First, climate change and the shrinking of wildlife habitats and the domestication of animals is the second. Animals are host to microbes in their bodies where the latter live harmlessly. However, when some microbes slip into humans they may become deadly. The current discussion is mainly focused on the role of microbes in introducing pathogens (diseases) in domesticated animals living in proximity of human habitations.
A combined effect of climate change and microbes appears to have caused the pandemic of coronavirus. The disease is gripping global life causing great harm to economies and public health. Even tigers in the Bronx zoo, New York, are not spared. Last year, they were tested positive for Coronavirus.
Man’s urge to discover nature’s laws, to make social and economic progress, to improve living and the love of inventions and innovations have paved the ways for great scientific inquiry and material progress. A man by nature is a forward-looking social animal and exhibits noble character. But more often than not, man’s impulsiveness and drive for power and influence have also pushed the boundaries overboard in his quest for material progress. Man’s well-meaning creativeness and ambitions in pursuit of material progress started rubbing nature in an unfriendly way. The ensuing process of degradation of the natural environment and abuse of resources, as we are experiencing now, have started tipping the balance of nature. Unabated tampering with nature’s laws has started damaging its mechanisms arousing nature’s fury. It appears nature is busy in a mid-course correction to overhaul its propensities to renew her health and function.
Using newly discovered nature’s laws and acquired techniques and skills over centuries to build landmarks and make war instruments, man is busy with an accelerated use of natural resources. The need for and greed of material things, it is obvious, has taken over the best of man’s attributes. In the beginning, during slow stances of progress, natural resources were judiciously used but later on, shortly before the turn of the 20th century, there has been a measurable increase in resource use.
The Industrial revolution and push for manufacturing made it a highly aggressive occurrence. Heightened business activities in the wake of the rapid pace of innovation and commercial production brought an increase in demand and stress on natural resources. Although, resource use is part and parcel of production as well as contributing to a wide spectrum of inroads to widen the scope of progress and entailing significant benefits. However, it also creates harmful side effects. Man’s endeavours to enhance socio-economic progress, to achieve better living conditions, and to make advances in scientific knowledge didn’t have to start resource abuse on a massive scale. Inadvertently or under commercial pressures the road to resource-dependent progress has led to climate change.
The foregoing arguments build the case against the unsustainable use and harmful side-effects of overuse of resources on the environment. No one wishes to see the quality of life degraded and increasing health problems for man and planet earth. The case in point is the sole reliance on fossil fuels as a source of cheap energy for industrial/farming activities. The damaging impact of the overuse of fossil fuels has emerged in the form of an increase in carbon emissions, and consequently climate warming, environmental degradation, deforestation, and virus related pathogens. These occurrences are grounded in the changed values of humans. The world is waking up to the enormity of the problem. Scientific research and investigations to find out, how this calamity befell so suddenly and spread so quickly across the world is engaging the great minds to solve this riddle.
Let us briefly dive into history and follow its footprints to identify the types of progress made and follies committed by the man during his long human journey. Millenniums ago during the hunter-gatherer period needs were basic and life was simple. Nature’s bounties were in abundance and cave living evolved culture and art. Wall paintings in caves depict a rich and creative life. Fast-tracking history, during the times that followed man-made great progress in many diverse fields. Relevant to the current discussion are two key categories that are the base of the current discussion: agriculture and industry. My focus in the current discussion is on the evolution of agriculture and how this activity got associated with the coronavirus pandemic
In the annals of man’s progress, in the post-hunter-gatherer period, the next step man took was the introduction of agriculture. In the long period, agriculture remained a dominant occupation till the 17th century before industry emerging on the horizon. Forested land became the lifeline of agricultural activity. Human labour was inadequate to the growing needs of farming- ploughing, harvesting and thrashing. Domestication of animals contributed to solving the labour problem. Deforestation kept expanding as the need for more commodities and the volume of their produce demanded. Bringing more and more land under cultivation resulted in narrowing and shrinking the wildlife habitat. Domesticated animals, for the convenience of their feeding and comfort needs, were kept within the four walls of human quarters. Unending March of time and population growth have contributed to new needs and areas of activity. More significant among them have been better living, rising security needs and opening of new occupations. The undertaking of these activities required farmland, timber, logging, wood for fuel causing a spike in deforestation. Additionally, agriculture started producing “surplus” resulting in free time for people. New professions of building, pottery making, art and artistry, soldiering and many others were emerging. All these activities and occupations changed social and economic norms influencing material expansion. A jump in resource demand, an unexpected occurrence kept bringing deforestation under stress and shrinkage in wildlife habitat.
Combined effects of deforestation, loss of wildlife habitat and human proximity with animals in rural settlements and urban centres set the stage for microbes joining the company of humans. In the scheme of things, it appears nature had plans that wildlife and animals become host to microbes. For their part microbes learned to live harmlessly in animal bodies. The problem emerged, writes science journalist Sonia Shab, “the way that cutting down forests and expanding towns, cities, and industrial activities create opportunities for animal microbes to adapt to human bodies.” Through chemical processes, microbes turn into deadly pathogens in human bodies. Recent examples, especially since the 1940’s, are the spread of HIV, Ebola, Zika, SARS and others in North America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Coronavirus (Covid-19) in this long line is the current infection even deadlier than the previous ones. It continues to expand into more deadly variants through the process of mutation throwing new challenges for scientific investigations to scientists.
The new prosperity in many parts of the world in the foregoing context also presents its dark side. In addition to raising animals for slaughter, for income or consumption, the market for wildlife meat has spiked. In Congo alone, over 6 million tons of wildlife meat is sold annually according to The Economist, 21st March 2020. All over the world, East Asia in particular, “more exotic wild species are sold in wet markets, where creatures that would rarely if ever encounter one another in nature are caged close together, allowing microbes to jump from one species to the next.” It is this process, according to many reliable sources, that the coronavirus has started. The challenges scientists face is to urgently develop remedies for today and for the future to defeat this invisible enemy.
The lessons of history teach us that in any situation the worst of times are not permanent. These difficult times will hopefully pass soon. Present efforts to develop effective remedies to block pandemics are worthwhile, timely and very much appreciated. Rapid testing, social distancing, lockdowns, stay at home advisories, use of N95 and other less expensive face masks and other instruments are commendable short term measures as well. Even more urgent is to develop long term measures to combat such future occurrences. Though, scientists have succeeded in preparing vaccines that have brought some relief in the USA, Canada and Europe combating the covid-19 virus. On the other hand, the problem is worsening in poor countries due to the lack of medical infrastructure and global vaccines distributional difficulties.
The following submission, I hope, will be beneficial for the ongoing public and official discourse.
Pakistan needs to make good on rapid progress in the education and healthcare sectors. Both of these areas in the country are in a poor state and dire need of improvements. These areas are fundamental for the citizenry to learn more not only about pandemics but also the causes of their ignorance and poverty. State attention and resources to education and healthcare must be given priority in any national development trajectory.
Respect for natural resources must be made into a national goal and a part of education. In economic and commercial activities, harmonizing with the laws of nature is a fundamental principle to achieve economic progress and survival of species including humans. Tree planting campaigns and policies supporting forest renewals and wildlife habitat expansion are vital. The current effort of tree planting of the Pakistan Government needs strong support through public participation. Enforcement of laws against deforestation and illegal tree cutting must be strictly policed.
High population growth rates impede resource sustainability. Demand for high living and more mouths to feed are sources of expanded resource pressures. To provide resource relief an effective policy and program of Family Planning of the 1960s must be reinstituted.
Wildlife habitat, whatever remains of it in the country, must be protected, preserved and expanded. Animals need to live in their natural surroundings. Preserving and rebuilding animal habitat is an effective strategy to block the entry of microbes into human bodies.
A stark reality in Pakistan and across the world that continues to be unrecognized is the spread of microbes and pathogens. It is not the fault of animals. It is the fault of man and his greed and follies. The warnings to this effect have gone unheeded. It is high time that man must learn to respect nature.
The national environmental protection agency should be established in each country under a high command such as under the president or prime minister. This or similar measures can ensure strict implementation of a national program of nature’s renewal. The coming generation will surely enjoy and appreciate it.
In conclusion, we must not forget that planet earth is Nature’s gift to man to keep in trust. It has taken over four and a half billion years to evolve earth into its present form. Mother earth is a part of a complex universal system supporting life. To bargain its health for greed and follies is a cheap shot by a man. Man’s abuses are wrecking the balance of nature. This sordid behaviour of man is no less than an invitation to self-suicide. The selfish actions of man are sinful inviting divine intervention. Dinosaurs met a doomsday fate even though they were innocent. Should the man be spared the ultimate punishment for his abuses? Remember, saving the earth is saving life and man’s presence on mother earth.