There’s the plain after which there may be what needs to be apparent. The plain is that the coronavirus pandemic has introduced a lot of the human world to a standstill. Many international locations are in lockdown. Thus far, greater than 1.7 million have been contaminated, greater than 100,000 have died, and billions dwell in concern that the numbers of sick and lifeless will rise exponentially. Economies are in recession, with all of the hardship that entails for human well-being.
What needs to be apparent, however might not be to many, is that none of this could come as a shock. That there can be one other pandemic was completely predictable, despite the fact that the exact timing of its emergence and the form of its trajectory weren’t. And there is a vital sense during which the pandemic is of our personal making as people. A pandemic might look like a wholly pure catastrophe, however it’s typically — even perhaps often — not.
The coronavirus arose in animals and jumped the species barrier to people after which unfold with human-to-human transmission. It is a frequent phenomenon. Most — and a few imagine all — infectious ailments are of this sort (zoonotic). That in itself doesn’t put them inside the realm of human duty. Nonetheless, many zoonotic ailments come up due to the methods during which people deal with animals. The “moist” markets of China are a main instance. They’re the seemingly supply not solely of Covid-19 but additionally of Extreme Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and a few outbreaks of avian influenza, for instance. (One other doable supply of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 could also be one of many many combined wildlife-livestock farms in China, however people are answerable for these, too.)
The “moist” markets, that are discovered not solely in China but additionally in another East Asian international locations, have a variety of options that makes them particularly conducive to spawning infectious zoonotic ailments. Reside animals are housed in extraordinarily cramped situations till they’re slaughtered available in the market for individuals who have bought them. In these situations, infections are simply transmitted from one animal to a different. As a result of new animals are frequently being dropped at market, a illness could be unfold by way of a series of an infection from one animal to others that arrive available in the market a lot later. The proximity to people, coupled with the flood of blood, excrement and different bodily fluids and elements, all facilitate the an infection of people. As soon as transmission from human to human happens, an epidemic is the anticipated final result, until the issue is rapidly contained. World air journey can convert epidemic to pandemic inside weeks or months — precisely because it did with the coronavirus.
It’s these very situations that facilitate the emergence of latest infectious ailments and that additionally inflict horrific harms on animals — being stored in confined situations after which butchered. Merely put, the coronavirus pandemic is a results of our gross maltreatment of animals.
Those that suppose that it is a Chinese language drawback relatively than a human one ought to suppose once more. There is no such thing as a scarcity of zoonoses which have emerged from human maltreatment of animals. The more than likely origin of H.I.V. (human immunodeficiency virus), for instance, is S.I.V. (simian immunodeficiency virus), and the more than likely means during which it crossed the species barrier is thru blood of a nonhuman primate butchered for human consumption. Equally, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob illness most likely had its origins in its bovine analogue — bovine spongiform encephalopathy (B.S.E.), or “mad cow illness.” Essentially the most possible mechanism of transmission is thru human consumption of contaminated cattle.
Sooner or later, we must always totally count on our maltreatment of animals to wreak havoc on our personal species. Along with future pandemics, we face the very actual danger of breeding antibiotic resistance. The foremost contributor to that is the use of antibiotics in the animal agriculture industry, as a growth promoter (to bring animals to slaughter weight as quickly as possible) and to curb the spread of infections among animals reared in cruel intensive “factory farmed” conditions.
It is entirely possible that the human future will involve a return to the pre-antibiotics era, in which people died in droves from infections that have been effectively treated since the discovery of penicillin and other early antibacterial agents. If so, it may turn out that the antibiotics era was a brief interlude between two much longer periods in human history in which we succumbed in large numbers to bacterial infections. That prospect, which is even more awful than the current crisis, is no less real for that. We, as a species, know about this problem, but we have not yet done what needs to be done to avert it (or at least minimize the chances of its happening).
What these and many other examples show is that harming animals can lead to considerable harm to humans. This provides a self-interested reason — in addition to the even stronger moral reasons — for humans to treat animals better. The problem is that even self-interest is an imperfect motivator. For all the puffery in calling ourselves Homo sapiens, the “wise human,” we display remarkably little wisdom, even of a prudential kind.
This is not to deny the many intellectual achievements of humankind. However, they are combined with many cognitive and moral shortcomings, including undue confidence in our ability to solve problems. In general, humans respond to pandemics rather than act to prevent them — we attempt to prevent their spread after they emerge and to develop treatments for those infected. The current crisis demonstrates the folly of this approach. The closest we come to prevention is the effort to develop vaccines. But even this sort of prevention is a kind of reaction. Vaccines are developed in response to viruses that have already emerged. As the coronavirus experience shows, there can be a significant lag between that emergence and the development of a safe and effective vaccine, during which time great damage can be done both by the virus and by attempts to prevent its spread.
Real prevention requires taking steps to minimize the chances of the virus or other infectious agents emerging in the first place. One of a number of crucial measures would be a more intelligent — and more compassionate — appraisal of our treatment of nonhuman animals, and concomitant action.
Some might say that it is insensitive to highlight human responsibility for the current pandemic while we are in the midst of it. Isn’t it unseemly to rub our collective nose in this mess of our own making? Such concerns are misplaced. Earlier warnings of the dangers of our behavior, offered in less panicked times, went unheeded. Of course, it is entirely possible that even if we are now momentarily awakened, we will soon forget the lessons. There is plenty of precedent for that. However, given the importance of what lies in the balance, it is better to risk a little purported insensitivity than to pass up an opportunity to encourage some positive change. Millions of lives and the avoidance of much suffering are at stake.
David Benatar is a professor of philosophy and the director of the Bioethics Center at the University of Cape Town. His most recent book is “The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions.”
Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.
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