Our treatment of nature is at the root of our disease. As the devastating losses from the Covid-19 pandemic continue, we know that the origin of this disease can be found in our broken relationship with nature.
We are certain that we can prevent the next one. How? It will require each one of us to confront our destructive relationship with nature by curbing the wildlife trade, deforestation, industrial animal agriculture, and other activities that destroy nature’s resilience and expose humankind to more pathogens.
Although some media reports have focused on the root causes of this crippling pandemic, more attention to the origins of the disease is needed.
Many people do not realize that these viruses travel not just from distant lands, but from our activities closer to home. The causes of zoonotic diseases are clear. Let’s do something about it!
Here’s what you can do.
Eat less meat. Some of the world’s deadliest disease outbreaks have been linked to industrial animal agriculture. Animal agriculture utilizes precious water resources, releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and reduces the planet’s ability to sequester carbon by destroying diverse ecosystems. Adopting a plant-rich diet will reduce your carbon footprint and animal suffering.
Don’t buy fur or exotic animal skins. Captive breeding farms for the production of fur are inhumane and are breeding grounds for disease. Tens of millions of animals are bred and slaughtered for use by the fashion industry, and many fashion labels still use fur from wild-trapped animals. Mink farms across Europe have been connected to the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, threatening farm workers and the public. Captive breeding also serves as a cover for the illegal trade in wildlife.
Choose your wildlife tourism options carefully, not all are nice to wildlife. Tourist attractions that feature captive wild animals often remove these animals from their natural habitat and keep them in unnatural surroundings. Handling and feeding wildlife not only impacts their diet, ranging patterns, and behavior, but also increases the risk of zoonosis. Avoid facilities that allow visitors to handle big cats and other animals, even if those animals have been bred in captivity. These facilities serve no conservation purposes and are purely about profit.
Don’t purchase wildlife products, souvenirs, or bushmeat when traveling. Just because an item is for sale, does not mean it is legal, safe, or ethical. Live and deceased animals are traded for their products and derivatives for the tourism sector, and pass through various hands as they travel through the supply chain. During the transportation process, wild animals are packed in small crates in unsanitary conditions that create a breeding ground for infectious zoonotic diseases to spread to nearby humans. Wildlife trade for bushmeat takes animals from nature and brings them into markets creating a risk for humans from zoonotic microbes.
Check the ingredients – Don’t buy products created from deforestation. 50,000 acres of forests are cleared every day worldwide to grow crops such as palm oil, sugar cane, and soy that are found in many consumer goods. The conversion of rainforest to pastureland increases risks for zoonotic spillover from wild animals to domesticated animals and humans. Newly-cleared areas become pathways for pathogen transmission as farmers and workers come into contact with wild animals.
Don’t keep exotic pets. The exotic pet trade has been linked to infectious disease outbreaks in humans. Contact with exotic pets puts owners at risk for zoonotic diseases while harming wild populations. Thousands of reptile, bird, amphibian and other species are under threat because of the global pet trade.
Be responsible on social media. Think twice before clicking ‘like’ or sharing videos or photos that contain wild animals interacting with humans, wearing clothes, or posing in unnatural surroundings. Social media activity is noticed by wildlife traders. Comments like “I want one” encourage them to remove more from the wild in order to sell them.
Minimize your carbon and waste footprint. Reduce, reuse, recycle – the less we waste the better. Support policies and businesses that embrace a “circular economy” approach to reduce the extraction of natural resources and minimize environmental impact.
Support rewilding. Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of natural ecosystems where nature can take care of itself.Support initiatives to protect terrestrial and marine ecosystems to maintain biodiversity.
Invest in sustainable finance. Use your savings and investments wisely, make sure your financial choices are fully divested from fossil fuels and industries linked to deforestation. Almost every bank offers a sustainable investment portfolio, and these can offer rates of return comparable to unsustainable investments while reducing your impact on the environment!
Vote for the planet. Engage with your elected representatives. It is their job to represent their constituents, so make sure that they are representing you and the planet! Elect representatives who support rebuilding a greener world in the wake of the pandemic.