The Guardian (a very liberal London newspaper) does some excellent reporting – about 40,000 children slaving and dying in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of Central Africa, mining cobalt for cell phones, laptops, Teslas and Green New Deal technologies, for example. But other stories are a bizarre mix of fact, fake news, junk science, random conjecture and utter nonsense.
A case in point is its recent attempt to blame the coronavirus crisis on human activities that The Guardian and its writers tend to detest, even though they are essential for modern civilization and living standards: road building, mining and logging. “Is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?” the headline blares, adding “As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics.”
The article opens with the tragic story of an Ebola-traumatized village in Gabon, west of the DRC on Africa’s west coast. Villagers had gotten the disease from eating a wild chimpanzee. Many had died.
The ensuing eco-proselytizing took a page out of ancient religious lore, which attributed calamities to mankind’s sins against gods, God – or in this case Gaia. Some vague “number of researchers” in the new academic “discipline” of “planetary health” now believe it is “humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as COVID-19.”
Humans “invade” wild landscapes where animals and plants live that harbor unknown viruses, says one supposed expert. “We disrupt ecosystems and shake viruses loose from their natural hosts.”
“Research suggests” that outbreaks of diseases crossing over from animals to humans “are on the rise,” the article continues. While rabies and bubonic plague “crossed over centuries ago,” it’s getting much worse: Marburg, Mers, Nipah, SARS, Zika and West Nile, for example. Or the Asian flu and AIDS. These “zoonotic” diseases are “increasingly linked to environmental change and human behavior,” such as human population growth, urbanization and the “disruption of pristine forests,” says another “expert.”
It sounds plausible, for those without scientific, medical or analytical background. It definitely appeals to those who dislike these activities (and humanity). But it ignores history, reality, and the anti-technology ideologies of those who say we are “sinning against Gaia the Earth Mother.”
Malaria, dengue, yellow fever and sleeping sickness are also mentioned. Yet what about cholera, polio (which I had as a child), smallpox, measles, multiple plagues in various cities and countries through the ages, and countless iterations of influenza? We don’t know where they come from, and many mutate frequently, defying our best efforts to eradicate them or find vaccines and cures.
Many were brought from distant shores to Europe or the Americas, Russia or other lands by sailing ships – to populations that lacked natural or built-up immunities. Today’s emergent diseases can travel far more rapidly and widely, thanks to trains, cars, ships and planes. Add the billions that live today in crowded cities, often facilitating rapid transmission of virulent or novel diseases, even with modern clinics, hospitals, vaccinations, medicines, antibiotic soaps and proper hygienic practices.
Those life-saving modern technologies and buildings didn’t just happen. They are the product of mining, logging, roads, drilling, fossil fuel and nuclear energy, and modern agriculture, communication and transportation – which enable innovation to thrive, help keep Nature’s wrath and fury at a safer distance, and helped extend average American life spans from 40 in 1800 to 47 in 1900 and 78 today. (My colleagues and I discuss that here, here and elsewhere. This penicillin story is also fascinating.)
The Guardian has it completely backward. Utilizing Earth’s surface and subsurface bounties – God’s blessings – did not unleash COVID-19 and other viruses, bacteria and diseases. It helped save us from pestilences that have ravaged humanity throughout our time on this planet. It still does so today.
Diseases will always be with us. They will evolve, mutate, cross over from animals to humans, and try to ravage us for as long as we inhabit this magnificent planet. Never forget that it was the fossil fuels that so many detest which enabled so much of humanity to escape the deprivation, starvation and disease that kept human, health and civilizational progress to a barely measurable minimum until about 1800.
Imagine what would happen if abundant, reliable, affordable heat and electricity from fossil, nuclear and hydroelectric were replaced by limited, intermittent, weather-dependent, expensive wind, solar and battery power. The impacts on our healthcare and living standards would be horrific. Try to picture life in African villages and cities, where electricity, clean water, sanitation and healthcare are still almost nonexistent.
Imagine what our planet would look like, if we had to replace relatively few fossil, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants with millions of wind turbines, billions of solar panels and billions of backup batteries, sprawling across hundreds of millions of acres. We would have to open or expand thousands of mines, to provide the metals and minerals required to manufacture all that pseudo-renewable energy.
Disruption of ecosystems and destruction of biodiversity would multiply by orders of magnitude.
The Guardian article subtly but harshly criticizes hunting chimpanzees and other wild animals. But why do African villagers do that? It’s not rocket science. They are hungry! Living on the edge of survival.
And yet UN and EU agencies, eco-imperialist pressure groups, anti-development banks and divestment campaigners demand that they compound the misery of living without electricity, clean water and healthcare – by turning their backs on modern seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and tractors.
Instead, Africans are supposed to survive on whatever meager crops they can harvest using agro-ecology: primitive subsistence farming – and whatever might survive droughts and locust plagues. They’re also supposed to be content with bed nets and avoid using insecticides to kill insects that carry diseases like malaria, dengue and sleeping sickness.
The article next cites “disease ecologists” who claim these diseases increasingly come from “wet markets” that have recently “sprung up” to provide fresh meat for large urban populations. Wet markets have certainly been tied to the coronavirus. But they have been around for centuries, due to culture and tradition, as places to meet and gossip, as symbols of wealth, reflecting the belief that the meat is more natural and healthy. The reality that there is not enough farm-raised meat because agricultural practices in much of Asia and Africa are still antiquated.
In a final bit of absurdity, the author says the solutions to this modern crisis of disease outbreaks “start with education and awareness” – like the junk science, fake news and half-baked ideas thrown about in his article. Then the newspaper weighs in, railing that under the Trump administration “anger and cruelty disfigure public discourse and lying is commonplace.” But with financial help from readers, The Guardian can “keep delivering quality journalism” – like this story.
One has to wonder. If we can close restaurants and parks, and ban gatherings of more than ten people, can’t we quarantine nonsense about disease, mining, and wild ecosystems disrupted because we haven’t sufficiently adopted “clean, green, renewable, sustainable” wind, solar, battery and biofuel alternatives?