Am I the only one who feels like she’s living in the Twilight Zone, or maybe in a Far Side cartoon?! These past few years have been weird – OK, frightening – but what’s unfolding now offers perhaps the ultimate irony.
Those of us who have lamented the inability – nay, refusal – of world leaders to step up to the plate and lead the necessary revolution in moving the world away from the extraction, processing, and use of fossil fuels before our planet is uninhabitable are watching in astonishment.
Those of us who have watched otherwise mostly responsible governments ignore the opportunity during these heady times of wealth to invest in new technologies using renewable energy sources and less energy – and develop new jobs for all those people who will no longer be able to work in the fossil fuel industry – hadn’t stop to think about what heroes would emerge to turn the tide. Greta Thunberg sure tried. [I leave Norway, Costa Rica, and Bhutan out of that collection of countries. They have done admirably.]
Those of us who have watched in jaw-dropping horror as the richest, most powerful country in the world elected a government that put super-rich naysayers in charge of science-based federal departments like Health and the Environmental Protection Agency, convinced that the experts didn’t know what they were talking about, could only wonder at how a country that had risen to the top thanks to its world dominance in science and technology, enabling pretty well every advance in the past 70 years, could now dismiss science as overrated. After all, what do science experts know? Besides, they’re elitists, right? And they might vote Democrat.
I could go on. But you get the picture. The world has been on tenterhooks waiting for the next shoe to drop. Will another brutal war erupt in the Middle East, with even more innocent civilians being decimated? In what part of the world will the next cataclysmic weather event – the new norm thanks to man-made climate change – cause unmitigated damage and suffering? Will the UK’s economy collapse due to their puzzling desire for Brexit? Which endangered animals will meet their extinction date next because of man’s ceaseless destruction of their habitat and indiscriminate killing? Does anyone in charge care?
But none of us had stopped to think about which part of the world we are abusing would fight back next. Mother Nature has been making some pretty bold statements, with increased frequency and strength of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, landslides, droughts, and wildfires. And she’ll keep speaking more forcefully. But she hasn’t been able to impact the billionaires’ wallets yet, and she hasn’t been able to make her presence known on the all-important stock markets. Until now.
Until now. Until one of the animals on the list of the Top Ten Most Endangered Animals list decided to take a stand. The little pangolin, that funny little scale-covered anteater, decided to share some of its viruses. Enough was enough. Apparently, in Asia, the pangolin is heavily trafficked for its meat and its scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Very heavily trafficked, even though it is now supposed to be protected. So heavily trafficked that it is near the top of the endangered species list. The same endangered species list on which some Arctic animals can be found, animals that had been protected in the U.S. by their Environmental Protection Agency until the Trump administration decided that drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean was more important than polar bears and other animals at risk from climate change and drilling. More important to the oil and gas companies and their revenue stream … and their donations.
So, on behalf of Mother Nature, the pangolin took revenge. Perhaps directly, perhaps through their friends the bats. But by sharing its coronavirus the pangolin has been able to make a contribution to a reduction in carbon emissions that all the children’s marches across the planet have not been able to do. It is reported that China’s carbon emissions are down 25% due to the mass shutdowns. Twenty-five percent in a few weeks. The Stock Markets have lost everything they’ve gained in 12 years in just a week. And the people of the world are getting a chance to see just how well prepared their leaders are for an onslaught from Mother Nature as opposed to an onslaught from their political opponents or competing nations.
When extreme weather wasn’t a good enough tool to convince the world leaders of the planet’s human beings that things had to change on the planet, Mother Nature turned to her wildlife. And the little pangolin, that awkward-looking, scaly, heavily-trafficked pangolin, was just the ticket. A pandemic. Nobody had thought of a pandemic as a potential enemy. Not Putin or Netanyahu. Not Boris Johnson or President Xi. And certainly not President Trump. This wasn’t part of their game plan.
This pandemic-in-the-making is one of the new breeds that hit the well-to-do at least as much as, if not more than, the poor. This virus is spreading to people who travel on cruise ships and take airplane trips from country to country and continent to continent. Throughout history pandemics typically have had the biggest impact on the poor because viruses and bacteria thrived where there was over-crowding, poor sanitation and lack of clean water. But the world has changed. These pandemics, or almost-pandemics, can affect everyone, often starting with the well-traveled.
What the world needs now is the respect of good science, lots of well-trained and well-stocked health care providers, and trusted independent news sources. What the world needs now are governments that pay attention to the advice of their public health experts. Public health experts who have continued to be well-funded and respected. Governments that remain transparent and support health policies that ensure that the spread of the virus is contained, even when that containment requires actions unpleasant to political expediancy. Each country will struggle to get the best balance and approach. Fortunately for the U.S., they have Mike Pence.