I have been blogging a lot about the incredible destruction by Europeans of Indigenous people of the western hemisphere after they first made contact. Lately I have wondered if the descendants of those Europeans, together with the immigrants who came from the west and their descendants have been unwittingly repeating the crime some 500 years later. Only this time they are doing it again to indigenous people but also to the rest of us. Are we doing it to ourselves in other words?
Kate Jones and her team of researchers found that 335 new diseases emerged between 1960 and 2004, and at least 60% came from animals. There is really nothing surprising about this. Many human diseases evolved from contact with animals. Europeans much more than people in the western hemisphere domesticated animals for centuries. As a result over millennia they developed immunities to many of those diseases. When they arrived in the “New World” and contacted people in the new world who did not have that long history of contact with such animals and as a result had on immunities to the diseases the Europeans brought with, they were devastated by the diseases. Within a century 95% of the indigenous people were dead according to some experts.
As John Vidal reported in the Guardian:
“Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases such as Ebola, SARS, bird flu and now COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are able to spread quickly to new places. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals.”
Kate Jones has discovered that these zoonotic diseases are increasingly linked to environmental changes caused by human activity. We disrupt pristine forests by logging, mining, and road buildings through remote areas without paying any attention to what we are doing. We think the world is ours for the taking. We see ourselves as lords of the universe with the divine right to do with it as we please. By doing that we bring people into ever closer contact with animal species we have never encountered before. As a result we have built up no immunities to any new diseases or pathogens they carry just like the Indigenous people of the Americans when the first European explores arrived. Could that happen again and basically for the same reason? Are we doing to ourselves what we carelessly did to the indigenous people of the western hemisphere? It’s beginning to look that way.
Maybe we need a new attitude to nature.