It’s the End of the World as We Know It
Dateline: Summer, 2020. Scientists report increasing numbers of cases of Pleistocene flu throughout Asia.
Recently I watched a program on one of the cable channels (History, Nature, Nat Geo, I forget) about scientists who want to bring mammoths back to life, not just for the scientific study of them, but as part of a larger project to repopulate the Siberian plains with animals and turn it into a “Pleistocene Park.” Besides being a tourist attraction, they believe this will slow global warming by recreating the conditions of the Pleistocene. The idea is that the animals will knock down the trees, thereby preventing the retention of heat.
And all it would take is 500,000 mammoths living there. Which somehow they expect to produce in 20 years by having elephants give birth to elephant-mammoth hybrids. Not sure how they plan on getting that kind of volume—not like elephants produce young like frogs—but that’s for them to worry about.
My real concern was watching this team of supposed scientists exhume the mammoth corpses from the Siberian permafrost. They dig the corpses out, which are in fairly good condition considering how long they’ve been dead, and expose the bones and flesh to the elements without doing anything to preserve them. And then they cut into the bones right there in the field to take pieces for DNA sampling. While wearing no protective gear, no gloves, no masks, no goggles. All of which goes against everything I ever learned while doing fieldwork.
To make matters worse, one of the field team members actually took a piece of mammoth flesh and bit it. Took a chunk and chewed and swallowed, commenting that it didn’t taste good at all.
The misadventures didn’t end there. A scientist probed ancient, thawed fecal matter from a mammoth with her fingers, and then lifted her hand to her nose and sniffed it. Later, she scratched her face with that same hand.
Sure, her hand might have been clean by then, or the editing could have placed an earlier scene after a later one. But the point is, they were not following any kind of proper cleanliness procedures. On multiple occasions they most likely contaminated samples.
What really struck me, though, was thinking about all the bacteria and viruses and parasites those people were taking into their bodies and exposing to the world. Potential pathogens from 14,000 years ago suddenly set free. And this isn’t a case of it having happened naturally (or semi-naturally, depending on your views about global warming), by having glaciers recede or sections of permafrost thaw. This is scientists carving out tunnels and caves and sides of hills with digging equipment and fire hoses to expose these corpses that they need. Not just mammoths, either. They found cave lions, birds (ancient avian flu, anyone?), deer, wolves, plants, and insects. A smorgasbord of potential deadly disease carriers.
Plus, with modern technology and air travel, these new plagues won’t be limited to Siberia, or even the countries around the Arctic Circle. They’ll spread across the world faster than a political meme or news about the latest Kardashian divorce.
So fast that unless you hurry, you won’t even have time to write a novel about it.
You can laugh, call me a conspiracy theorist, call me Chicken Little.
But the next time someone coughs next to you on the bus or in the store, remember this story.
Dateline: Spring, 2021. Pleistocene flu has officially spread to every country in every continent of the world, as the Antarctic research team on King George Island reports several deaths this week. The CDC estimates that within six months, 80% of the world’s population will succumb to the disease.
In related news, the mammoths in Pleistocene Park continue to die from mycoplasma infections, for which they had no natural immunity, and with their numbers dwindling, the deforestation initiative in Siberia has officially failed and the permafrost is melting faster than ever.
Until next time … stay weird!