There is more to worry about the earth’s environment than just worrying about nature and the weather. Yes, it is deeply concerning that the polar ice caps are melting, wildfires are running rampant across drylands, and animal species are going extinct at alarming rates. But there are more issues that human interference in nature is causing. The way our increasingly consumer-driven society is interacting with nature isn’t just killing the planet; it’s killing us.
The way that humans have pillaged the planet while trying to keep up with ravenous consumer demand is affecting the health of our bodies. Look no further than infectious diseases like malaria, SARS, the avian flu, and now, COVID-19. Experts have linked the rise of infectious diseases like these to the slaughter of wild animals.
Notably, the novel coronavirus has been attributed to the unregulated sale of bats and pangolins in Chinese wet markets. These animals are considered luxury items in certain Chinese communities — a symbol of wealth and status; a symptom of market demand.
“Over 60% of the emerging infectious diseases we’ve seen over the last several decades have been from wildlife populations,” said Planetary Health Alliance director Sam Myers to Ensia, a non-profit media outlet that focuses on our changing planet. “And we know that the emergence of those diseases has been intensifying.”
And animal slaughtering isn’t the only thing that has had a net-negative consequence to our global health.
The consequences of deforestation also directly impact the spread of infectious diseases like malaria. Research has shown that deforestation significantly increases malaria transmission in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. A study conducted by Brazilian epidemiologist Maria Anice Mureb Sallum showed that 20% of the risk of catching malaria in highly deforested areas can be directly attributed to the lucrative global coffee and cocoa bean trade. In other words: humans’ incessant greed for coffee and chocolate is, in effect, making us sick — literally.
Sallum explained that “low-income countries pay for their cash crop export incomes with a burden from increased malaria risk.” Much like the effects of carbon emissions on climate change, global governments are accepting the environmental damages in trade for economic gain. But governments can no longer write off the damages as purely environmental — the science shows that human lives are being lost due to the effects of our rampant consumerism.
Consumers keep on demanding “luxury” items like exotic animal meat, flashy SUVs, and unethically-sourced coffee and chocolate, and the market keeps on providing us with them. But these things come at a heavy cost. And while governments didn’t seem to care very much when the price was hotter temperatures or freak weather events, the advent of COVID-19 devastating humanity and the global economy might serve as a wake-up call.
As Justin Adams, executive director of the Tropical Forest Alliance, told Ensia: “I hope it [the pandemic] creates more fertile ground for a deeper discussion about what and how we can transform these [economic] systems because it’s the systems that are broken.”
In the end, nature will always find a way to course-correct (as a wise man once said, “Life finds a way.”). Humans, however, might not have that same fate.