Catastrophic convergence: drug resistance, climate change, and overpopulation

The 20th century saw a  number of failures that were potentially avoidable, and that all seem to be converging on the mid-late 21st century.

Image shows a petri dish with white lines of yeast growing in it.

From Washington Post – A strain of Candida auris in a petri dish

Aside from the many, many failures in the realms of war and economics, there are three big ones that worry me right now, and that I think will feed into each other in a horrific manner. The first, obviously, is climate change. The other two are overpopulation and drug resistance in diseases.


All three of these are problems about which we’ve had generations of warning, and little real action. Medical researchers have put effort into avoiding the drug resistance problem, just as climate researchers have tried to guide us to avoiding climate change, but in all of these cases, we’ve lacked the kind of national effort that threats of such magnitude merit.

And so now we’re facing a century in which people will once again be dying of consumption in countries with advanced healthcare as multi-drug resistant TB spreads, and hospitals – already a source of a lovely suite of infections, are now also seeing the spread of Candida aurisa deadly yeast infection that is also highly drug resistant.

It’s hard to tell how avoidable the drug-resistant disease problem was. Evolution will continue as long as life exists, after all, and so diseases were always going to evolve to cope with our treatments. But this problem has been made worse by irresponsible use of antibiotics in agriculture and in medicine, combined with general scientific illiteracy and a lack of understanding or interest among the legislators whose job it is to fund the efforts to deal with problems like this.

This behavior cannot continue. It will destroy us in the end, and we will die knowing that it was avoidable.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    If not for the continuing resistance to contraception distribution and education by certain Churches, at least we wouldn’t have nearly so extreme of a population overload exacerbating the agricultural/water/refugee/health-care/urban/etc crises.

  2. StevoR says

    @ ^ Pierce R. Butler : Yup. Agreed – but I’d like to just add that it isn’t just churches to blame here but also mosques, synagogues, temples and more as well. Which doesn’t excuse the churches in the least – or any of the others either.

    We shoulda listened to Erhlich globally.

  3. KG says

    Ehrlich was completely wrong in predicting massive famines in the 1980s. The rate of global population growth has been falling since it peaked in the 1960s – it’s now about half what it was at the peak at around 1.1% – and since the 1990s, even the absolute annual growth in global population has fallen. Moreover we know how to keep it falling towards or even past zero – chiefly by improving the status and education of women and girls. Urbanisation will contribute to the continued fall in growth rate without any positive action at all. Compared to climate change – which is almost entirely due to countries where the population is not rising rapidly – overpopulation is a quite manageable issue. Most of those who pontificate to the contrary, I’ve found, don’t actually have much idea what has happened demographically since Ehrlich’s dire – and unfulfilled – predictions.

  4. KG says

    I would also say the “antibiotic resistance crisis” is overplayed. Consider the worst scenario: no-one does anything about it, and all antibiotics fail. Well, the world managed without them up to the late 1940s. Certainly, people would die of what are now treatable infections – but there was still a huge increase in life expectancy, and fall in infant mortality, before antibiotics were invented, due to better hygiene, nutrition and medical practice – so the problem is serious, but it is not even potentially catastrophic. But in fact, we know what to do to slow the development of resistance, and new ways of ameliorating resistance, and of designing new drugs, are being researched. And unlike the issue of climate change, there is no hugely powerful lobby dedicated to muddying the waters and obstructing effective action. It’s true “Big Pharma” can’t be bothered to work on the problem, because antibiotics are not sufficiently profitable, and “Big Farmer” want to keep dosing farm animals routinely, but neither has the kind of stake in the issue or the kind of clout that “Big Oil” has in keeping the fossil fuel industry going.

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