Our Inseparable Connection To Our Greater Ecology…

Life, as we’ve all known has been for the most part, upended. But the natural world lives and carries on. With human activities significantly reduced, nature’s wild creatures resume life as they know it. But things for some of them too, have changed. Suddenly the world is a bit quieter. Eerily so, even I can see a difference in the skies from my window. Things look and feel different. There is a bit more breathing room for earth’s critters as humanity takes a seat on the sidelines.

I myself, find a bit of reprieve from the normal noises our world produces near my home. As I write this, my partner and I notice a singing bird just outside. The bird’s lovely song melodiously dances with an impressive clarity, as if amplified. As things are quieted, noises near home are replaced with natural sounds. To listen to it’s song is a nice breath away from the dreary daily global news currently affecting us all.

For just about all of my life, the natural world has been unquestionably, our most precious asset. Its worth to me: forever and always priceless. To consider the life-giving nature, of well, nature as indispensable always made sense. However, too often, humanity’s actions have persisted seemingly oblivious to this “far-out and radical” notion. Though belittled and laughed at for harboring such care and concern for nature’s wild character and creatures, I’ve remained unshaken of this impression. Dismissed for carrying such naive, outlandish and unfounded concerns for nature, humanity’s status quo never seemed to share the same sentiments. Possibly seen by some as mere belief on my part. “Believing” that we owed everything we are, and have, in our lives to ecology. The fact is, I have never believed nature was worth saving. Or that the health of our greater ecology was the most important thing people should come to understand the whole world-over. No. I never believed this. I knew this was true. And, it is.

The fact that we as a global species have ignored what matters most, our healthy ecology, is the very reason life as we’ve known has nearly capsized. It is the reason so many are riddled with health issues. It’s the reason people no longer grow their own food. It’s the reason why we have polluted water and air. And it’s the reason why we are now experiencing a global pandemic.

The very origin of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus strain responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, emerged because of a complete and total misunderstanding of our own ecology. For decades, upon decades, scientists have know the causes of spillover diseases such as COVID-19. Humanity’s actions are what have set loose, and continue to set loose, viral infections such as this one. Exploitation of nature is the catalyst in which zoonotic diseases arise. Excessive globalized consumption of nature’s creatures and systems without end, is the sticky web in which we’ve entangled ourselves. Now stuck, somewhat immobilized and sheltering in place, we have a chance to contemplate and acknowledge how we got here.

In a recent episode of Wild Roots, I interview David Quammen on the origin of zoonotic diseases such as the coronavirus. David demystifies the origin of these kinds of diseases and clarifies how humans ultimately cause such outbreaks. You can listen to that in full here: Understanding the Origin of Coronaviruses

Not only do David and I discuss the nature of zoonotic diseases, we also talk about the importance of understanding our greater ecology. As well as how human activity is ultimately to blame for pandemics such as this one. Since many wildlife exist as reservoirs and vectors for zoonotic pathogens, we also talk about the importance of not demonizing wildlife despite this, considering the fact that ecological systems may rely on these naturally occurring microbes.

Atop this, our biodiversity is what truly give all of life on this planet resiliency. Without  biodiversity, we open the gates for mayhem in the form of climate instability and viral infections. The next human pandemic was expected by scientists for decades. It was also expected to be a coronavirus. So why was the U.S., and the world, so surprised?

The scientists and disease ecologists who study zoonotic pathogens and the emergence of such diseases knew this because they understood ecology. A healthy ecology is home to undisturbed ecological niches where pathogens naturally exist in homeostasis without inter-species complications. Yet wildlife trade, large-scale domestication of animals and rapid ecological destruction unleashes these pathogens, giving them the opportunity to “jump” from species to species, or spillover from non-human animal hosts to human hosts.

This pandemic is frightening, but it holds the greatest of lessons for humanity. I see a silver-lining in this pandemic, we’re in this together. And this time, that fact doesn’t seem too abstract. Perhaps the global shifts needed are going to happen. For the sake of our ecological and climate crisis, they must. This pandemic shines light upon the reality that we are in fact a global tribe. Also, it brings me much hope that China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals permanently! Undoubtedly, this measure will lead to issues with illegal underground markets, which we as a global tribe will have to be aware of. But such a measure of this magnitude, brings me hope. These efforts may need to be ongoing on-the-radar-of-awareness-efforts. (Just after I posted this article I found this: China reopens wet-market as usual. So, will humanity come into reality? Will humanity changes it’s ways for good? What will it take? If not this, world-shattering pandemic, then what?) Viruses, like nature, do not recognize borders and do not discriminate as humans do to each other and to the natural world. Humanity finds itself in need of a new perspective. Perhaps now humanity can learn to see nature as part of themselves. Not our enemy. Not something to fear. But an ally to be nurtured, protected and defended.

Now, though {somewhat} late, people are finding themselves in need of new resilient skills. Skills which themselves are not new. Just knowing, for instance, there were vegetables growing in my yard gave me a sense of comfort. Something as simple as growing one’s own food was comforting! Growing your own food is far from new and though there are re-emerging modern movements involved in this, it still isn’t at all, at a sustainable scale. If it were, we’d experience less panic-buying of resources. Perhaps wonderful things will also become the new norm, like home-grown gardens and freshly home-baked bread!

Though the stay-at-home quarantine is absolutely critical at this time, it has brought me to one other concern. The demonization and irrational fear of wandering wildlife. Movement across the landscape for all species, including humans, is historically and evolutionarily a part of being a living being!  Animals, including humans, were once free to wander and roam about this earth unburdened by fragmented habitat. Now as we step momentarily out of the way, that innate behavior continues around us. Reports of wildlife wandering streets of major cities is to be expected, such as the roaming mountain lions of Boulder, Colorado and the roaming coyotes of San Francisco.

My concern is that people might start demonizing these wanderers for doing something so innately natural. These wildlife shouldn’t be feared to the point of execution. We don’t need any more of that. Life on this earth, needs us to be an ally. I worry too, that when the restraints of this pandemic have eased, people will undoubtedly be inclined to carry out their lives just as before. My fear is that, as wildlife patterns change they will be in danger of getting hit by traffic as life “as per usual” reestablishes itself and/or officials might take to killing these wandering animals in erroneous efforts to try to make the public feel safe. I hope this will not be the case. But in any event, when we come out of this, we are going to need to be extremely careful as we increase our traveling again.

In the meantime, I, like you, quarantine as best as possible and continue to follow the expert advice to keep healthy and to keep others safe. I’m going to be using some this time to nurture a vegetable garden, while still paying attention to the variety of life that exists around me. Always remembering our inseparable connection to our greater ecology.

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