When it comes to meltdowns of the global financial system we tend to want to blame the bankers, the money hoarders, etc, etc. But what if an animal could bring down the banks? How big would it have to be? Godzilla? Cloverfield? Actually, a lot smaller than you realise.
So, let’s take a walk through the microscopic hall of infamy and see which mini mischief makers could be to blame for the next round of poverty.
The Mountain Pine Beetle That’s Killing The Timber Industry
I have a sneaking suspicion that Mother Nature doesn’t really like beetles. Seriously, if she any affection for them they would never be born this ugly:
It’s simply an invitation for the kids the world over to turn them into ex-beetles.
The mountain pine beetle is one insect that the timber companies of British Columbia would happily toss into the pit of no return.
Over the past 10 years or so, this six legged bundle of toxic fury has been responsible for decimating about 20% of the forests in the Canadian state. It’s easy to say something witty like, ‘There’s plenty more trees in the forest’ but the actual figure is about 105,000 square miles. An area eight times larger than Cornwall
The beetle’s larvae will happily munch its way through enough wood to put a pulp mill to shame but this isn’t where the problem comes from. As any doting parent knows, a regular source of food is vital for survival of the species. When its eggs are laid under the tree bark, the adult mountain pine beetle also introduces a fungus into the wood in order to stop the tree from trying to chemically repel the voracious larvae. But the side effects are disastrous.
The fungus prevents the tree from absorbing water and nutrients – a bit like an extreme Hollywood diet. The results? The tree dies within weeks – hopefully, unlike an extreme Hollywood diet!
The steadily increasing infestation has been blamed on global warming
So far, it’s estimated that this ecological disaster has caused about $36,500,000 of revenue lost from tourism alone. The decline in revenue from timber sales runs into billions.
Locust Plagues of Biblical Proportions
The Bible is full of tales of death and destruction. In particular, the Old Testament goes to great lengths as it attempts to portray God as someone who was easily angered by his beloved creations. Plagues of frogs, floods that wiped everything but the two of every animal Noah took into the Ark (don’t even start on the question of genetic diversity), famine, etc, etc…
Count yourself lucky you live in time far detached from the days when the Almighty could take offence at some apparently trivial sin – like eating an apple. In fact, given mankind’s ability to find mischief in just about any avenue of life it’s a wonder that we still exist at all.
But not all Biblical plagues are a thing of the distant past. What horrors still lurk in this age of technology and enlightenment? Locusts!
What? You don’t think an oversized grasshopper is frightening? Then you haven’t seen the original version of Quatermass And The Pit – I nearly wet myself (but I was only 8).
Locusts have a glaring Achilles heel – a lack or protection against a size ten shoe – that evolution really should have taken into consideration. They also have an insatiable appetite which, ordinarily, isn’t a problem unless a few of them decide to get together and feast on your crops. When I say ‘a few locusts’ I mean MILLIONS!
In recent years, it has been estimated that plagues of locusts have accounted for tens of billions of dollars worth of damage to crops in the middle east.
The financial impact alone is enough to make your eyes weep blood but the toll on mankind has been tragic with around 1.1 million people starving in 2012 due to the effects on food supplies. Admittedly, if you’re cynical, you’re probably thinking this is just God’s/nature’s payback for the damage the human race has inflicted on the planet.
The Black Death
Imagine getting a winter sniffle. Now multiply the effects by 100 times, add in a few pustules the size of halved tennis balls, mix with the extreme risk of departing this life and you have the Black Death.
As mankind killing plagues go, the Black Death ranks well above its feeble cousin, the Spanish Flu. Fortunately, the plague was last seen back in the mid-1400’s. Even more fortunately, we’ve learned how disease carrying fleas were transported from house to house by unsuspecting rats (I’ve yet to see a thoughtful rat). Think of it as the animals kingdom’s version of a public transport service but with the passengers intent on massacring everyone they meet when they get off the bus.
Some of the more recent plagues to have popped up in recent history have been epic but it’s hard to put an actual sum on the financial overall cost.
Likewise, the Black Death is one of those once in thousand year events the impact of which is impossible to calculate. A bit like the hideous battering your pride takes when a drunken uncle strips naked at your wedding and proceeds to grope all the bridesmaids (and their mothers).
Let’s just say that, in modern terms, the figures would have run into trillions. Over half the population of Europe reduced to inanimate blobs of pus. The survivors had to do their best to claw their way out of a starving wasteland.
Those lucky enough to have survived found themselves caught in a perfect financial storm: the remaining workers realised that easy money could be made by fleecing the ruling classes.
Who ever said no good came from pestilence?