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  • Mark Rowlands

What Goes Around Comes Around, Part 1

There is no longer any doubt. The most important environmental problems we face today are driven by the way we treat animals. Climate change, newly emerging infectious diseases, mass extinction of species: the way we treat other animals lies at the heart of all of these. Mass extinction: the current average rate of species extinction is several hundred to several thousand times the normal background rate. The reason is widely understood: changes in land use. For “changes in land use” read "agricultural expansion" – for that is the major driver of change in land use today. And for "agricultural expansion", read “pastoral expansion”. The vast majority of agricultural expansion involves converting forestland to grazing land or to arable land on which animal feed crops – principally soy – are grown. I remember a few years ago, when there was a bit of a hue and cry to the effect that vegans were just as responsible for deforestation of the Amazon as meat eaters, on the grounds that some of this deforestation was conducted in order to grow soy. Yes: but this overlooks the fact that almost all soy grown on this earth today is grown to feed not vegans but the animals that those of the non-vegan persuasion habitually eat.


The pandemic. I know there is a significant chance that SARS-C0V-2 escaped from a bio-research lab in Wuhan. In fact, the lab escape hypothesis is more-and-more assuming the role of bookies favorite. Nicholas Wade, for makes a good case for it here: https://thebulletin.org/2021/05/the-origin-of-covid-did-people-or-nature-open-pandoras-box-at-wuhan/.


Even if the bio-facility escape theory is true, however, we must remember that bio-research facilities usually don't study viruses on a whim.

Viruses become objects of study when they are deemed to pose a credible threat to human well-being. Credible threats are where the money is. So, if a bio-facility is conducting experiments on a coronavirus, for example, trying to make it more transmissible between humans, you can bet this is because a slight uptick in the transmissibility of a coronavirus would be very bad news and it would be good to know how to circumvent it. As we have all discovered this past year. But where do coronaviruses come from? Like all emerging infectious diseases, they come from an animal host. Almost all novel diseases come from animals - the animal reservoir, as it is known. They have to: if they came from us, they would, by definition, not be novel. And in what circumstances might an animal reservoir be tempted to bequeath us a nasty pathogen or two? The short answer, for novel diseases at least, is they do so when we encroach on the ancestral territory of the animal reservoir. More on that soon …


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