The giving tree (mother nature) and our consumerist attitude

An Opinion Piece by Anshika Singh: Recently, I was storytelling with my three-and-a-half year-old son. I felt sorry for our coming generation in so many ways. It was a very famous story known as “The giving tree” by Shel Silverstein, which describes beautifully how the consumerist attitude of human beings destroy not only our mother nature but also leaves us helpless and unhappy at the end (You may read it here https://www.slideshare.net/wicaksana/the-giving-tree-3293089). It also made me wonder if we can ever learn from our mistakes and understand the importance of our environment to change our consumerist behaviour. There is no denying that this year, 2020, has been a really tough time for the whole human population, but it is also giving us a chance to sit back and think wisely on how to treat and protect our mother nature and adopt practices that can change our consumerist behaviour towards it.

       (Note: This figure is adapted and modified from the original image by Shel Silverstein.)

     “The giving tree is now giving you corona instead of apples and wood.”

Today, the whole world’s focus is on solving just one problem: “the pandemic Covid -19”. But we should not forget that there are even bigger problems that are waiting if we do not sit back, rethink and change our attitude towards this planet. Nobody can deny the fact that there is an obvious relationship between this new pandemic, climate change and a decrease in biodiversity. It has been well established based on several recent outbreaks (such as Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Nipah and Hendra) that bats are reservoirs for several viruses capable of species crossing (Elshabrawy et al. 2014). These viruses do not affect bats or can just cause mild asymptotic conditions due to their immune systems (such as high metabolic rates during flight, elevated basal heat-shock protein expression, loss of the interferon-inducible protein 20X/16 (PYHIN) protein etc.) (Lorentzen et al. 2020). On the other hand, these viruses can cause high morbidity and mortality in other animals and humans.

Why is this happening?

Habitat destruction and climate change are two root causes for the decrease in biodiversity due to a) shifting habitats, b) changing geographical conditions and c) altering the tolerance range of living organisms (Roe et al. 2020). Moreover, land use change can bring wild animals closer to human populations and livestock, thus giving proper conditions for spillover events. A similar situation also emerges at wildlife trade markets or bush meat markets where bats, pangolins, and other animals that can carry deadly viruses are crammed together. Most of the viruses (for example Coronaviruses, Nipah viruses, or Rabies lyssavirus) use bats as their main reservoir.  Sometimes, viruses transmit to humans through an intermediate host. For instance, coronaviruses that cause SARS, MERS and COVID-19 are believed to have bats as their reservoir and may use several intermediate hosts, e.g. mongoose, camels, snakes, crocodiles and apes to spread in the human population.

Humans have emerged as the major consumers in terms of their share on the planet, an restrict the biomass of wild species of mammals (~5500 species) to only 4%. 96% belongs to humans and our livestock.  Destruction of habitat is the biggest reason for the emergence of novel diseases at an unprecedented rate.  Habitat destruction and unregulated poaching have led to increased human-wildlife contact, thereby resulting in several emerging infectious diseases (EIDs). However, in past few years, these EIDs are turning into epidemics and pandemics due to certain demographic factors (such as high human population growth, denser settlement, poor economic status, and increased migration and travel) (Roe et al. 2020). 

What do we need to do?

  1. We need a better-regulated wildlife trade, with a complete ban on illegal activity to prevent the risk of future pandemics and support sustainable use of wild resources. Certain wild species (such as e.g. bats, rodents, and primates) which are the best reservoirs for several zoonotic diseases should be completely banned from poaching and wild trade. There should be a well-designed check-lists for both domestic and wild food supply chains, hygiene, storage, captive conditions and maintenance of stocks in markets which should be approved and accepted internationally  (Wiebers and Feigin 2020).
  2. We need to avoid habitat destruction at every cost. There has been extensive destruction of forest cover. To prevent this, we need transformational policy shifts only possible if both government and the public work in synergy and understand the cost of unplanned and unjustified development (= consumerism). We need to come up with innovative ways to use the available space for our further expansion which should be well justified and planned.
  3. It is necessary to a) involve local people in national and international decision- making about nature conservation, b) respect their local and traditional knowledge about the region and c) understand their livelihood dependence that particular region. Collaborative partnerships between local communities, government and private sectors should be established to provide innovative solutions to all the common concerns. Any policy can only be truly successful when it receives full support from the local population (Wiebers and Feigin 2020).
  4. We need to put a limit to ourselves in terms of our numbers (population size) and our consumerist behaviour. We need to look for sustainable alternatives so that we all can co-exist. Population control requires the involvement of strict laws by the government and support from the public. In my opinion, population control is the only and the most effective solution to most of our problems. Moreover, we should also try to adopt alternative ways of living so that we can reduce our carbon footprints. (You can calculate your footprint here http://www.footprintcalculator.org/ and then start to think about innovative ways to minimize them)

This is the right time to reanalyze our relationship with all life on this planet before it’s too late. We must feel this deeper inter-connection and understand the concept of One World- One Health, which implies we can only exist if we let others co-exist. So, let’s not just be the RECEIVER, and start GIVING back to the mother nature.

References:

Elshabrawy, H. A., J. Fan, C. S. Haddad, K. Ratia, C. C. Broder, M. Caffrey & B. S. Prabhakar, 2014. Identification of a broad-spectrum antiviral small molecule against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus and Ebola, Hendra, and Nipah viruses by using a novel high-throughput screening assay. Journal of virology 88(8):4353-4365.

Lorentzen, H. F., T. Benfield, S. Stisen & C. Rahbek, 2020. COVID-19 is possibly a consequence of the anthropogenic biodiversity crisis and climate changes. Danish Medical Journal 67(5):A205025.

Roe, D., A. Dickman, R. Kock, E. Milner-Gulland & E. Rihoy, 2020. Beyond banning wildlife trade: COVID-19, conservation and development. World Development 136:105121.

Wiebers, D. O. & V. L. Feigin, 2020. What the COVID-19 crisis is telling humanity. Neuroepidemiology:1.

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