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Disturb the balance of nature at our peril


IN THE first week that hairdressers were allowed to open this year in Wales I couldn’t help notice, as I walked past their premises, that they were empty. The owners sat patiently and forlornly looking out of their windows. Were the public too scared to attend or have they learned to cut one another’s hair? Is it just a temporary situation for the hairdressers?

A similar curiosity led me to wonder whether a deep disturbance of our normal human behaviour through lockdowns/social distancing/vaccination will have an impact on our attendance of pubs, social events, high street shops, libraries, gyms and, more worryingly, our health services for check-ups and treatments.

These concerns prompted me to consider the subject of equilibrium. In his foreword to the book The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Professor Kevin Gaston explains why it is essential to evaluate whether disturbances of natural systems will require small adjustments or whether they will cause large upheavals and tipping points with potentially disastrous consequences.

Governments globally have professed to be following ‘the science’, so I looked up the definition and found this: ‘Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence’.

But that definition would mean governments have in no way been following ‘the science’. What we have been witnessing over the last year is a continuous stream of ‘making things up as we go along’. Science shouldn’t do that even in an emergency, and many ethical scientists would argue especially not in an emergency. Such an approach is fraught with risks, the consequences of which may be amplified in the long term. Science shouldn’t ignore long-term effects but rather allow sufficient time to monitor them in a controlled trial that acts as a barometer for robust evaluation. Nor should we blindly follow ‘the scientists’, for there lies the potential pitfall of ‘groupthink’ that can arise through panic. The policy-makers responsible for the global response to Covid are generally well-off and protected from the effects of their thirst for power and control, their short-sightedness and impetuosity.

The more we shift ourselves away from nature and our innate biological make-up, the more we disturb the very equilibrium that holds us together as individuals and as communities. Nature can seem cruel but too much interference in it leads to a more sinister form of cruelty with widespread and far-reaching consequences that are now playing out in front of our eyes.

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Dr Mark Shaw
Dr Mark Shaw
Dr Mark Shaw is a retired dentist. He lives in South Wales and is interested in what constitutes fairness in society and how specialisation might be drawing people away from the bigger picture in life. His interests are nature and sport (particularly surfing).

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