Environmental harm and diseases like COVID-19 are linked

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The world is out of balance due to human action and behaviour (image by Bertknot via Flickr).

In the 1700s, Chief Seattle, a powerful Native American figure, made many insightful predictions on the future of humanity, which live on in the 21st Century.

One of his most famous prophecies was:

“When the Earth is sick, the animals will begin to disappear, when that happens, the Warriors of the Rainbow will come to save them."

Unfortunately, Australia, along with most western nations has no warriors of the rainbow. As the perils of COVID-19 cloud this ancient land, we’re forced to witness legions of uncaring, irresponsible, greedy, people who have no thought for anyone but themselves: exposing the rest of us to potentially dire consequences. 

Five cruise ships with infected passengers were allowed to dock in Sydney without any testing, a terrifying scenario of gross mismanagement.

On the weekend, Bondi Beach was jammed with thousands of beachgoers.

In Byron Bay, thousands of tourists continued to pour into the town over the weekend. Pubs, cafes, restaurants and streets full to bursting with people. No social distancing, no thought for the people living in Byron. Locals are pretty scared, knowing that the Bay is likely to be a “ hot spot” given the carelessness.

In an atmosphere dark with anxiety, horror stories and drastic life changes, the foundation of this awful virus continues to be ignored. The message is there.  

It’s centuries old.  

When habitat and wildlife are destroyed disease is created. Whoever imagined that planet earth, experiencing its sixth great extinction, would somehow escape the ramifications is living in fantasy land?

An article by John Vidal uncovers research on the destruction of habitat and loss of biodiversity which are creating the perfect conditions for diseases like COVID-19 to emerge.   

He writes that this catastrophic global loss may demonstrate the novel Coronavirus is 'just the beginning of mass pandemics.'

In 1996, Ebola spilled out of the forest in a wave of small epidemics. 21 of 37 villagers became infected, including those who had carried, skinned, chopped and eaten a chimpanzee from the forest.

Vidal quotes David Quannem, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic

We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses.


We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.

According to Vidal’s article, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of “new or emerging” diseases that infect humans originate in nonhuman animals. Bats, snakes, turtles, pangolins have all been identified as  “virus reservoirs”.

As far back as 2001, a study identified the implications of emerging infectious diseases of humans and wildlife:

Emerging wildlife diseases cause direct and indirect loss of biodiversity and add to the threat of zoonotic disease emergence. Since human environmental changes are largely responsible for their emergence, the threats wildlife EIDs pose to biodiversity and human health represent yet another consequence of anthropogenic influence on ecosystems.

There are over 200 zoonotic diseases.

Examples of zoonotic diseases are:

  • Animal flu;
  • Anthrax;
  • Bird flu;
  • Bovine tuberculosis;
  • Campylobacter infection;
  • Cat scratch fever;
  • Ebola;
  • Salmonellosis;
  • Bubonic plague;
  • Mad cow disease; and
  • Rabies

A UN global assessment report released last year illustrated a shocking picture:

According to the report, nature is being destroyed at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years. More than a million species are at risk of extinction, natural ecosystems have declined by about 47% and the biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82%. All of this is largely because of human activity. 

Australia significantly upped the ante with a deadly combination of drought, bushfires and unprecedented environmental destruction.

The recent bushfires and drought have seen a calamitous loss of biodiversity. Australians scientists estimated 1.25 billion animals were lost. Drought has also wreaked havoc on wildlife.

In December 2019, the extent of baby bat deaths, according to media reports, threatens the future of forests. As a “keystone species”, bats pollinate and disperse native forests. Without bats, trees disappear along with birds, koalas and other forest biodiversity. 

More than 84,000 hectares including eucalypts which provide nectar from their blossoms for the bats burned out in December.

The severity of Australia’s biodiversity loss is yet to be understood. Our natural support systems, ecosystems which provide healthy environments on which we depend, were already severely stressed.  Many have been wiped out.  

Environmental disasters have piled one on top of the other since right-wing governments came to power. 

Deforestation, climate change, massive urbanisation, the Great Barrier Reef, biodiversity loss, are now items on an ever-growing list. COVID-19 may be just a forerunner of things to come.

The earth has over-reached its carrying capacity. Like all organisms, destruction results in other life forms, ones that may be deadly to the human race. Given the current circumstances, it’s unlikely that rainbow warriors will arise from the ashes.

Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.

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