December 28, 1989

Tropical Forests and AIDS

When you see a situation you cannot understand, look for the financial interest.

Tom L. Johnson

Chico Mendez was murdered because he was a leader of a movement in Brazil to save the forests. That he wasn't murdered long before he was is surprising, considering the powerful and ruthless people he was opposing.

Why did he want to save the forests? Mendez was a rubber tapper; he milked rubber trees for their latex. In short, the forest was his livelihood and he was defending it. He was modestly succesful in protecting his forest. I suspect that if his movement to save the forests ultimately succeeds, it will be more a consequence of AIDS than anything that he did. What is the connection between AIDS and tropical forests?

The development of synthetic rubber all but killed the natural rubber business. Synthetic rubber makes better tires and tubes than natural rubber does and it doesn't deteriorate as rapidly. No one has ever developed a synthetic substitute that works as well as the natural stuff for surgeons gloves and condoms.

My dentist in Concord retired last year. He could have waited until I died, but he didn't; so I went to the dentist here in Laytonville. They, as do all modern dentists, hygienists and everyone who touches people in the medical and dental professions, wear rubber gloves and masks. I felt dirty. In the old days, masks and gloves were reserved for people with contagious diseases.

There is no filthier orifice than the human mouth. A people bite is very dangerous because of all of the dangerous germs that reside in the normal mouth. As the song goes "What do you get when you kiss a girl? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia. After you do, she'll never phone you..." Yet, the old fashioned doctor and dentist treated you as if your body was no dirtier than his. Since the physician is the major carrier of penicillin resistant staphylococcus; the gloves and mask probably protect the patient more than they do the doctor.

Some people are offended when their sex partner wants to use a condom, unless it's predicated on birth control or something that doesn't imply that you might be dirty or diseased. So now I understand how it feels. However, after the initial shock, I got used to my dentist being faceless and having rubber fingers.

All of this came about as a consequence of people being afraid of AIDS. I suspect that the gloves aren't going to help anyone except the people who make rubber gloves. It's just as easy to cut your finger with a contaminated needle or instrument with gloves on, as without; and that's the only way that you are going to get AIDS accidentally. In short, to get AIDS, you really have to work at it, or play at it.

Which brings me back to Chico Mendez. The demand for natural rubber has increased and will continue to increase as the old time doctors and dentists are replaced by the new crop whose uniform includes latex rubber gloves. Condom use is, hopefully, on the upswings as well. The word "hopeful" is appropriate here because I suspect that a substantial number of condoms decay in men's wallets.

If there is a demand for latex rubber, it becomes very profitable to preserve rubber trees, and it is profit that drives the world.

The field of Ecology deals with the interaction of the various elements in a pond, desert, forest etc. I propose a new branch which will deal with the effect of economics on various ecosystems. It could be called Economic Ecology, Ecological Economics or Econology. Its practitioners should be very well paid, and I should henceforth be referred to as The Father of Econology.

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