With all our attention focused on trying to control the pandemic spreading across the world our hopes are for a vaccine to be available soon. To help understand more, let’s have a look at the big picture where the Covid-19 virus is only a part of the mess we have managed to get ourselves into.
For some time, we have been pushing things to the limit when it comes to the lifestyle the developed world has created. The way we are living is bringing untold pressure on the ecosystem of all living organisms such as plants, animals and microbes.
So, what is it we are doing that is causing problems for our world and all the life that is part of what makes our planet unique in our Solar System? The Covid-19 pandemic is just one symptom that tells us all is not well.
To start with there are a lot of us sharing the planet with all the other life on the planet. When I was born there were 2.6 billion of us and today that has risen to 7.8bn. Not only are there lots of us around we have a lot of domesticated animals we farm providing us with much of the food we consume. There are 2bn sheep and cattle, another 678 million pigs and 25bn chickens and all of them need feed. Forty per cent of all the grain we grow is just for animal feed and in the US, the biggest meat eating nation, of the 2.2bn tonnes of grain grown 70pc is for animal feed.
Apart from domesticated animals we farm 1.5m tonnes of salmon, 1.6m tonnes of shrimps and 1.5m tonnes of tilapia. To feed all these fish over 450bn wild fish are caught each year for reduction to fish oil and fishmeal, which is then fed to the farmed fish.
We also need to be aware that the cattle we farm produce massive quantities of methane which is up to 100 times more destructive to the atmosphere compared with CO2. Then there is animal waste and again in the US they produce 130 times more animal waste compared with human waste. Presently it works out at 5 tonnes of animal waste per citizen per annum.
Waste takes many forms and one to concern us all is the growth of electronic waste that is part of our ‘throw away culture’. In 2019 we threw away 53.6m tonnes of electronic waste, 7kg per person, up 21pc in five years. This waste includes $10bn of valuable elements such as gold and platinum.
We are encroaching more into wild spaces, part of the reason why there are new viruses, and in the last 20 years we have taken over 1.2m more square miles of wild land for our use. Some of the wild land is now used to produced products such as palm oil for processed food fuelling our insatiable desire for bad calories.
Covid-19 kills many who have not looked after themselves by becoming obese, but poverty and a bad diet contributes to the deaths recorded.
Finally, don’t forget pollution and our lifestyle is having a huge impact. 3.5m tonnes of plastic and other solid pollutants are dumped daily impacting our seas and lands and the creatures who share the planet with us.
Time to stop and think again.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at [email protected]