Zika or The Case for Ecosystemizing the Urban Landscape

While on a visit to the up-scale Hamptons in Long Island, New York City, I was quietly admiring the mansions lounging picturesque water stretches with yachts lazily bobbing at their hips. As I got closer to the water to snap a few pictures, to my horror, there were horrendous swarms of mosquitos hovering in frenzied activity, a few landing like combat helicopters over my bare shoulders.

“This, going unchecked in an opulent vacation-purposed community – no less at the height of a much publicized zika epidemic!? Are the owners and inhabitants of these mansions not alarmed? Do they not have ample resources to turn things around?” I turn around to the next human in sight who gives me a dirty look and immediately flees the scene.

In the thick of a Zika epidemic (or is it not a pandemic?) I was shocked to read that South Americans were scrambling to introduce fish into their hitherto stagnant water resources – a little too little, too late for so many who have already suffered the consequences of ill-planning.

“But fish and stagnant water go hand in hand,” the student throws ids arms in the air, “a self-evident practice we learned back in junior high!” So how is it a problem of this magnitude had to happen before a retroactively ineffective step is undertaken!?

If it were only that simple. The ecosystem is so broken, our water resources so polluted by chemical insecticides and other refuse that it will require a massive shift in thinking for the urgency of action to be realized.

But let’s step back a moment and observe the map from a distance: The human being has, over the evolutionary span of ids habitat, retreated deeper and deeper into the sanctity of both dwelling place and urban scape. Id has marked a quasi-clear ‘line in the sand’ between wilderness and habitat. Id has shunned co-habitation with its ‘kin’ in the animal kingdom and in so doing has unwittingly invited the insect, the pest instead. Unchecked, by the lack of predators, these allergens, disease-spreading infestations have grown disproportionately to that which would have typically existed in a healthy ecosystem. The latest such wide spread phenomenon is that of the mosquito carrying with it ever alarming rates of life-threatening diseases such as Dengue and Yellow Fevers, Malaria, West Nile, Zika and Chikungunya viruses to name a few.

Just as our use of chemical pesticides in our agricultural practices has thrown the baby with the wash water, the insects such as ladybugs and others together with the bad (and are only beginning to see the errors of our ways) so too we must now face the ills of our unnaturally ‘sanitized’ living spaces.

The deeper means and methods require a shift, a lateral leap in our linear thinking; they require multi-disciplinary think tanks and are of course beyond the scope of solo opining. But we can all do our part in the little things that on the surface appear too insignificant but because they are so widespread and part of everyday processes, they actually obey the 80/20 rule in making a difference. Optimistically, we are talking small steps the effects of which ultimately could grow not linearly but exponentially over time. If we can only get ourselves to discourage the use of harmful chemicals as one example, if we can only encourage aspects of the animal kingdom to thrive alongside us in the urban scape, it would be a small starting point to which each one of us can contribute.

But rather than use this opportunity to preach the importance of restoring the broken ecosystems in the world, a reporter for the National Geographic no less, thought it best to defend the poor Zika-carrying mosquito. As is all too common these days, reporters blindly side with the ‘poor’ victim; and in this case, not the human, but the infectious bug.

“Ah! Everyone is villainizing the mosquito. So I’ll do something different and take the opposite view. How witty is that!” says the self-satisfied reporter observing as through a peephole.

The argument put forth completely side tracked the reality that we are where we are today because we have so voided the human habitat from beneficial co-habitation that the only inadvertently invited co-habitant is the vile insect that has, with no natural predators left, mutated into super species. I say vile insects because as we finally are beginning to realize, there are beneficial bugs that have all but disappeared through decades of chemically-inclined bug purgatories; indiscriminate spraying that has, alas, only ridden us of the good ones – the ones that feed on the bad guys.

Where are the spiders, lady-bugs, praying mantises, frogs, lizards, cats, ducks, foxes and many more? Why can’t we invite them into our urban landscape where pockets of examples have demonstrated that they can thrive, cohabitate and do their part in the cyclical metabolism of a healthy ecosystem? Is it not time to hit the reset button?

Florida, a case in point. Turn the page.



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