The coronavirus world pandemic arises from our unwillingness to respect the interdependence between ourselves, other animal species and the natural world more generally. Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. We clear forests and remove habitat, bringing wild animals closer to human settlements. And we hunt and sell wildlife, often endangered, increasing the risk of disease transmission from animals to humans. The list of diseases that have jumped from animals to humans (“zoonotic diseases”) includes HIV, Ebola, Zika, Hendra, SARS, MERS and bird flu. To put this into perspective, 3 out of 4 new infectious diseases in people come from animals – from wildlife and from the livestock we keep in ever-larger numbers.
Human health depends on healthy ecosystems. If we are to constrain the emergence of new infections and future pandemics, we must stop our exploitation and degradation of the natural world. The health, social, and economic consequences of COVID-19 should act as a wake-up call for all governments to take stock, carefully consider the evidence, and ensure post COVID-19 responses reverse our war on nature. Because – as pioneering 20th century conservationist Rachel Carson argued, “a war on nature is ultimately a war against ourselves”.