By Samir Shukla
The year started with such promise. 2020. A lovely rhythmic and poetic number. It marks the end of a decade and gazes toward the start of a new one. So many plans were made when the year was born and then began to crawl along with promise.
A little microbe apparently had other plans - for the whole damn planet. Now, it's hard to look past the viral menace unhinging the world. We don't know how long this social distancing or sheltering in place will be required. When will it peak? How many people will be infected? How many will become seriously ill? How many fatalities? It will eventually pass, but life afterwards will be different, sober, at least for a while. Then we will rumble on.
A question: Can we become more thoughtful on the human capacity to be so vicious to the planet?
Ma Nature isn't too happy about this and she sends us plenty of subtle messages, as well as a bludgeoning such as this destabilizing virus. Nature finds means to humble us, the most out of control species on the planet. Nature is constantly working to, well, naturally reestablish balance.
A respect for this balance can help in the crucial work on mitigating climatic changes and the inevitable future pandemics. Personal efforts to reduce energy usage, pollution and degradation of natural lands, while working to attain sustainability via technology and human ingenuity can shed light on this darkening future.
Maybe a pause is also required to evaluate humans' voracious appetite for meat, the acquisition of which has greater consequences than filling bellies. A small reduction in consumption of meat, dairy and eggs can have a huge positive effect on everything from land use, water use, energy use, climate change, and a reduction in the violence required to bring that little chunk of meat to your lunch table. This isn't a lecture about going vegan, but a harder look is required into all the prime causes of pathogens escaping their natural hosts into unnatural arenas. Viral outbreaks can be traced to critters.
A field of corn or wheat doesn't produce deadly pathogens or viruses. Produce like lettuce doesn't generate E-coli, it generally gets it from animal waste from nearby animal ranches, and to a lesser extent from other critter related means.
The so-called wet animal markets in China, giant animal factory farms here in the US, mass degradation of fisheries in the seas and oceans around the world, all need to be examined. An unnatural co-mingling of different animals in wet markets or stacking huge numbers of others in factory farms simply creates unnatural responses from nature.
It would behoove humans to move back toward more humane, natural and sustainable way to raise meat while eating less of it. Arguably this one action, and it's not some great sacrifice, would help mitigate global menaces like climate change and pandemics. Put up firewalls for pathogens seeking to jump species, from their natural hosts into others, if you will.
Once this is over, we must gather our global lessons and prep for such future calamities on all fronts. We must assume that somewhere inside a bat hanging in a cave in China or elsewhere in the world, maybe in the belly of a monkey or some exotic animal, a pathogen exponentially more sinister than Covid-19 is likely waiting. It is biding its time, for its opportunity to mutate, jump species, into the most widely spread species of all, us.
Mother Nature has fired her most potent warning shot, we ignore all the possible causes of this, and potential solutions, at our own peril.
A global scientific and medical effort will need to be put in place, along with worldwide connected outbreak response teams, so that local outbreaks don't become pandemics. In the future, immediate response to any regional outbreaks should be the norm. In the meantime, we must reflect on our own actions that unbalance nature and make outbreaks possible.