We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, that’s us.”
It may not be obvious but there’s a direct connect between our destruction of the natural world, and Covid-19.
Covid-19 is a ‘zoonotic’ disease meaning it’s transmitted from animal to human, and vice versa. An investigation by the World Health Organisation is ongoing in Wuhan, China to identify the ‘intermediate’ animal species that transmitted Covid-19 to humans. Investigators started at the Huanan live-animal and meat market, known as a ‘wet’ market, which many of the earliest people diagnosed with Covid-19 had visited. Finding the cause can take years but initial environmental samples, taken mostly from drains and sewage of the wet market, did test positive for the virus. Educated guesses put bats and pangolins top of the transmitter list. If it does turn out to be pangolin, there is a sweet poetic justice given these cute scaly mammals have been hunted almost to extinction by the Chinese who use their scales in ‘folk’ medicinal remedies.
Wet markets commonly found in China and Asia, are simply somewhere locals can buy meat, fruit and veg direct from the producer. However, a small number also sell live wildlife and have been well documented for their disregard of basic hygiene. I appreciate and respect different cultures, of course, but I can only describe a wet market of this type as animal torture. Wildlife is caged closely together and butchered onsite in unsanitary conditions. Workers handle animal parts covered in blood without gloves or shoe covers. This is how a deadly disease is spread from an animal living happily in its natural habitat, cohabiting with all the diseases you naturally find in nature, until it is inhumanely captured, killed, and sold for hocus pocus cancer treatments in a wet market. Charity Peta is calling on Asian governments to end wildlife wet markets that pose risk to human life. This RSPCA article highlights recent changes in Chinese law around wildlife consumption following the outbreak of Covid-19.
As human behaviour continues to change the climate on Earth, the risk of future pandemics increases. Mosquitoes and other carriers of diseases are migrating to cooler places in the northern hemisphere (including Europe), as their natural habitat becomes too hot. We continue to chop down trees within the world’s tropical forests and other wild landscapes, not only destroying one of our main defenses against global warming (trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus reducing the temperature), but also increasing the risk of human-animal contact. So many species of animals and plants live in wild habitats and within those creatures exist so many unknown viruses. We kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, that’s us.
I remember chatting to a friend at the start of the pandemic about how great t was for the environment as many of us noticed cleaner air, clearer skies, and listened to tuneful bird song in our gardens. But guess what, for all the change that happened – car use dropped 50%, and flying almost stopped completely, the world emitted only 8% less emissions in 2020 than it did in 2019 – demonstrating the scale of permanent change required to prevent the worst impact of climate change. Global emissions must fall by at least 7.6% a year for the next decade to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. This is why we must hold governments to account when they commit to ‘Build Back Better’, and not return to ‘business as usual’.
Much like climate change, scientists warned for years about inevitable deadly viruses, yet the world wasn’t prepared when it happened, costing tens of thousands of lives and immense long-term economic hardship. Climate change isn’t a future threat, it’s already here, the ice caps are melting at a phenomenal rate, and fires rage through forests like never before. Despite scientist warnings the UK government continues to pursue carbon heavy projects, the West Cumbria coal mine and HS2 are just two examples.
As the world begins to ‘re-open’, lets all try and step a little lighter on our planet – whether that’s eating less meat, buying second hand, flying less and walking more, or finally taking a look at where your pension is invested. Government and business must take the lead but let’s not sit idly by, criticising from our glass houses.