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The pandemic: A consequence of our destructiveness

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The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a warning of what will accompany our upsetting of the balance of diversity and it is a warning which we would do well to heed, writes Bilal Cleland.

THE "AGE OF CRISES" has already begun to reshape thinking about our modern society and its relationship with the environment. 

This Age has brought about the conjunction between critical analysis of the direction of capitalism, the world of indigenous cultures and Islamic thinking.

In March this year, indigenous leaders from around the world gathered in New York City, for a panel on indigenous rights, deforestation and related health endemics.

Co-ordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB) Sucre Romero said:

“The coronavirus reminds us that the balance of the Earth is in danger, and we need to maintain our delicate balance of diversity…More than 25 per cent of medicine comes from forests. If we lose our forests, we lose our medicines, too.”

Managing director First Nations Forward Emilee Gilpin said in the National Observer:

 “The coronavirus is telling the world what indigenous peoples have been saying for thousands of years — if we do not help protect biodiversity and nature, we will face this and even worse threats.”

This stance of indigenous peoples echoes Ahmet Keeler in Rethinking Islam and the West: A New Narrative for the Age of Crises:

'Deep thought is being invested in trying to understand what is happening and to find a better way of living sustainably on earth. Many are recognising the wisdom contained within pre-modern cultures, and are seeking to preserve, practice and promote traditional husbandry, health and knowledge systems.'

Like Romero, Keeler points to the loss of balance in our world:

'Our Age of Crises can be seen as a result of the loss of balance that has taken place in our modern way of life; the balance between the material and the spiritual, and between ourselves and the environment in which we live.'

The loss of balance in the mad crusade to conquer nature and subjugate it to mankind is having terrible consequences which have already put a third of the planet in lockdown and social isolation.

A number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as COVID-19.

The "spillover"

In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

David Quammen’s  2012 book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, served as a warning as observed in the New York Times:

'Animal microbes are on the loose. Historically, some 60 per cent of the infections that plague humankind, from influenza to HIV and bubonic plague, originated in the bodies of other animals.'

Quammen writes of the "NBOs" — the next big ones.'Will the Next Big One come out of a rain forest or a market in southern China?' he asks. 'Will the Next Big One kill' 30 million or 40 million people? He makes you dread that sneeze at the back of the bus.

'When the trees fall, and the native animals are slaughtered, the native germs fly like dust from a demolished warehouse,' or, as he puts it more simply elsewhere:

'Shake a tree, and things fall out.'

Climate change and disease

Alongside this destruction of the natural environment is the rapid acceleration of climate change, bringing its own cluster of potential disasters.

The frozen lands of the northern hemisphere, in Russia particularly, are warming up. The temperature in the Arctic Circle is rising quickly, about three times faster than in the rest of the world.

The permafrost is melting and it is releasing the unknown.

Says France's Aix-Marseille University evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie

'Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen and it is dark. Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past.'

In a 2011 study, Boris Revich and Marina Podolnaya wrote:

'As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back, especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.'

Crises accumulate with the advance of global warming, the migration of cyclones from the tropics, spreading areas of drought and floods, the increasing inhospitable interiors of continents and rising sea levels as the polar ice melts.

Alongside this, the destruction of forests, the cultivation of land unsuited to that purpose and the destruction and consuming of animals which carry pathogens into the human population, exterminate the very biodiversity upon which we have relied.

The most recent pandemic of COVID-19, which may only be the first of many such horrifying attacks upon humanity, serves as a warning of what will accompany our upsetting of the balance of diversity.

It is a warning which we would do well to heed.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

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