By Vivid Gwede
New difficulties raise new questions about the world as we know it.
How safe and free should science be left to go in search of new possibilities on Mother Earth is one of the greatest debates of the 21st Century.
This discourse has gained even more prominence with the recent COVID 19 pandemic which started in China’s Wuhan province and its seemingly unprecedented existential threat to humans and global civilisations.
Even before this new threat, earthlings have always been terrified of living in “the shadow of the bomb.”
The bomb, in this case, refers to the nuclear bomb, whose use by those countries that ostensibly possess it and yet are not always getting along like friends has been said to foreshadow a dooms-day scenario.
Military strategists have called this scenario, “mutual assured destruction (MAD),” meaning whosoever initiates a nuclear war, will simultaneously kill their enemies, themselves and everyone else.
Thus, no matter how many billions of dollars have been used in the creation of nukes, they remain “deterrent weapons”, a euphemism meaning they are so dangerous no one can practically use them.
That is, if no nation has decided to be a suicide-bomber on behalf of humanity, which will be crazy, but probably the reason why very few countries should possess nukes even as deterrents.
Apart from nuclear weapons, the other area which science seems to have traded on dangerous grounds is the affair of man-made biological agents or weapons.
It may have been cool watching the conspiracies around biological weapons in sci-fi films, but reality in the wakeful world got a bit unsettling lately.
While everyone’s attention is consumed by the pandemic, global superpowers have been shadow-boxing over hypotheses about its genesis.
US President Donald Trump drew the ire of the Chinese political class by suggesting that the COVID 19 virus was a “Chinese virus,” not just mentioning its origin in Wuhan, but also apparently labelling it “made in China” – or so the Chinese felt.
In response, members of the Chinese political class hit back in kind by suggesting that the US security forces made it.
This has not been helped by the many sci-fi type of conspiracy theories that have frantically made the rounds across the world, thanks to the proliferation social media.
What more with the lockdowns which has made everyone turn more onto their communication gadgets?
Of course, the other theory is religious, suggesting COVID 19 came as punishment from the Deity for the world’s sins, and whether one believes it depends on one’s theological leanings.
While the US-China diplomatic row over the origin of COVID 19 looks like a side-show, no one of the superpowers seems to deny that the virus could be in fact a biological weapon or experimental agent gone awry.
And that is probably the scary part.
Inherent in that fracas therefore is the tacit admission that a biological agent as devastating as COVID 19 could be manufactured in the lab and get loose across the globe.
The rapid spread of novel viruses like COVID 19 has shown that such biological agents, if less than nukes, still pose the same existential threat of MAD levels.
Too, the release of these dangerous scientific substances may be by accident – like the Fukushima Daaichi Nuclear Power Plant accident of August 2011.
The question begs, if such an accident had occurred with a biological agent in a secret lab, and which was as devastating as COVID 19, would anyone come out in the open to apologise.
In an article, in The Scientist on November 16, 2015, Jef Akst wrote that scientists had admitted to engineering “a virus with the surface protein of the SHC014 coronavirus, found in horseshoe bats in China, and the backbone of one that causes human-like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in mice.”
Two years earlier, the US government had stopped federal funding for research of a like nature, probably alarmed by the consequences of an accident.
Scientists dismiss the conspiracies that the COVID 19 virus escaped from a lab.
However, in relation to these dangerous scientific merchandises such as biological agents and nukes, the question still remains that how far science should be let loose in a direction that threatens human existence.