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Who caused COVID-19? We did

By Mike Zielinski

May 13, 2020
Mike Zielinski

I never saw screaming witches burned at the stake, Christians tossed to starving lions, maidens pushed over the edge of active volcanoes or men going to the electric chair.

But until I do, watching the devastation to lives, health and economies wrought by the coronavirus pandemic is my idea of cruel and inhumane punishment.

Punishment that has been self-inflicted.

We have met the enemy and it is us.

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down and it could be years, if ever, until it returns to right side up.

Even on sunny days, life now seems drenched in sheets of lightning-bleached rain.

It is difficult to believe that this pandemic is the end result of millions and millions of years of evolution.

When it hit us like a wrecking ball to the gut, we hit the pause button on our lives to save lives, but fiscal imperatives dictate that we get back to business even if it means a spike in coffin sales.

As the body counts blossom like unwanted dandelions, as we are separated from families, friends and workplaces and as we straddle the dangerously slippery tightrope between trying to breathe some life into an economy that is on life support and triggering even more infections and deaths, we only have ourselves to blame.

Think about that every time you look in the mirror.

I watched Fareed Zakaria’s program on CNN Sunday morning on which he interviewed Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist and virus hunter.

Daszak has a job you and I would never do. But as the old adage goes, somebody has to do it. He goes into bat caves to get their saliva or blood to determine the origins of a virus.

We have seen viruses jump from animals to humans with greater frequency in recent years. SARS, MERS, Ebola, bird flu and swine flu all started as viruses in animals that jumped to humans.

Daszak knows this was not just a random run of bad luck.

As he told Zakaria: “We are doing things every day that make pandemics more likely. We need to understand, this is not just nature. It is what we are doing to nature.”

Selfish us.

Most viruses come from animals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that three-quarters of new human diseases originate in animals.

The coronavirus was not spawned in a Chinese lab despite White House conspiracy theorists playing the blame game.

It might have come from one of the wildlife markets in Wuhan, China where live animals are slaughtered and sold. These disgusting wet markets should be outlawed around the world because they are petri dishes of death.

Then there is the expansion of human civilization. Mankind perpetually ventures into new territory. I imagine territorial imperative is in our DNA. But now as mankind expands and destroys natural habitats of wild animals, we bring them ever closer to us.

You do not have to be a scientist to know that this facilitates the transmission of diseases from animal to humans.

COVID-19 appears to have originated in bats, who are only cute on Halloween and particularly nasty incubators for viruses. Human expansion leads bats to look for food around farms where they infect livestock and in turn humans.

Mankind’s love of meat has carved a path wider than a four-lane highway for pathogens. Most livestock are factory farmed, which entails shoehorning thousands of animals into gruesome conditions that incubate virulent viruses.

I confess to being part of this. I enjoy a good steak as much as the next guy.

Then there is climate change that transforms ecosystems, forcing more animals out of their habitats and transforming previously temperate conditions into tropical.

The wetter and warmer climate makes it easier to transmit diseases. As man screws with ecosystems, diseases long dormant emerge from the muck and blindside us because we have no immunity.

What have we done to our planet? What have we done to ourselves? Will there be a procession of pandemics that will indelibly change our lives for the worst?

Once upon a time we could always shoot our enemies. But we are not going to shoot ourselves. Then again, perhaps we already have.

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