Two catastrophes, directly linked

COVID-19 has given the world a moment to think. We can take some of this time to become familiar with the direct correlation between the coronavirus and our exploitation of the earth and its wildlife.

Viral pandemics are becoming more frequent. Among many others, there’s ebolavirus, SARS, MERS, West Nile, and now COVID-19, the farthest-reaching and most contagious.

Zoonotic pathogens

These viruses easily transfer from wild animals to people and other animals in close proximity, says a new UC Davis One Health Institute study. Wildlife that sheds the virus to other species are survivors of disrupted habitats. Wildlife, like bats and primates, carry the virus without dying from it.

“The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered,” admits Thomas Gillespie, disease ecologist, Emory University. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”

These pathogens can be traced back to human changes in land use. As we destroy their environment, species are crowded together and come in closer contact with humans and other animals. There should be no surprise when they are forced into new territory and their viruses infect us.

“Exploitation of wildlife by humans through hunting, trade, habitat degradation, and urbanization facilitates close contact between wildlife and humans, which increases the risk of virus spillover,” the UC Davis study found.

Wildlife has less area to live and fewer food sources as we invade their natural homes. In fact, humans are completely wiping out hundreds of species as we work to make more urban areas and profits from their natural homes.Deforestation done by timber and other companies for profit, along with agricultural clearing, cause much of the loss of wildlife habitat. One example is the spread of Lyme disease by ticks when deer are displaced by logging. Deer don’t simply disappear when their homes are logged; many must migrate onto privately owned land.

Livestock farms, big agriculture, mining, and road building also disrupts wildlife habitat.

Changing behavior

To grasp this cycle of our disrespecting nature and nature coming back at us with dangerous pandemics, we must simply try to understand more. Perhaps instead of concentrating on just fighting symptoms, we look toward the basic root cause. If we fight nature on this, we will lose because what we do to nature, we end up doing to ourselves. There are devastating consequences on both sides that end up on our own laps.

A cure is necessary for the aggressive pandemic of COVID-19, but that won’t help us with the next pandemic, and we’re told there will be more. We must reduce consumerism and start pressuring our government to stop doing things like undoing environmental regulations for vile corporate plunderers at the worst possible time for the world. Neither appear to have an environmental concern.

It’s not just viral pandemics that cause deaths, climate change is also killing people. It’s hard to see that because a pandemic like COVID-19 pushes all our collective buttons at once, while climate change is slower and it’s easy to pretend that we individuals aren’t significant enough to help solve this problem.

What can we do?

One answer is to obtain a Green New Deal that helps lead the world in understanding that our relationship with nature must be changed now. Instead of making monetary profit, we must do what it takes to allow a healthy planet and people. It’s hard to argue that the vast majority of the world’s population would want anything less.

We simply can’t return to business as usual once this pandemic is over. What we do now will help rebuild our world in the most survivable direction.

Marylin Olds is an opinion columnist. She can be reached at