…to disease, which is novel and unsettling in a era of advanced medicine that has allowed us to reasonably expect long lives.
It’s like going back a century, before antibiotics and a sophisticated understanding of disease, when you lived your life knowing that you were in a cosmic lottery–and that any moment an unexpected disease could take everything. That is of course still true today, but much, much, less likely than in previous eras.
Our first instinct in the current pandemic is to shut everything down and shelter for maximum protection. But it is hard to imagine humanity living like this for the next year or more in the absence of a vaccine or cure. So maybe, in and Age Of Pandemic, we will have to learn to live as our forbears lived: bravely and pursuing our goals while never really knowing how long we have.
Life will be less secure but perhaps more intense. Less predictable but perhaps more urgent. Lots of the less fortunate on the planet already live like this. Now everyone will.
Reduced ship traffic is yet one more way wildlife–marine mammals, especially whales in this case–is benefitting from the global pandemic lockdown:
“We have a generation of humpbacks that have never known a quiet ocean,” said Fournet, whose work has shown that the whales alter their calling behaviour in response to a noisy ocean.
Late April usually marks the beginning of the cruise ship season in south-east Alaska, with the boats docking at Vancouver before heading north. This year the health crisis has halted them.
“What we know about whales in south-east Alaska is that when it gets noisy they call less, and when boats go by they call less,” said Fournet.
“I expect what we might see is an opportunity for whales to have more conversation and to have more complex conversation.”
Long may it last.
The pandemic is making whaling a difficult business, and that is squeezing Icelandic whalers hard:
Icelandic whaling company IP-Utgerd announced April 24 that it is stopping whaling completely, while the country’s largest whaling firm, Hvalur hf., says it won’t be hunting any whales for the second year in a row.
IP-Utgerd, which mainly targeted minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), cited financial difficulties after no-fishing zones were extended off the Icelandic coast, forcing its boats to go further and further offshore. Hvalur, which hunts threatened fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) as well as minke whales, is ceasing operations because of stiff competition with Japan, among other reasons, according to Kristján Loftsson, the company’s CEO.
One company down. Another teetering.
…to get these markets and the wildlife trade shut down for good, then we are going in circles. Viral circles:
In a bustling meat market on a tourist island in Indonesia on 7 April, a pile of dead bats is laid out for sale on a table next to cuts of fresh pork while a butcher angrily shoos away a customer trying to take pictures of the scene on his iPhone.
Two thousand miles north and two days earlier, cats are crammed into filthy cages in a market in Guangxi province in southwest China where different species are piled haphazardly on top of each other and slaughtered side by side on a concrete floor splattered with dirt, blood and animal parts.
On 26 March, in the southern province of Guangdong neighbouring Hong Kong, a traditional medicine seller offers remedies made with bats and scorpions to treat ailments ranging from shoulder pain and rheumatism to mosquito bites.
…and why it is a key pandemic vector:
This expanding industrial footprint has accelerated the flow of pathogens into new territories around the world. In Central Africa, the growth of bushmeat hunting—linked to a dearth of local fish due to Chinese and EU overfishing—has spread monkeypox, a smallpox-like virus, from rodents to humans. In China, the growing prosperity of the middle class has led to an increased demand for the luxury “yewei” cuisine, which revolves around the consumption of rare, exotic wild animals; live animal (or “wet”) markets, where such wild animals are sold, have grown accordingly. These wet markets facilitated the emergence of SARS-CoV-1 in bats, civet cats, and humans in 2002 and, some speculate, the novel coronavirus in 2019. And in southeast Asia, rising incomes have led to the increased consumption of pork and the growth of pig farms. The expansion of swine farming in Malaysia precipitated the transmission of Nipah virus from bats to pigs and then humans in 1998; similarly, in China, the expansion of swine farming has led to the frequent emergence of highly virulent forms of avian influenza viruses and antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
And more on “wet markets,” and why shutting them down is a complicated question:
Among today’s wet markets, you’ll find some that sell no live animals whatsoever, just slaughtered animals and produce; some that carry common live animals like chickens or fish; and some that sell wildlife like bats and snakes.
While US lawmakers and other public figures talk about wanting to ban wet markets writ large, what they seem to really want to ban is the sale of wild animals — or perhaps any live animals — that sometimes occurs there. (Presumably they would have no problem with the wet markets that carry only slaughtered meat and produce; after all, the US is full of such markets.)
Which is why (can’t refrain), the most comprehensive solution would be evolution toward plant-based diets. Just saying.
Call it Globalism 2.0, and if climate change hadn’t already made clear that humanity needs to start acting more like a family than a chaotic (and violent) gaggle of competing clans, then the prospect of future pandemics certainly does:
Pandemics may become the new normal.
But that doesn’t have to be. Pandemics are preventable, and the world can do three things to prevent them.
A pandemic, because it affects individuals much more directly than climate change, may be just the sort of wake-up humanity needs to start transcending nationalism and competitive capitalism and start finding our way towards an era of global cooperation and common purpose. Emphasis on “may be”…
Yes, yes it is…
Imagine a world where facts changed minds. The United Nations, governments and everyone with influence would now be saying we should abandon meat or at a minimum cut down on consumption. Perhaps my reading is not as wide as it should be, but I have heard nothing of the sort argued. Making the case would be child’s play and would not be confined to emphasising that Covid-19 probably jumped species in Wuhan’s grotesque wet markets. The Sars epidemic of 2002-04 began in Guangdong, probably in bats, and then spread to civet cats, sold in markets and eaten in restaurants. The H7N9 strain of bird flu began in China, once again, and moved to humans from diseased poultry.
The question is: can we somehow transcend the powerfully ingrained meat culture and re-invent our relationship with animals.