One Health: A New Way Forward


There has been talk on all sides about what we must do as a country and as a planet to come out of Covid19 and to build a better world. But few have had both the authority and the vision of recent statement by the experts at The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). So today we are going to talk about their ideas about how humanity is to blame for this virus and what we need to do to prevent another pandemic.

The Cause: Humanity

The first thing they argue is that regardless of individual country politics there is only one thing to blame for causing the virus in the first place, humanity. At the end of the day we have been massively encroaching on wildlife, destroying natural habitats and abused animal life in our care with cramped squalid conditions. Yes we can talk about Covid19 most likely starting in a wet market in Wuhan China, but we also need to remember H1N1 started in the US factory farm system. At the end of the day the common link here is a worldwide culture of rapid growth at the expense of the natural environment and human suffering. As the IPBES point out “Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people.” In other words, we can’t simply think of Covid19 as a one time case of bad luck, but as the inevitable result of how we treat the world we live in. Jane Goodall made the same point in a separate statement, pointing out a pandemic of this scale was predicted by scientists as only a matter of time and arguing that we’ve done this to ourselves. H1N1 was a warning we all ignored, and future pandemics like Covid19 are inevitable if we don’t make a radical course correction after this.

One Health

The IPBES’s second point is probably the most important and the most radical. They call for a future of One Health, the idea being that there is no such thing as the health of “nature” as a thing that’s separate and distant from us, there is only one planet and the health of the planet not just directly “affects us,” but is our health. This can be seen as a continuation of the approach championed by Timothy Morton and Bruno Latour, which to understand we need to go all the way back to Descarte. Rene Descartes is of course the enlightenment era philosopher famous for the thought experiment that spawned “I think therefore I am” and mind-body dualism. While much of the enlightenment has led to amazing modern wonders, we also are hitting a wall. The thing is, this approach that argues there is a real of the mind and a separate realm of inert matter leads to the conclusion that nature is this mechanical and entirely separate thing that we are free to explore and exploit as we will. But as Morton and Latour point out, this isn’t simply an ethically problematic view it is flat out incorrect. Everything from distant beehives pollinating future meals to the microbes inside us that aid our digestion are all part of us. And so as the IPBES argues, maintaining the environment is not simply an ethical choice or a consideration but is simply as common sense as taking care of your own personal health. 

The Way Forward

Taking this all together, the only way we move on from Covid19 then is to construct a post-covid stimulus package and policy agenda that not only keeps the current environmental protection laws going but strengthens them and radically shift towards a more eco-friendly future. Laws designed to curb deforestation, fight global warming, end abusive factory farming practices, and protect biodiversity are just as important as increasing access to medical supplies, creating stockpiles of medical equipment, and ensuring our medical supply chains are operating well. The demand is already there, with everything from the fashion industry being disrupted by sustainable fashion advocates to picking up ocean plastic becoming a hashtag, to vegan food reshaping our quizine, But in order to really move forward with a better world post-covid we need to “confront the vested interests that oppose transformative change, and to end ‘business as usual’.” Environmentalism is no longer a matter of debate, and so what we need now isn’t new opinions but new actions and transformative change.

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