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Fernando de Noronha island
Credit: Google Maps https://www.google.com/maps/place/Fernando+de+Noronha/

Health

Humans Are An Invasive Species

As the world pauses because of the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps now would be a good time to reexamine the relationship between humans and nature.

A curious thing is happening in many places around the world. As humans stay inside to avoid the virulent COVID-19 virus, the animals in the world around our enclaves of civilization are emerging from hiding in great numbers. Bruce Borowski, a nature photographer in Boulder, Colorado filmed a mountain lion asleep in the branches of a tree alongside what is usually a busy thoroughfare.

“I’ve lived in Boulder for 30 years, and I’ve never seen a mountain lion before,” he tells The Washington Post. “I’m a filmmaker and am outdoors constantly. Animals are sensing that people aren’t around much and are coming out more. We’re waiting for the bears to come out of hibernation and see how brazen they get.”

Goats are helping themselves to vegetation in the center of towns in Wales. Andrew Stuart, a resident of the town of Llandudno says, “The goats absolutely love it. They keep coming back, multiple times per day, 10 to 15 of them. They’re taking the town back. It’s now theirs. Nothing is stopping them.

Wild boar are roaming around quite happily in Italy. In Brazil, thousands of sea turtle hatchlings are making it safely to their new home in the ocean because there are no people and dogs to interfere with their migration.

Humans As Predators

Let’s face it. Human beings are predators who are every bit as dangerous as the fiercest wild animals in the jungle. Our thirst for meat — especially from wild animals — may be a major factor in the development of infectious diseases like COVID-19. A growing body of research suggests the risk of emerging diseases — three quarters of which come from animals — is increased by deforestation, hunting, and a global wildlife trade that focuses on exotic or endangered species.

Often, these animals are herded together in outdoor markets where they are butchered in the absence of any sanitary precautions. These so-called “wet markets –named for the amount of blood and body parts left over after the animals are eviscerated — have been linked to both severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

China says it is banning such outdoor markets, but they are common in many countries around the world. The human passion for meat may actually be putting millions of people at severe risk of potentially deadly diseases.

Jane Goodall Speaks

Jane Goodall, the anthropologist who wrote about living with chimpanzees in Africa, tells The Post, “I am hopeful. I am. I lived through World War II. By the time you get to 86, you realize that we can overcome these things. One day we will be better people, more responsible in our attitudes toward nature.”

But despite her hopefulness, she has spoken out this week about the coronavirus and placed the blame for it squarely on the shoulders of humans according to a report in The New York Post. In an interview with Agence France-Press, she said, “It is our disregard for nature and our disrespect of the animals we should share the planet with that has caused this pandemic, that was predicted long ago.”

She added that destroying natural habitats for animals has forced them into closer proximity with humans, to the detriment of both. The transmission of diseases from animals to people is much higher under such circumstances. The present crisis highlights the dangers of “meat markets for wild animals in Asia, especially China, and our intensive farms where we cruelly crowd together billions of animals around the world. These are the conditions that create an opportunity for the viruses to jump from animals across the species barrier to humans,” she said.

Nature Versus Commerce

The unquenchable thirst for profits is one of the most powerful drivers of human behavior. The trade in exotic meats — which many people believe contribute to sexual potency — is a $24 billion a year business.

The jaguar is hunted in Central and South America for its bones and teeth, which are highly sought after in Asian countries. The rhinoceros population has been decimated because people believe, when ground up and consumed, its horn increases their sexual prowess. The rest of these 2-ton animals is simply discarded as waste after the horn is harvested.

Fernando de Noronha island

Image credit: Google Maps

The collision between environment and commerce is revealed on the tiny island of Fernando de Noronha off the coast of Brazil. It is a natural paradise of golden sand beaches, turquoise water, and soaring cliffs. Guilherme Rocha, the administrator of the island, sees it as a model for sustainable development.

He envisions it as a place where a limited number of tourists visit each year, with the revenue they create used to promote electric cars, solar farms, and mandatory recycling. “The world is turning a page,” he tells The Washington Post. “The era of dirty energy is over.”

Luiz Falcão is the owner of the Dolphin Hotel and sees things completely differently. He envisions creating a world class port for cruise ships packed with passengers coming to patronize a growing landscape of bars, restaurants, and hotels. “This could be a Maldives, a Cozumel,” he says. “Here, we can have only 100,000 tourists. There, they receive 90 million.”

Now Brazil’s president, who is rabidly pro-business and rabidly anti-environment, has weighed in, saying Rocha’s plan is “an example of how not to do tourism.” You can see how this is going to turn out, can’t you?

A Parable For Our Time

Rocha vs. Falcão could become a parable for the human race and its relationship to the environment. One way seeks to fashion a partnership with nature that will be sustainable for generations. The other seeks to inundate the island with a flood of tourists who will trample it into submission with no regard for the future. As long as there is money to be made, who cares about tomorrow?

This same scenario is playing out this very moment in the United States where the government proposes to shower fossil fuel companies with billions of dollars in stimulus money while providing not one penny to renewable energy companies.

The pause in “business as usual” brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is having some unexpected benefits. Residents of smog-filled cities are seeing the mountains in the distance for the first time in decades. Many are realizing the waste products created by burning fossil fuels lead to pulmonary disease and shorter life spans.

In an odd sort of way, the virus is offering us a glimpse at what life might be like in a world with very low carbon emissions and an abundance of renewable energy. It’s like nature has given us a chance to reassess our mania for pillaging the Earth that sustains us. Perhaps we should listen to what nature is trying to tell us. We may never get another chance to do the right thing.

 
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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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