Robert Swan, OBE, the arctic explorer turned environmentalist, once said “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”. Faced with massive problems like climate change, loss of biodiversity, pandemics and antibiotic resistance, it is tempting to think either that these challenges are unsurmountable, or that they will only be solved by governments, ideally cooperating with each other. The fact is, however, that the choices that we, as individuals, make can produce a significant difference. As I have indicated in my previous post, reducing the amount of meat, particularly beef, that we eat could have a major beneficial effect not just on one of these threats, but on all of them.
I have always been a bit ambivalent about eating meat. I like the taste of beef, chicken, lamb and, to a lesser extent, pork, but I have always been aware that if I had needed to kill the relevant animal to eat its flesh, I (to coin a phrase) wouldn’t have had the guts to do it. I suspect that I am by no means alone in this. Most meat-eating humans finding beef or chicken nicely packaged in a supermarket fridge don’t give much thought to the “process” that has brought it there!
But consider the following facts. Today, we ourselves, together with the livestock we rear for food, constitute 96% of the mass of all mammals on the planet. Only 4% is everything else from elephants to badgers, from moose to monkeys. And 70% of all birds alive at this moment are poultry – mostly chickens for us to eat. We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly. If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk.
David Attenborough in the Foreword to “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review”.
On the face of it, 2020 was a bit of a disaster regarding environmental issues. It was supposed to be the year of climate action, culminating with ambitious emission-cutting targets at the UN Climate Talks, COP26, in my home city of Glasgow in November. Unfortunately, our old friend SARS-CoV-2 put paid to that plan, though it has been rescheduled for November this year. While the virus reminded humanity how fragile it actually was, the planet continued to heat up, with 2020 turning out to be the joint hottest year on record. The year was marked by horrendous fires in the Amazon, and in the western United States. The Atlantic hurricane season was also the most active on record.
There were, however, one or two glimmers of hope. The European Green Deal has tackling climate change at its centre. Major economies, including China, the UK, France and Japan have made net-zero carbon pledges (although, in the UK at least, one would be cynical about any promises made by the Government).
Well, here we are in 2021! The UK has finally left the European Union, and I am really struggling to decide what to do with all the lovely sovereignty that I now have. I just feel so free! It’s enough to make me want to stride down the street clad only in my Union Jack underpants! But enough (for now) of the political disaster that is Brexit, 2020 has been a nightmare in so many other ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has already killed over 1.8 million people worldwide, and it is currently creating absolute chaos in Europe, especially the UK, partly due to the high prevalence of idiocy in our population (especially among the Government), but also due to the emergence of a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 known as UK B117, which is much more easily transmitted than the original version of the virus.
At this time of year you tend to get articles that look back over the previous year. Bearing in mind how horrendous 2020 has been for most people, a number of these this year have sought glimmers of good news among the gloom.
“When the Last Tree Is Cut Down, the Last Fish Eaten, and the Last Stream Poisoned, You Will Realize That You Cannot Eat Money.”
Zoonoses (human infections of animal origin) have become increasingly important in recent decades. Viral infections in this category include HIV, Ebola, and the Coronavirus diseases MERS, SARS, and most recently COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2. This is not an accident: it results from the relentless tendency of humans to plunder ecosystems without regard for the consequences.
President Donald Trump has made a number of references in the past, and made a few more in his recent 4th July Address to the Nation, to the fact that SARS-CoV-2 originated in China. He always makes these remarks in a way that suggests (a) that China deliberately, or by negligence inflicted the virus on the World; and (b) that such a thing would never happen in the United States of America.