The temperature is rising – are we too?

The normal body temperature of a healthy human being ranges from 36,5°C to 37,5°C, the body temperature varies between different persons and also within a person during times of physical activity and times of rest (especially sleep). The normal average temperature of a healthy Earth (on its surface) in the Holocene (which covers the last 12 thousand years) ranges from approximately 13°C to 15°C, the Earth’s average temperature varies of course during an epoch as well.

In the 2010s the average temperature of Earth amounted to approximately 14,7°C, which meant an increase of around 1°C over the last century from 13,7°C in the 1910s. The immune system of a human being that got infected with COVID-19 often tries to combat the virus by raising the body temperature between 2 and 4°C. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, which at the time of writing (on the 96th day of 2020) officially affected around 1,2 Million people (we can estimate that the real number will be something between 5 Million and 12 Million people), we can predict, that the average body temperature of humankind will also rise in 2020. Exact predictions of how high the increase of humankind’s average body temperature will be cannot be done now since it is not clear how many people will be infected.

If we take those 1,2 Million people who are infected with COVID-19 and claim that those people make up the 25% of infected people who experience symptoms and if we further claim that of those 1,2 Million people only half will experience an increase in body temperature which we claim amounts to 2°C in average and last for 1 week we can calculate a rough estimation of the increase of humankind’s average body temperature. According to the assumptions above we can claim that we have witnessed an increase of humankind’s average body temperature in 2020 by roughly 0,00001162018°C. Humankind’s average body temperature will certainly be raised during this year, and we will probably witness the hottest year for humankind’s bodies in the millennia.

However, what do these numbers tell us? Well, numbers are silent creatures, they represent a (limited) human description of various natural processes and proportions which need to be interpreted, merged with values and movement to untie their tongues. Those numbers open several interpretations for human beings, as do those who stutter about the increase in the average temperature of our planet and those interpretations call for different paths of movement, action as well as inaction.

Thermal surveillance will become increasingly prevalent.

During this pandemic it has become quite popular to combine the increase in body temperature of human beings reacting to a virus with global warming, the suggestion there would be that humankind is a virus and the planet heats up to kill off humankind and heal itself. Often this is also mixed with a problematization of overpopulation. First I would like to appreciate that in this interpretation – unless like many others proposed by the scientific- and media establishment – the Earth is at least granted the role of an active subject, whose processes are not coincidental but directed. However, we should not make the mistake to oversimplify the similarities between different biological actors, the reaction of plants to viruses and illnesses, in general, is hugely different from that of mammals. Besides, we are not a virus, but a specific species of mammals, if the Earth would experience the totality of humankind as an illness, there would be no need to raise the temperature, she could simply design a virus which is so potent that all humans die from it while the other species stay unharmed (be aware that COVID-19 is not such a virus, with a mortality rate of 1-10%). Although we should definitely see the Earth as not just an inanimate rock on which we as the dominant species have a totalitarian reign, we should also not project a human personality onto her. Also, every mention of overpopulation is completely absurd, given the fact that the issue is overconsumption and the mode of the economy that extracts more from the planet than she can offer. This is represented clearly by the fact that the average yearly carbon emissions of a human being from Burkina Faso are 0,25 tonnes and those of human being from Britain is 8,3 tonnes (read here more about it). Of course, there is again a difference between the carbon emission of Bernard Looney the current CEO of British Petroleum (not just his personal emissions, but those of the company he manages) and let’s say a London subway-driver (not just his or her personal emissions, but those that the train that he or she drives helps to reduce).

However, it seems equally delusional, to look at climate change or the current pandemic and simply deny the agency of the Earth and its atmosphere, geosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere. As stated in another article on the concept of World versus the concept of Earth I do think that the processes that rule our planet could be described as the following:

  1. Our planet is a complex, but an unplanned system that is directed towards an equilibrium which is based on:
  2. The Diversity (and therefore resilience) of biological life
  3. The Expansion of its ecological systems
  4. The Complexification of the subjective (individual) and collective consciousness

The current mode of human civilization clearly contradicts the notion of diversity of life, the stabilization of Earth’s climate which we witnessed after the last ice age, and the complexification of consciousness and the drive towards equilibrium as well. It is not a coincidence that the very essence of how capitalist industrial society functions – the processes of burning fossil fuels to create cheap perishable goods – leads to those processes in the Earth’s atmosphere which in turn raise the temperature on its surface. It again is not a coincidence that a virus was able to pass from non-human actors to humans when the extraction of natural resources destroys more and more ecosystems, centralizes human beings as well as domesticated animals under sub-hygenic conditions quite close to them and brings „wild“ animals therefore into proximity of human beings and domesticate animals (here you can read a good and more elaborate article about the issue). It is again no coincidence that with global supply chains and the incentive of „business-friendly“ government to keep the economy going, to keep making profit the epidemic had to become a pandemic. This has nothing to do with a directed plan of the Earth or the virus to harm human beings, but it shows clearly that the social and economic system which humans have established runs contrary to the fundamental processes which embody the Earth. The rise in the average temperature of the Atmosphere, as well as the rise in the average body temperature of humankind, are an expression of this contradiction.

This contradiction and with it the contradictions within humankind will increase with the increase of the temperature. The very processes that shaped our biosphere and formed an equilibrium within our atmosphere over millions of years call upon humankind to change its way of existence to match the way of life. This doesn’t mean that we should go back to a romanticized past – which if examined closely was also not that romantic – but to learn from it, to learn from what is currently happening and creatively re-arrange fragments of the past and the present until we reach an equilibrium. All movements who tried to change human society summoned some collective idea to give themselves the power and authority to enact those changes. Various religious movements claimed that god or the gods where on their side, Communism claimed that is was the historic process and Capitalism preached the untamed power of the invisible hand free market, now for probably the first time in history (and I am quite aware that all those other movements claimed the same), human beings who try to change their society have a powerful and active ally – the Earth.

If we listen carefully, if we open our eyes to what is happening around us we can see that the early stages of temperature increase both on the planet as in our bodies are a call to action, to rise with the temperature, and to establish harmony within humankind and within Earth.

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Author: Johannes Wiener

Focused on social development, Architecture, Art and Nature. Landscape designer currently studying architecture. “We need to develop new ideas for the future of mankind, which focus on living in symbiosis with all life and becoming mature as a species"

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