Deforestation and Viruses

Beef, soy, palm oil and wood products are four commodities that lead to a push towards deforestation. Besides the known ecological benefits of lush vegetation in such places as tropical rain-forests, scientists are now putting together a revealing, if disturbing scenario. At the edges of the world’s rain-forests deforestation is bringing people in closer contact with animals. Their habitats are being destroyed, they ravage for places to go and eat, and end up closer to humans. A consequence besides the hardship to the animal life is that this closer contact makes humans more susceptible to the viruses these animals or insects carry. Mosquitoes we know carry malaria, but they also hover over monkeys who may carry certain viruses and thus the mosquitoes carry them from the monkeys to humans. Yellow fever can be thus transmitted. Several diseases each have their trajectory, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, for example, can be traced to rodents. Ebola, is another disease that stems from contacts with humans at the forest‘s edge. Corona-virus as we know falls into that category too. The Sunda Pangolin who is able to survive in pockets of forests has contacts with animals such as bats which have contacts with humans, but the Sunda Pangolin, prized for its meat, skin and scales is also poached and illegally brought to Malaysia and Viet Nam and then into China, and there in a Wuhan wet market researchers think the corona-virus began.

Our ignorance too often leads us to ignore the inescapable connections that exist within the planetary system of living things. Still they are there and we ought to do better understanding them.

Talk of Changes

Prompted by the protest, ideas for needed changes are being talked about, written about and thought about. Here are three examples.

The NYT has been running a series called The America We Need. In that vein, a recent editorial by David Leonhardt addressed new research documenting the wage gap between blacks and whites since the gap is as large now as it was in the 50’s during segregation. Several ideas are being put forth by economists and others: Raising the pay for all working families, asking the wealthy to let go of legacy college admissions and favorable tax treatment, which among other things increase inequality, or even adopt profit sharing plans.

The Chamber of Commerce which has become a powerful conservative lobbying group, has published a report on the opportunities gap that hinders black Americans. It highlights that for blacks unemployment is twice that of whites. Blacks represent 12% of US workers but only 9% of business owners and have a much harder time obtaining financing. The Chamber has held events trying to find solutions.

Meanwhile the BBC carried a piece by Tara Westover where she calls attention to the changes needed to build a world where we can be one people, she talks about how Covid-19 has affected minorities disproportionately and asks us to rethink changes in education, so that we can end up in a world where class, education and profession do not divide us.

It’s hard to know what the results will be but it’s encouraging that talk of changes is coming from many different sources.

Beyond Our Current Problems

I woke up one morning as many surely do with a heavy heart—the persistence of racial injustice, a mismanaged pandemic and an administration which systematically depreciates and debases democratic institutions. Then as I do every day, I looked at my email and the newsletters it contains. I learned that 81% of people in Malawi are more concerned about hunger than they are about getting the virus. In Venezuela, hearses with coffins had to stop in the middle of streets, having run out of gas which is now in very short supply. There too fear of being infected is second to hunger. In Yemen and Syria to name but two, the ruination of the countries economically and politically makes it near impossible to be able to have any kind of normalcy.  And then I realized that not since the civil rights movement has there been so much commitment and awareness to resolve racial injustice, that a vaccine, at least one, will be found and we shall be able to live more safely again, that we will eventually be rid of this administration and even if the country is in tatters by then (as it surely will) we shall still be standing. And I realized one more thing that the problems of the US will end up far more easily resolved than those of Malawi, Venezuela, Yemen or Syria.  That said, my heart is still heavy for those millions suffering unjustly.

Christian Cooper’s Compassion

Surely you remember what happened recently in Central Park? Christian Cooper, a black man was bird watching in a remote region of the park early one morning and encountered a white young woman with a dog who was unleashed in a section where dogs are particularly to be leached. He mentioned that to her, they had words and he took a video. She replied by calling 911 saying “An African American man is threatening my life.” Fortunately his sister was there and took a video of the incident thus sparing him arrest. The video of the incident including her call went viral and Amy Cooper (no relation) ended up losing her job at a big Manhattan financial firm and the organization through which she had adopted her dog took him back. The NYT interviewed Christian Cooper a couple of days afterwards and his reaction is so noteworthy, it merits mention.

“I’m not excusing the racism. But I don’t know if her life needed to be torn apart,” he said. And then he added, “If this painful process…helps to correct, or takes us a step further towards addressing the underlying racial, horrible assumptions that we African –Americans have to deal with, and have dealt with for centuries, that this woman tapped into, then it’s worth it.”  He also added. “Sadly it had to come at her expense.”

Looks like we can consider ourselves inspired by compassion and wisdom!