While Coronavirus and racial justice protests attract global collective attention, ecological destruction, species extinction and climate change continue unabated. As the world has focused on other crises, an alarming study warns that species extinction is now progressing so fast that the consequences of “biological annihilation” may soon be “unimaginable”.
World-renowned conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall desperately wants the world to pay attention to what she sees as the greatest threat to humanity’s existence. CBS News he recently spoke to Goodall during a video conference and asked her questions about the state of our planet. The doctor spoke of little reassuring news: «I only know that if we continue with business as usual, we will destroy ourselves. It would be our end, as well as that of life on Earth as we know it, ”warned Goodall.
July 9, 2020
The destruction of nature is causing some major concerns around the world. Among the most evident at the moment are emerging diseases such as Covid-19. Can you describe how they are contributing to the destruction of the environment?
“The fact is that we took care of it because the scientists who studied these so-called zoonotic diseases, which jump from one animal to a human being, predicted and announced their long stay. As we cut down the tropical rainforest, with its rich biodiversity, we are actually already devouring the habitats of millions of animals.
In this way many of them are pushed to a greater contact with humans. We are coming with our cars further and further, building roads throughout the habitat, which brings people and animals back into contact. People hunt animals and sell meat, all of which is creating environments that are perfect for a virus or bacterium, to cross that species barrier, sometimes becoming, as in the case of Covid-19, very contagious.
If we don’t stop destroying the environment, all this will not end. We are disrespectful to animals, we hunt them down, we kill them, we eat them. Killing and eating chimpanzees in Central Africa has led to HIV and AIDS. It is inevitable”.
July 10, 2020
Are you worried that the next pandemic will be much worse than this?
“Assuming that the next one is just as contagious as that from Coronavirus, it could be more devastating for the human being and lead to a higher percentage of deaths, equal to the situation that brought Ebola for example”.
People often find it difficult to connect events that might seem random with our interactions and relationships with nature. Can you explain why the way we treat the natural world is so important?
“Because he is leading zoonotic diseases in the first place, and there are many. The destruction of the environment is also contributing to the climate crisis, which tends to be considered a secondary problem compared to that of the pandemic. We will go through the pandemic as we went through the Second World War, the First World War and the horrors that followed the destruction of the towers of world trade. But climate change is a real existential threat to humanity and we don’t have much time to slow it down.
Intensive agriculture is slowly destroying the earth with chemical poisons and monocultures are leading to habitat destruction. The exploited soil is leading to the increase of CO2 through fossil fuels, methane gas and other greenhouse gases released by the digestion of billions of farmed animals. It is quite sad. We have to realize that we are part of the environment, that we depend on the natural world. We cannot continue to destroy. To damage nature is to harm us ».
If we continue with our usual economic system, what do you fear will be the result?
«We will reach the point of no return. At some point the world’s ecosystems will surrender and collapse. It will also be our end. We think of our children, we are still giving birth to children in the world: what a gloomy future is theirs. I realize this is quite shocking but my hope is that the surprising improvement in the atmosphere with the lockdown can be a warning and an example. During the period of confinement at home, people in big cities were able to see the night sky, the bright stars without having to look through the dark layer of pollution. The hope is that they want to keep all this and fight not to go back to the old polluted times ».
So what do we do? Right now our world view is based on GDP. You suggest thinking differently. Do you have an indication on how to evaluate our success regardless of the business criterion?
«I’m not an economist. I only know that if we continue with business as usual, we will destroy ourselves. It would be the end of life on Earth as we know it. What we can do is change a lifestyle that is unsustainable. Of course one cannot blame only the individual who grew up in a much larger system. But if you went through the Second World War like I did, you can’t take anything for granted, a square of chocolate for a week is what we had, we never wasted even an ounce of food. Quite different from today.
On the other hand, we must also alleviate poverty. If you are really poor, destroy the environment, cut down the last trees to create land to grow more food for your family or catch the last fish. Or if you are in an urban area, buy the cheapest junk food. You do not have the luxury of asking if the way it was produced has damaged the environment, has led to the suffering of animals, of children, in the case of child exploitation.
The other, which nobody wants to talk about, but no less important: today there are about 7.8 billion people on the planet and already in some places we are running out of natural resources faster than nature can reconstitute. In 2050 it is estimated that there will be 9.7 billion people. What will happen? We cannot continue to bury the problem under the carpet. ”
How did we get to all this?
“It has been a bit like this for all human history. There were so many fewer of us then that we could have these unsustainable lifestyles and it didn’t matter; they were sustainable. Think about how people have always exploited the natural world just because we can. And so there has been a delay in developing new technologies that allow us to destroy entire forests. While the natives could take a week to cut down the big tree, we can do it in an hour. Add to this the fact that moral evolution and the sense of connection with the natural world on which we depend, have lagged far behind.
We have this time window. If we all get together, act, we can begin to heal some of the damage. Children are really good at educating their parents and grandparents, some of whom may be able to make a big difference, such as CEOs of large corporations or people in government. Each of us has the luxury of choosing the impact it wants to produce on the world in which it lives “.
This story has appeared on CBSnews and it is republished here as part of Covering Climate Ora, a global journalistic collaboration that reinforces the coverage of climate history.