Shreyan Mitra '23
Let us begin this discussion by clarifying that this piece is in no way another reminder of the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic nor a polemic aimed at the energy and agricultural giants. Rather, it will be a generic analysis of our recent history with pandemics and two common factors that deserve some consideration: biodiversity and sustainability. For the sake of brevity, we will define the former as the “variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life” and the latter as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
The world has experienced five different epidemics and pandemics in the last ten years. These were the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002, the Swine Flu in 2009, the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, the Ebola outbreak in 2014, and the ongoing SARS-nCoV-2 pandemic. All five are classified as viral infections, all five were unexpected, but (and perhaps most importantly) all five viruses originated in animals. SARS’s origin is unknown, Swine Flu came from pigs, MERS from camels, Ebola from bats, and the new coronavirus from either bats or wet market pangolins. All of these are zoonoses, meaning they are a result of animal-human transmittance. According to an article by the editors of Scientific American, “Three-quarters of the emerging pathogens that infect humans leaped from animals, many of them creatures in the forest habitats that we are slashing and burning… The more we clear, the more we come into contact with wildlife that carries microbes well suited to kill us.” In short, as we destroy large swathes of land that house intricate yet substantial ecosystems, the species that were once sheltered from humanity and developed immunity to certain diseases through biodiversity and natural selection expose those diseases to us. The only logical course of a virus is outward, and hence it propagates through the human population.
Of course, deforestation and “slashing and burning” aren’t the only ways in which we can introduce a novel disease into society. A common practice in tropical regions in Africa, Asia, and South America is bushmeat hunting, which involves killing wildlife either for consumption or for money. This method of hunting has proven unsustainable and a significant factor in the decline of biodiversity in the aforementioned areas. Wildlife hunting kills animals in an area much faster than they can reproduce, denying them the chance to evolve and undergo natural selection properly. Consuming those species, however, is often more harmful given that they carry unique diseases. In fact, all viruses of the Ebolavirus family are believed to have come from fruit bats, the virus’s natural reservoirs. When humans kill these animals for their meat, the chance of transmission increases drastically. Luckily for the rest of the world, the Ebola epidemic was contained thanks to better restrictions on bushmeat and did not spread past its epicenters. On the other hand, the world wasn’t so lucky when the coronavirus got out of Wuhan’s wet markets and spread to the rest of the world, though other factors are certainly at play in its relatively swift global diffusion.
As our leadership outlines an in-person return to school and some of us accept that plan, it is a given that we keep regulations and recommendations in mind while retaining our Close values. In discussions on biodiversity and sustainability, we tend to concern ourselves with the future of our family, our school, our society, and our world. While human technology grows and better practices are established, what we think is “forward progress” may sometimes “backfire” on us one day. Be determined, but be considerate. Be innovative, but be mindful.