Now that we are in the midst of a global pandemic that has a large part of the world spooked, many are pointing the fingers at others. That’s what we do in dangerous times. We look for someone to blame. Everyone is looking for scapegoats, none more than Donald Trump the so-called leader of the free world. He keeps calling the coronavirus “the Chinese flu.” No doubt he does that to deflect attention from his early negligence in which he referred to the coronavirus as a “hoax.” Well the hoax has come home to roost. Like a magician he wants us to look where he is pointing rather than looking at what he is doing.
Searching for scapegoats is seldom useful. Except in one circumstance. Remember Pogo, the ancient comic strip. He said he had gone looking for the enemy and found it. Much to his surprise he found it was “us.” We are the enemy. And we might be the enemy again in the case of coronavirus.
As John Vidal senior environmental writer at the Guardian that I have been reading for many years said,
“Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue.
But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as COVID-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.”
Many years ago I had a summer job at Manitoba Hydro and my supervisor was a very smart man. HIs name was Al Boily I was his assistant on a digger, a large vehicle that was used to dig holes for utility poles. I had to tamp the mud and dirt into the hole around the pole with a heavy iron bar after it was inserted. First of all, he taught me how to work. That was a big job, for, if truth be known, I was as lazy as grass. I needed to know how to work and to forget all ideas of money falling into my lap. This was a very valuable life lesson. One of the most important of my life. He taught me one more valuable lesson. I remember him objecting to Vapona No Pest Strips. Remember those? These were produced to hang in buildings such as open garages where they would attract bugs especially flying insects. Then they got stuck to the sticky strip that contained some chemical to hasten their demise. I thought they were a great invention. After all I hated flies and mosquitos. But Al told me, “John, what’s bad for bugs is probably bad for people too.” That made a lot of sense to me. Scientists now employ a similar principle.
So many things we do are harmful to other creatures and we are entirely careless about that fact. This might be very unwise!
In the last few years we seem to have been plagued (literally plagued) with various pestilential outbreaks. In 1996 it was Ebola a deadly virus until then barely known to humans, until it spilled over out of the forest in Africa in a wave of small epidemics. It was far away in Africa so who cared? Right? Wrong! All of us should care.
In a village of 37 people in Africa 21 people were killed by Ebola. Many of them had participated in a project of killing, carrying, skinning, chopping, and then eating a chimpanzee from the surrounding forest.
John Vidal tells how in 2004 he travelled to Mayibout to investigate why deadly diseases were emerging in apparent hotspots in the rainforest. He found people that were traumatized by the deadly virus that killed up to 90% of the people it infected. Those are pretty tough odds. Many of the children who loved the tropical rainforest before that were terrorized by it after the deluge.
Not that long ago people believed the tropical forests would be a source of viruses and pathogens. Now scientists are getting more sophisticated about it. We are the source.
As Vidal said, “But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike.”
Now scientists are adding an entirely new discipline that studies the visible connections between the well being of humans and other living things including entire ecosystems. It seem Al Boily is right. What is bad for nature is bad for us too.
As a result of this new discipline a number of scientists are now inquiring whether or not “human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?”
Kate Jones and her team of researchers says that her team is investigating exactly that. “We are researching how species in degraded habitats are likely to carry more viruses which can infect humans,” she says. “Simpler systems get an amplification effect. Destroy landscapes, and the species you are left with are the ones humans get the diseases from.”
Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s department of environmental sciences, who studies how shrinking natural habitats and changing behaviour add to the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to humans made the point, “Pathogens do not respect species boundaries”
He also said, without any sugar coating,
“I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg. I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”
Humans, are creating the conditions for the spread of diseases by reducing the natural barriers between host animals – in which the virus is naturally circulating – and themselves. We fully expect the arrival of pandemic influenza; we can expect large-scale human mortalities; we can expect other pathogens with other impacts. A disease like Ebola is not easily spread. But something with a mortality rate of Ebola spread by something like measles would be catastrophic.”
All of this is a direct result of our casual and careless attitude to the natural world. Doing as we please without regard to other people or other species has a price. Are we willing to pay it or should we rather change our attitude. Arrogance is seldom pretty or helpful.