Corona – Reasons


Collage of corona virus in front of a degraded deforestation landscape

Part 1: Corona – Why?

31 March 2020


Whether the new (the seventh) coronavirus escaped from a biolab or began its global spread in one of the cruel Asian animal markets, the real cause is that humanity is destroying the Earth’s habitats.


It is the destruction of biodiversity that constantly releases new viruses and pathogens – such as SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes Covid-19 – and it is the globalisation of travel and trade that supports the ultra-fast spread of new diseases.


Meat consumption, land grabbing and diseases

In fact, humankind acquired almost all of its infectious diseases from animals, already in ancient times (e.g. whooping cough, meningitis, diphtheria, polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, infectious hepatitis).(1) And this is continuing now – in the age of extinction of species: “AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and hundreds more that have occurred over the last several decades — don’t just happen. They are a result of things people do to nature,” said Jim Robbins in the New York Times, already in 2012.(2)


A few examples:


AIDS crossed into humans from chimpanzees in the 1920s when bush-meat hunters in Africa killed and butchered them.(3)


• In 1999 the nipah virus raged in South Asia, after an infected flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) dropped a piece of chewed fruit into a piggery in a forest in rural Malaysia. The pigs became infected with the virus and amplified it. It jumped to humans where it revealed a horrifying mortality rate of 38%.(2)


• In 2002/2003, the outbreak of SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) began with cave-dwelling horseshoe bats and a farmer in China’s Guangdong Province.


• In the Amazon, the invasion of intact tropical landscapes shows time and again that disease follows deforestation. It has been shown that an increase in deforestation by just over 4 % increases the spread of malaria by nearly 50 %. This is because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the right mix of sunlight and water in recently deforested areas (rainwater is not taken up by tree roots anymore, and the tyre marks of the heavy machinery leave compressed soil with myriads of puddles in which mosquitoes thrive).


Lyme disease is the result of the reduction and fragmentation of large continuous forests. Human development chased off the predators — wolves, foxes, owls and hawks – leaving the species which are the greatest “reservoirs” for pathogens. On the US East Coast it’s white-footed mice, across Europe it’s deer. A single deer can carry thousands of tick eggs. And ticks bring not only Lyme disease but others too (e.g. babesiosis and anaplasmosis).(4)
And as a result of climate disruption, other tick species have been coming to Europe from Africa since 2015.(5)


What all these case histories (and many others, such as swine flu and MERS) have in common is that they began on the frontline, where either humans brutally intervene in remaining ecosystems (poaching, deforestation, road construction, the development of mines, dams, etc.), or where, due to overpopulation and urbanization, land grabbing pushes into the last refuges of nature.


“Any emerging disease in the last 30 or 40 years has come about as a result of encroachment into wild lands and changes in demography,” says Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist and the president of EcoHealth.(6)


This does not exclude the threat of animal husbandry, on the contrary. Domesticated animal species have been carriers of pathogens since the beginning of the history of civilisation, some of which can also be transmitted to humans. As a result of increasing globalisation – increased international transport of meat and live animals – germs of the most diverse origins meet in countless locations and can form new crosses and mutations.


Almost 30% more pigs, goats, cows and sheep were shipped, flown and driven across the world in 2017 than a decade earlier, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. As in the Malaysian outbreak of nipah mentioned above, the progression of the African swine fever virus (ASF) into Europe, and the spreads of avian influenza virus and mad cow disease were assisted by the livestock trade.(7)


The globalised livestock and meat trade is irresponsible and unsustainable. As in the CO2 discussion (global meat production causes more CO2 emissions than car, ship and air traffic put together) it is meat consumption that requires us to focus on its drastic reduction.(8)


The global perspective

Did we really think that the sixth great extinction of species in the history of the Earth would pass us by without a trace? It has now been understood that without the work of bees humankind can hardly be fed. But our dependence on nature does not stop with bees. We need a healthy planet and the health of the Earth is based on large, intact ecosystems. Everything is connected to everything.


It has been known for more than 20 years that new diseases fatal to humans were emerging from biodiversity “hotspots” such as tropical rainforests and bushmeat markets in African and Asian cities. As globalisation spreads and as we destroy the ancient ecosystems, the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19 are created.


David Quammen, the author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”(9)


In other words: we are destroying the natural world and wiping out countless species of wildlife. The pathogens, which thus lose their basis of life, are left with only the human species and its breeding animals as hosts. As the density of human settlements and the density of breeding animals is increasing, diseases today can take on completely different dimensions than in the past. They can now become rampant – and global.


All this is exacerbated by global warming. As early as 2016, a boy died in a Siberian village from an anthrax outbreak – caused by an old bacterial strain that had escaped the melting permafrost soil. With the heating of the polar caps, this was probably only a first harbinger. Completely unknown pathogens have been trapped in permafrost for thousands of years.(10)


As epidemiologist and expert in international health systems and biosecurity, Alanna Shaikh, said in a TED Talk in mid-March: “This is not the last major outbreak we’re ever going to see. There is going to be more outbreaks, and there is going to be more epidemics, that’s not a maybe, that’s a given. And it’s a result of the way that we as human beings are interacting with our planet.”(11)


Covid-19  will not be the last pandemic leading to national, even international shutdown. Pandemics are becoming more and more frequent, and in a few years’ time different pandemics may even overlap.


Political consequences

Already the Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 460 BCE – c. 370 BCE) knew that public health depended on a clean environment.(12)


Some two millennia later, this is now beginning to be understood at government level and in the UN. “Human health (including mental health via the human-animal bond phenomenon), animal health, and ecosystem health are inextricably linked.”


This sentence comes from the mission statement of the One Health Initiative,(13) which is supported by dozens of organizations and over 600 scientists in these fields.


diagram of One Health
Diagram of the One Health Initiative

Furthermore there is the EcoHealth Alliance, a global nonprofit environmental health organisation dedicated to protecting wildlife and public health from the emergence of disease.(14) And PREDICT, a prevention programme initiated in 2009 by the US Agency for International Development to strengthen global capacity for detection and discovery of zoonotic viruses with pandemic potential.(15)
Both of these partner with more than 30 countries worldwide.


The danger of pandemics is constantly growing as we drive the planet’s life support systems closer to the abyss. That’s why there is growing nervousness and tension whenever a new virus appears on the frontline of land grab and natural destruction.


With modern air travel and a flourishing global market in wildlife trafficking, the potential for a serious outbreak in human societies is enormous.


The Asian “wet markets” are ticking time bombs. The one in Wuhan was known to sell numerous wild animals from all over the world: live wolf pups, crocodiles, scorpions, salamanders, rats, squirrels, foxes, turtles, to name but a few. And wet markets in west and central Africa sell monkeys, bats, rats, and dozens of species of bird, mammal, insect and rodent. The animals are kept, slaughtered and sold under cruel conditions, and often with appauling hygienic standards.


But it’s not fair to just blame places which do not have fridges. These traditional markets provide much of the food for hundreds of millions of poor people. However, international transport and trade in animals (and thereby germs) has to stop, and eventually, global meat consumption needs to be reduced drastically.


As local populations and communities in Africa and Asia get repeatedly ravaged by new diseases, there is openness and willingness to learn and adapt to new ways: “People need to stop eating wildlife. The younger generation is already on board and various high-profile Chinese people have been saying it,” reports Prof Diana Bell from the University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences.(16) A shift to plant-based diets and organic farming is inevitable. And will happen.


The Chinese government closed the market in Wuhan at the beginning of the year and announced on 24 February that it would ban the consumption and trade of wild animals.(17) 20,000 animal farms were closed.(18) And international calls for a worldwide ban on animal markets also began in January 2020.(19) That was the first good news to come out of the corona crisis! But only a drop in the ocean. On the one hand, China had also vowed improvement after the SARS outbreak of 2002/2003 but has long since allowed animal markets to operate again. On the other hand, the abuse reaches much deeper anyway:


In the end of the day the international animal trade – and in the first place the animals’ dislocation by destruction of their habitats – is but a byproduct of fragmented landscapes and endangered livelihoods (also of human communities) caused by the rich countries (mostly in the global North) and their never-ending appetite for “resources”.


Which brings us once again to the obsessive belief in “endless economic growth”…


…which is now interrupted by a tiny virus – albeit ultimately by its own excesses! May the big forced break that has begun now, this drastic deceleration of the global rat race, stimulate some real thinking among the human inhabitants of this beautiful planet!


More in Part 2 of this article.


1. Fred Hageneder 2020. Healthy Planet. Soon to be published book manuscript. p 165.
2. Jim Robbins 2012. The Ecology of Disease., July 14, 2012.
3. Marcia L. Kalish, et al. 2005. Central African Hunters Exposed to Simian Immunodeficiency Virus. Emerg Infect Dis. 2005 Dec; 11(12): 1928–1930.
4. Peter Beaumont 2019. What’s really behind the spread of Lyme disease? Clue: it’s not the Pentagon., 19 Jul 2019.
5. Fred Hageneder 2020. Healthy Planet. Soon to be published book manuscript. p 65.
6. quoted in Robbins, siehe 2.
7. Mattha Busby 2020. ‘Live animals are the largest source of infection’: dangers of the export trade., 21 Jan 2020.
8. Fred Hageneder 2020. Healthy Planet. Soon to be published book manuscript. p 131f.
9. David Quammen zitiert in John Vidal 2020. ‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?, Wed 18 Mar 2020.
10. Fred Hageneder 2020. Healthy Planet. Soon to be published book manuscript. p 68.
11. Coronavirus Is Our Future | Alanna Shaikh | TEDxSMU.
12. Hippocrates. On Airs, Waters, and Places.
13. Sarah Boseley 2020. Calls for global ban on wild animal markets amid coronavirus outbreak., 24 Jan 2020.
14. Spektrum der Wissenschaft. Die Woche, Nr. 12, 19.03.2020. Sonderausgabe zur Covid-19-Pandemie. 40f.
15. Michael Standaert 2020. Coronavirus closures reveal vast scale of China’s secretive wildlife farm industry., 25 Feb 2020.
16. Sarah Boseley 2020, siehe 16.

Part 1: Corona – Why?

What are the real reasons for the pandemic and how did it start?

Part 2: Corona – How do I protect myself?

Fear is not beneficial to the immune system. How do we stay healthy?

Part 3: Corona – And now what?

Are the drastic political measures justified? Is it all about symptom cure again?

Part 4: Corona – What’s on the agenda?

Is the pandemic being used to divert attention from other things?



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Die Störung der globalen Lebenssysteme.
Angst + Leugnung.
Positive Zukunftsperspektiven.

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