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The following video is from 2degrees and helps visualize human population growth from “1 AD up to 2030 AD. Each dot represents 1 million people.” The only time global population shrank was during the Black Death in Europe from 1348 to 1350 with the death toll estimated at somewhere between 75 and 200 million people or 25% to over 60% of the population.

Yesterday the author of The Elements of the Corporatocracy at his site Brane Space published a post called ‘Could the ‘Black Death’ Strike Again?‘ in which he brings up a recent case in Oregon and posits that with austerity measures imposed on our indebted economy in the age of peak oil, our infrastructure will inevitably deteriorate faster without the funds or cheap energy to maintain such things as the endless labyrinth of water pipes and waste management infrastructure. This scenario certainly is what we are facing. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card on America’s Infrastructure gave the country an overall grade of “D” in its most recent report and put a price tag of $2.2 Trillion to make it meet adequate conditions. Another fast approaching reality is that of “peak antibiotics“. The director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chen, says that we are facing a world without antibiotics:

If current trends continue unabated, the future is easy to predict. Some experts say we are moving back to the pre-antibiotic era. No. This will be a post-antibiotic era,” Chan said. “In terms of new replacement antibiotics, the pipeline is virtually dry…The cupboard is nearly bare.

A snippet from a story in February of this year:

Experts fear diseases ‘impossible to treat’ 

The UK is facing a “massive” rise in antibiotic-resistant blood poisoning caused by the bacterium E.coli – bringing closer the spectre of diseases that are impossible to treat.

Experts say the growth of antibiotic resistance now poses as great a threat to global health as the emergence of new diseases such as Aids and pandemic flu.

Professor Peter Hawkey, a clinical microbiologist and chair of the Government’s antibiotic-resistance working group, said that antibiotic resistance had become medicine’s equivalent of climate change.

The “slow but insidious growth” of resistant organisms was threatening to turn common infections into untreatable diseases, he said. Already, an estimated 25,000 people die each year in the European Union from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

“It is a worldwide issue – there are no boundaries,” he said. “We have very good policies on the use of antibiotics in man and in animals in the UK. But we are not alone. We have to think globally.” Between 2005 and 2009 the incidence of E.coli “bacteraemias” [the presence of bacteria in the blood] rose by 30 per cent, from 18,000 to over 25,000 cases. Those resistant to antibiotics have risen from 1 per cent at the beginning of the century to 10 per cent…

Also worth reading are these three articles from last year:

The ‘return of our old enemies in an untreatable form‘ 

How Superbugs Will Affect Our Health Care Costs – The Atlantic

Are you ready for a world without antibiotics

In 2010, Professor Timothy Walsh had a sobering outlook for the future prospects of our battle with antibiotic-resistant bacteria:

Professor Timothy Walsh told Wales on Sunday that in the “Darwinian” battle against disease-carrying bacteria, we are on the losing side.

And he said that we will all have to face up to a world where antibiotics simply do not work anymore.

His claim came after he and his team of scientists at Cardiff University found 37 cases in the UK of a deadly new form of superbug that is resistant to ALL antibiotics….

He said: “This is Darwin’s survival of the fittest – and we are on the losing side.

“The real test is – can bacteria evolve resistance and maintain resistance quicker than we can develop antibacterial drugs?

“The ultimate answer to that is yes, it can.

“We have all been scratching around to try to find new classes of antibiotics, but ultimately bacteria’s DNA systems can evolve and transfer very quickly so the odds are not in our favour.

“We have to be realistic and accept that this is potentially the future we will have to face.”

The world’s population has exploded from two billion people 80 years ago to more than six billion today – all thanks to the discovery and mass production of antibiotics like penicillin.

Because bacteria multiply every 20 to 30 minutes, they evolve very quickly and become resistant to antibiotics used against them.

In the past, this has not mattered because scientists were producing so many new types of drug, but in the last 15 years development of new antibiotics has almost ground to a halt, meaning bacteria are catching up fast…

Worth reprinting in relation to the above article is a response by Dr Edo McGowan PhD, Medical Geo-hydrology, Environmental and public policy analyst, environmental scientist, medical geo-hydrologist working with environmental contaminants:

“A principal route for the spread of newly emerging infectious diseases is through sewage treatment plants which generate these bugs and then release them. Genetic information is rapidly spread amongst the very large number of bacteria found in sewage treatment works. The issue of over prescribing antibiotics may now be vastly over-shadowed by the generation and release of pathogens and superbugs by sewer plants. There have been some good studies coming out of India on the augmentation and generation of sewage assisted superbugs derived from hospitals, see: (http://www.indmedica.com/journals.php?journalid=6&issueid=21&articleid=179&action=article)

This tie to sewer plants is also well described by the Michigan study (http://www.ur.umich.edu/0809/May18_09/19.php). The US/EPA has known about this since the later 1970s or early 1980s but has been moribund to deal with it. It conducted a major study demonstrating this and then removed the results from its data base, one might ask why?—-, see:(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC241834/pdf/aem00183-0119.pdf).

What we are finding in America is that the regulatory community, including the US/EPA and the US CDC have been asleep at the switch when it comes to how superbugs are made and then multiplied in sewer plants, thence spread through sewage byproducts such as biosolids into the environment. Several U.S. scientists as well as scientists around the world have documented the spread of antibiotic resistance via treated sewage, biosolids or released treated wastewater. For example, see: “Vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) in Swedish sewage sludge”, by Leena Sahlström, Verena Rehbinder, Ann Albihn, Anna Aspan, and Björn Bengtsson. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2009, 51:24 doi:10.1186/1751-0147-51-24.

Documentation of antibiotic resistance spread by sewage goes back decades but the regulatory community continued to ignore it—-or worse, hid it. The standards used are antiquated and the regulators are well aware of this also. Thus, along the great rivers in the U.S. and other nations, each successive city gets its drinking water from the immediate up-stream sewage outfall of the preceding city. Agricultural lands with applied biosolids also drain into these rivers carrying antibiotic resistant pathogens, see: “Increased frequency of drug-resistant bacteria and fecal coliforms in an Indiana Creek adjacent to farmland amended with treated sludge” by Shivi Selvaratnam and J. David Kunberger.

This process cycles these bugs and each time they get stronger. The fact that we are now finding pharmaceuticals in drinking water shows one that the wastewater systems are not working. Unbeknown to most, there are antibiotic resistant genes, so small that they pass through most water treatment plants and are in fact now found in drinking water. These are not affected by chlorine at currently used levels. They easily transit within the human gut to the gut bacteria and there wait like tiny time bombs for an incoming pathogen, thus arming this pathogen with yet more resistance and virulence.

Once in the gut biota this damaging genetic information can remain for years and also because of the very large number of bacteria in the normal gut biota, there are opportunities for creating higher level pathogens. Antibiotic resistant infections in the United States now cause more deaths than AIDS. This is not an easy issue for U.S. regulators to accept, especially if they want you to believe all is well and rosy. But unless we want to return to amputation as the cure for infections, the regulatory community around the globe needs to wake up.

We may delay what Professor Timothy Walsh indicates by immediately dealing with the current standards for wastewater and redesigning sewer plants. There are extant systems and designs that greatly diminish the flow-through of pathogens. Additionally, the current use of sewage sludge on agricultural land merely spreads more antibiotic resistance into farming areas, thence into the food supply. The current use of reclaimed water on food crops does the same. We have created this problem. It may be that current surgeries will not be possible because of the risk of unstoppable infection and cure for infection may revert to amputation.” – Dr. Edo McGowan

Another factor is our moribund health care system in America:

…A permanently contracting economy will result in a bioethical crisis as fewer resources are available to an increasingly stressed global population. We need to reconsider our goals of expansion of capitalism-driven wealth as the system loses its surplus energy. Instead we need to consider the sustainable good of the entire country during the contraction of the economy. We need justice in terms of basic needs for all, with more attention to the health of entire communities rather than individual rights. Failure to provide basic needs for all affects the whole system, with increases in epidemics due to stress, overcrowding, poor nutrition, dirty water and pollution, and failures in vaccination programs and general control of illnesses.

Based on the apparent politics of today, as we continue to descend, what we will probably get as the system becomes more imbalanced and unsustainable is limited fee for service care for the wealthy (with eventual failure of insurance), very limited care for the poor, and early mortality for many….

So if we take into account these various elements of peak oil, austerity cuts, a crumbling infrastructure and ineffective waste treatment facilities, a for-profit healthcare system that primarily serves the wealthy, and “peak antibiotics”, then the outlook does not look good for avoiding another outbreak or plague of some sort. In fact, it appears inevitable if you also consider that bacteria have been imbued with superior mutation and survival abilities from their unbroken 3.5 billion year reign on this planet.