“Our immediate priority is to prevent the spread of Covid-19. It will be important to tackle the loss of habitat and biodiversity in the long term”, announces on the website of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Inger Andersen, director of this UN organization. If the urgency is indeed to fight against this pandemic, more and more voices are being raised in the world of research to question, as of now, its deep roots. Like the Buddhists who think that everything in this world is interdependent. That Philippe Cornu, ethnologist and specialist in Buddhism, completes by also speaking of conditioned co-production: “Phenomena are co-produced by other phenomena which are conditioned and conditioning”.
If we rule out the hypothesis of manipulation by humans, reading, in particular, an article entitled “No, the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not created in the laboratory” posted online on the Institut Pasteur website, one can thus legitimately ask the question of the link between “the loss of habitat and biodiversity” and emerging diseases, such as Covid-19. A question that resonates particularly with Buddhists for whom human beings are led to live in harmony with their environment. However, we note today that he separated nature from his own nature. This is shown in particular by these statistics from the international group of biodiversity experts, IPBES (1) : 100 million hectares of tropical forests have been cut between 1980 and 2000 and more than 85% of wetlands have been removed since the beginning of the industrial era. Reached by telephone, Philippe Grandcolas, research director at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and laboratory director at the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) delivers his analysis: “The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic is the consequence of the way in which human beings mistreat nature. Explanations: “More than two-thirds of emerging diseases are zoonoses (animal disease transmitted to humans). Among these zoonoses, the majority come from wild animals, whether it is AIDS, Ebola, Sras, H1N1 or Covid-19. For several decades, we have observed that epidemics linked to zoonoses are more numerous and more frequent. »
If we look at the case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the Institut Pasteur thus indicates on its website: “Several publications suggest that the pangolin, a small mammal consumed in southern China, could be involved as intermediate host between bats and humans. And Philippe Grandcolas to denounce what he describes as international trafficking in exotic animals: “Let us remember that the pangolin is one of the most poached species in the world for its meat and its scales. However, its status is protected and it lives in tropical forests in Asia and Africa. Due to deforestation, this animal is more and more accessible, and its consumption leads to cascading negative effects. Not only do we put humans in contact with rare infectious agents, but we also destroy a biodiversity that contributes to fragile natural balances”.
nature is not Pandora's box
His words echo those of another scientist, Jean-François Guégan, director of research at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae) and at the Institute for Research et le Développement (IRD): “It is essential to focus on the causes of these zoonoses, foremost among which are our increasingly important interactions with the billions of micro-organisms present in natural ecosystems. And this, because of the intensive monoculture of palm oil or soya; the development of industrial beef, pork, duck or chicken farming; finally, urban expansion, whether in Asia or Africa, where a population more susceptible to infections due to poverty is also concentrated. All of this development is taking place to the detriment of major ecological habitats, in particular intertropical primary forests, which are seeing their surfaces drastically reduced today. By exploiting nature in this way, it is as if man had opened a Pandora's box. »
The researcher pauses on the phone before continuing, raising his voice: “Instead of favoring a preventive approach, we chose a curative approach: we reassure ourselves with the promise of a vaccine to deal with Covid-19. Even if we still haven't found a vaccine against AIDS or malaria. Worse, we accuse pangolins, bats and great apes when they play a key role in ecosystems, for example to ensure the pollination of plants or as predators of insect pests. But nature, like the symbolism of yin and yang, is neither good nor bad. She is. »
“The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic is the consequence of the way humans mistreat nature. »
Another researcher to establish a link between « loss of habitat and biodiversity” and emerging diseases: Serge Morand, from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Center for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD). From Thailand, where he settled, he is at the forefront to observe the ravages that human beings inflict on the wild world. Contacted via the WhatsApp application, the scientist testified: “By transforming nature into market value, we have changed the dynamic imbalances that prevailed between animal, human and plant species. Disturbed, agroecological systems are less and less resilient and no longer manage to self-regulate”. To illustrate his thought, the ecologist puts forward this particularly evocative example: at the end of the 1990s, the Nipah virus spread in Malaysia. Its origin comes from the fruit bats of the north of this Asian state which were driven out of the dense forests in which they were not in contact, neither with human beings, nor with domesticated animals. Due to the development of palm oil monoculture, these wild animals ended up finding refuge elsewhere. In this case, on fruit trees that the peasants had planted, in order to ensure additional income, on the edge of their semi-industrial pig farms intended for export. However, the excrement and pieces of fruit infected with the saliva of bats carrying the virus were consumed by these pigs, contaminating 265 inhabitants, 100 of whom died. "And what did the man do?" asks Serge Morand in conclusion before delivering the answer in the form of a moral, as in a fable by La Fontaine: "Instead of attacking the root of the problem, that is to say deforestation, he slaughtered more than a million pigs and increased the industrialization of animal husbandry. The ecological crisis thus generates the health crisis, which we are going through with the Covid-19, which will itself generate a social, economic and financial crisis. As long as we do not put well-being, in particular human well-being, back at the heart of exchanges, we will cause these systemic crises”.
To get out of this infernal cycle, the author of the concept of spiritual ecology, Satish kumar, proposes to draw two lessons from this systemic crisis. In his magazine Resurgence (2) the former Jain monk of Indian origin writes: “To live in a harmonious dialogue with the Earth is the urgent imperative of our time. The second lesson of this crisis is that human activities have disastrous consequences. And the coronavirus may be one of them. Before continuing with this message of hope: “A crisis is also an opportunity. That of the coronavirus may be a warning signal. We must slow down and listen with humility to the voice of the Earth. (…) In nature, everything passes. This crisis too will pass (…) This is an opportunity to redefine, collectively, our economy, our political systems and our way of life in a noble conversation with the Earth. We must learn to respect the place of wilderness, to celebrate the abundant beauty and diversity of life. Become aware that humans are an integral part of nature. What we do to nature, we do to ourselves. We are all totally interconnected and interdependent. »