By Valmik Thapar
Global policy over the last three decades has created the perfect climate for this virus and death. They were warned in each country. They were asked to stop the horrors of wildlife markets. They were asked to review the factory farms for poultry, pork and beef. They were asked to stop deforestation and the illegal mining of natural resources. They were asked to reduce CO2 emissions and deal with global warming and climate change. They were asked to reduce fishing quotas in the sea and restore a balance – the list of warnings was long but no one listened.
Managed destruction. Photo: Harley Kingston/FLICKR CC-BY-NC 2.0
Whether you are Left or Right, a conspiracy theorist or government spokesperson, Chinese, Russian, American or from anywhere in the world, one truth is absolutely clear and accepted by most of the 7.6 billion people who live on this planet – this virus is zoonotic and probably came from a bat, perhaps through direct or intermediary transmission via another species.
So, it is from China, probably from bats and maybe via intermediary species like pangolins that are stuffed into cages and sold for cash. The lack of any sensible wildlife governance in China, Southeast Asia or indeed anywhere in the world has led to a thriving demand for wildlife markets (legal and illegal) and this in turn creates the climate for new and deadly viruses. They thrive because we humans have created the environment for them to thrive.
Added into this menu is some of the worst industrial pollution, deforestation, poaching, converting natural forests into agriculture, infrastructural development in wild landscapes and the horrors of factory farming of domestic animals. All this no one denies.
Animals, wild and domestic, have been forced into a corner because of us. All this is for big business needs, revenue and rapid economic growth. Greed dominates the world and short cuts create the environment in which viruses thrive and climate change accelerates as we emit dangerous gases in the air and destroy natural habitats. The natural world has never been so squeezed and pressured. Every human being knows all the above. There has never been such a clear link between the exploitation of the natural world and the creation of this virus and all the others that await their opportunity to strike.
Yet the entire world, with few exceptions, is still not asking or discussing the real questions. How do we ban the wildlife trade and end the exploitation of the natural world? How do we engage with climate change to protect the planet? How do we punish those that do not meet targets of cleaning up their industries, emissions and natural environments? Why is there no global charter on these issues that is mandatory for all to follow?
We know the broad backstory to this virus. We know it has killed nearly 3,00,000 people worldwide and infected 4 million. Why is there so little dialogue on how to stop the next one? Tens of thousands of hours on television across the world, reams of papers with opinions and analysis, endless articulations by experts and scientists but what we badly need is to debate the reasons that led to the creation of this virus.
We talk of human death and suffering, of levels of infection, of unemployment, of medical treatments and cures, of conspiracies, of a new normal that will follow, about the economic recovery that is needed, and of lockdowns and partial lockdowns, of opening and closing areas. This endless debate goes on but no one is talking about strict protection of the natural world and its wildlife in order that the next virus is unable to grow.
Are our global leaders that impotent? Have our television anchors and political commentators lost it? Do we not understand that if we do not put right what we have wronged, there is no future for humanity? There are no compromises. We have lost hundreds of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, people are gasping for breath in a shattered and broken world. Surely the future can only be secured if we destroy the climate that allows for such viruses. Is there any other global agenda that is more important than protecting our natural world and all that lives in it? Or do we want to die watching new viruses eat our insides up? There has to be more than cures and vaccines if we want a future. We know why the virus jumped. We have to take global action so no virus can thrive with such ease as the novel coronavirus has done.
Public health systems will never cope as new viruses develop. We need new thinking on how we live and what our priorities are. Green economics is essential. Small is not just beautiful but sustains human life. If we want to live, we must consume less and all exploitation of our natural world must stop. There is no other way. We cannot pump endless vaccines into our system. We change our laws to deal with a virus but we do not change our laws to protect our precious natural world so that viruses are deterred. All our action plans are about the immediate measures needed to mitigate the impact of this virus. What about the action plan to destroy the new viruses that await their opportunity to strike? Surely, we cannot afford to forget that we created the conditions for this virus and we have the power to reverse those conditions.
How do we reverse these conditions? That is the most important priority for the immediate future of human life. We are all busy talking about and finding respite from COVID-19. But what are we doing about all those viruses? We have spent trillions dealing with the impact of this virus. Surely, we can spend trillions preventing the next one, and for that, we have to take care of our environment. Until we understand this and act globally, we will be helpless in the face of debilitating infections.
Valmik Thapar has spent 45 years working with the protection of both India’s forests and wildlife. He has written over 30 books.
Original Headline: We Need to Look Beyond this Deadly Virus Because More Will Follow if We Don't Act Now
Source: The Wire