After nine hours of travel, I’m back home for the next few days! The conference was absolutely incredible, and after I summarize the last two days I’ll tell y’all my takeaways.
We began day four by finishing up our biosecurity plans, and then presenting them to the group. This was more than a little frightening, because I’ve never presented to more than two professors at a time, and there more than a dozen from ten countries on five continents, all experts in the field we were presenting on! Luckily I think we did a pretty good job, given the incredibly limited time we had to prepare such a massive project.
In the afternoon, we continued with more case studies of biosecurity threats and how they were handled, either appropriately or inappropriately. Mostly there were failures, because when nature gets out of control, it is nearly impossible to tame it again.
In the evening we had dinner at local museum, and there was an open bar. This is when I got tipsy and wrote He Saw Her after I got back to the hotel! Even more positively, I learned that drinking with Australians is both really fun and a little dangerous, but I built a solid professional connection with some professors over there, and I plan to apply for a program beginning Fall 2019! That could easily change, since my life is a little chaotic between then and now, but I have a standing invitation to apply and I think it would be silly to waste it.
On the last day of the conference, the topic was biocrime/bioterrorism, and we analyzed a case study involving Fusarium proliferatum in Israeli onions. It was presented to us in chunks, and we broke into teams again to analyze the situation with progressively more data in order to decide if the infection was intentional or unintentional (the first step in agricultural forensics). Every team ended up correctly determining that the infection was unintentional, but the exercise was a lot of fun and really instructional!
In the afternoon we summed up the course, and some really broad and philosophical questions were discussed. With climate change an increasing threat, agricultural production is becoming less efficient, and we have less land area available to grow on. Compounding issues, we are projected to add 1.6 billion humans to the planet by 2040, and food security is already a big problem in many parts of the world. More humans means exacerbated climate change, which means less food production, which means more starvation. Starvation creates political instability, which limits crop production, which creates more starvation.
There are certain political and economic moves that could be made to solve the problem, but any country that makes those moves would be at an immediate economic disadvantage when compared to the rest of the world, so no country will be the first to implement them. We’re all playing chicken with the edge of a cliff, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
My takeaway from the discussion is that humanity is doomed. We’ve exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet, and any population geneticist can tell you what comes next. Honestly, and this is going to sound terrible, nuclear war could solve a lot of problems. If we could cut the population down to 1 billion or so, every remaining human’s quality of life would improve dramatically. on top of that, human mediated climate change would come to a halt, and one global nation could be formed, removing political strife and economic warfare. It would be a utopia. But obviously nuclear war is not the correct answer, so we’re stuck driving towards a cliff with the throttle stuck wide open.
Now I promised to tell y’all my overall takeaways from the week, and I’ll do it now. Biosecurity is an almost unimaginably complex issue, because it’s essentially scientists trying to wrestle with an ever-changing and complex environment. We’re constantly playing catch-up, and it’s impossible to have enough data until after it’s too late to make an informed decision. So we’re stuck making uninformed decisions, and those are usually wrong. Human-mediated pathogen dispersal is a real concern, and is the single biggest threat to plant biosecurity. Be aware, if you visit another region of your country or the world, and walk anywhere there is dirt (that’s everywhere, by the way), your shoes are picking up microbes that may be harmless to the local fauna, but are potentially deadly to plants at home. Therefore: WASH YOUR SHOES. Just removing all the dirt is a great start, but using bleach or alcohol to sterilize them is even better. This is true of your car’s tires as well, and your socks and other clothing! It’s way easier than you’d think to start an epidemic that could cause millions of dollars worth of crop loss.
Anyway, I really enjoyed my experience, I learned a lot, and I met a ton of really cool people from all over the world! I hope you enjoyed reading about it, and if you want to check out my blog posts from days 1-3, come on over and check out the rest of my blog!