Walt Kelly was a cartoonist best known for his Pogo comic strip, which began in 1948 and continued until 1975. One of his most famous drawings shows the lead character paraphrasing a famous saying by Admiral Matthew Perry: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We don’t have permission to reproduce that cartoon, but you can find it online easily enough, such as at this link.
Kelly’s wisdom and insight is especially pertinent today as the coronavirus sweeps around the globe, killing more than 200,000 people at this point. The latest scientific research agrees completely with Pogo. We are doing this to ourselves.
Last year, Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, and Eduardo Brondizio led the most comprehensive planetary health check ever undertaken, The Guardian reports. Called the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, it concluded that human society was in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life support systems. In a new report published on April 27, the same authors, together with Dr. Peter Daszak, make this startling assertion.
“Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases.” These activities bring people into contact and conflict with animals, which leads to 70% of all emerging human diseases. “This is the human hand in pandemic emergence. Yet [Covid-19] may be only the beginning,” they warn.
“Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today,” they say.
While the world is champing at the bit to get back to the way things used to be, and extremist right wing groups are defining attempts to keep people at home as unconstitutional intrusions on fundamental liberties, these scientists say economic recovery packages must be used to strengthen and enforce environmental protection.
“It may be politically expedient to relax environmental standards and to prop up industries such as intensive agriculture, airlines, and fossil fuel dependent energy sectors, but doing so without requiring urgent and fundamental change essentially subsidizes the emergence of future pandemics.”
We’re All In This Together
Dr. Daszak advocates for a global One Health approach.
“The health of people is intimately connected to the health of wildlife, the health of livestock and the health of the environment. It’s actually one health. He calls for health monitoring systems to detect the rise and spread of this and future pandemics.
“This is not simple altruism. It is vital investment in the interests of all to prevent future global outbreaks. The programs we’re talking about will cost tens of billions of dollars a year. But if you get one pandemic, even just one a century, that costs trillions, so you still come out with an incredibly good return on investment. Business as usual will not work. Business as usual right now for pandemics is waiting for them to emerge and hoping for a vaccine. That’s not a good strategy. We need to deal with the underlying drivers.”
Professor Thomas Lovejoy of the United Nations Foundation and George Mason University coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980. Last Saturday, he said, “[The pandemic] is not nature’s revenge; we did it to ourselves. It is the consequence of our persistent and excessive intrusion in nature and the vast illegal wildlife trade, and in particular the wildlife markets, the wet markets, of south Asia and bush meat markets of Africa.”
An Act Of God
The new report has a hopeful conclusion. It says, “We can emerge from the current crisis stronger and more resilient than ever, [by] choosing actions that protect nature, so that nature can help to protect us.” Sure. And we can flap our arms and fly to the moon, too.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has penned a letter to the person in charge at the White House begging him to declare the coronavirus pandemic and the recent collapse of oil prices to be an act of God, which would help oil producers in his state by freeing them from the legal obligation to pay for the leases they hold while their business is shut down.
Governor, you have it backwards. There very well may be a message from a higher authority here, but it sure isn’t to preserve and protect the oil industry. The message is that humanity itself is a virus sucking the life out of the planet and we really, really ought to stop doing that if we seriously intend for human life on Earth to continue much beyond the end of this century.
We have buried our heads in the sand for far too long. The current pandemic is a slap upside the head, begging us to awake from our 1950s dream and start acting responsibly toward each other, toward the other plant and animal species that share the Earth with us, and toward the Earth itself. Time is getting critically short.
There is nothing in human history to suggest we are smart enough to avoid destroying our earthly home. Our mania for “getting back to normal” suggests we have learned nothing from this pandemic and are destined to repeat this tragedy in perpetuity. What a waste of a perfectly good planet.
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