment I write this article, over 1,218,000 people have been infected and almost 67,000 have died. Economies in every country, from Japan to Argentina, have taken a beating. Countless citizens have lost their jobs, and the future remains uncertain.

On a positive note, pollution levels from the most industrialized nations have plummeted, and recent evidence shows the cleaner air may also be saving lives.

It’s too soon to know what affect the slowdown will have on the Earth’s climate systems, but we’ve essentially given the atmosphere an overdose of greenhouse gases for decades, and it would likely take several more decades before those planet warming gases faded away.

In any case, industrialization will likely continue where it left off, once Mr. Coronavirus has reluctantly left the stage.

The source of COVID-19 is most likely a Wet Market in China, where wild animals are kept, brutalized and killed (sadly, slaughter houses in every country in the world can be equally cruel, albeit to different animals).

Indeed, we’ll probably get over this. But in the coming years such pandemics may come from more unsuspected sources, like deep within the permafrost of the far north, which is now melting. However, unlike the outbreaks of the past (most of which developed close to us and over which we eventually developed some form of immunity), these pathogens have been hidden under the ice for thousands of years.

Like alien invaders from a previously hidden universe, our immune systems could also be ill equipped to deal with something so freakishly novel.   


A 2017 BBC article discusses just that, and how the prospect of zombie pathogens, as fictional as it sounds, may one day become a reality. In fact, it has already happened, though on a small scale.

In 2016, Siberia was hit by a major heatwave, followed by an unexpected outbreak of anthrax from the thawing of deer carcasses, once nestled beneath the permafrost. The previously frozen bacteria were unleashed, and like an invisible sandstorm, they rolled across the tundra and infected dozens of people, eventually killing a 12-year-old boy. That same year, an article from Scientific American wrote how “human viruses from even further back could also make a showing. For instance, the microorganisms living on and within the early humans who populated the Arctic could still be frozen in the soil.”

This means viruses caught by early humans in the Arctic could come back to haunt us, and some may be completely unfamiliar and unpredictable.

Today’s situation is indeed quite scary. Never have I experienced a crisis affecting the farthest reaches of the globe. But what’s to come may be even scarier if we continue to warm the planet while poisoning it with our factories, our transportation and our relentless deforestation.

One would hope this experience serves as a testament to our own mortality, that the current economic system is more fragile than we allow ourselves to believe, and that we have to stop treating the planet (along with the animals that live on it) like a commodity, before it’s too late.

Otherwise, the days of the COVID-19 pandemic may be remembered as the good old days, back when we all believed this was as bad as it could get, oblivious to the much darker clouds on the horizon, all because we were too stubborn to change our ways once things got back to normal.


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Roberto Guerra

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