How to Prevent Future Pandemics: Restore The BalanceLivia Esterhazy, WWF-New Zealand CEO
I had been looking forward to 2020. Our country had faced some pretty big challenges last year and 2020 was bright and full of promise. Sadly, the year began with the Australian bushfires - harrowing alarm bells for a planet in pain. Unfortunately, the alarm bells have been sounding for a long time to tell us that our world is out of balance. We just haven’t been listening.
COVID-19 took the world by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. It was not only predicted, but inevitable. Over the last century, diseases transmitted from animals to people have risen by nearly fourfold. Why? There are many reasons but the main one is, us. There is not a place on Earth left untouched by man. In Aotearoa, 4,000 of our native plants, animals, and ecosystems are threatened or at risk of extinction.* Our marine environment is also under threat and nearly every river, lake, and aquifer are affected by pollution.** Around the world, three-quarters of our planet’s land and two-thirds of our ocean has been changed so significantly by people, that some scientists say we’ve entered a new geological age, the ‘anthropocene’ (anthro-po-seen): the age of man. It is the first time in Earth’s 4.5 billion years, that one species has fundamentally changed the planet. This destruction is unique to humans.
Every single life on our planet is intricately connected. Our very survival is dependent on one another. Each plant, animal, and microorganism has a role to play. By working together, in harmony, this biodiversity of nature ensures every species has food to eat, air to breathe, and water to drink. This connection comes with the responsibility of kaitiakitanga: to care for the environment, so our environment will care for us. But we have not been caretakers. We have sacrificed our environment for the sake of expediency and economic growth. This is not sustainable. Animal-borne diseases are on the rise because we are not living in harmony with nature. Deforestation, habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade, high-risk food markets, factory farming, and urbanisation are just some of the reasons we have seen diseases like SARS, Ebola, AIDS, and bird flu spill over into the human population. What terrifies me is that if we don’t change our relationship with nature, then COVID-19 will just be a dry run for the next pandemic.
We need to restore the balance - to live in harmony with nature. WWF has developed a way forward with a New Deal for Nature and People. To become Kaitiaki of our world again, we must commit, by 2030, to:
- Zero loss of natural habitats by protecting 30% of our environment and sustainably managing 20%
- Zero extinction of animals by stopping the illegal wildlife trade, ending the exploitation of animals and nature, while supporting species in their native habitats.
- Halve the footprint of our consumption by transitioning to sustainable infrastructure, agriculture, fishing, and more.
This will ensure we are living within nature’s means and creates a safety net to protect us against disease. This can seem daunting, but it is possible, if we work together. Here is how you can help:
- Eat sustainably. Move towards a more plant-based diet, eat locally, and support responsible producers. Food production is responsible for almost 60% of global biodiversity loss.
- Reduce Waste. We produce so much waste from plastic to food. Rethink what you’re purchasing, recycle/upcycle where you can, and do your bit to eat more leftovers.
- Power of the purse. Use your wallet to support eco-friendly products and companies.
- Travel responsibly. Many of us turned to walking and cycling during the lockdown for exercise, to run errands, or just to enjoy nature. Let’s not lose this momentum, so cycle or walk for your smaller trips and use more public transport.
Another significant way you can make a real difference is to help us ensure the government rebuilds our economy to support this future. We can influence these decisions, and affect change, by amplifying our voices through the New Deal for Nature and People.
It is not enough to stop COVID-19. That will only put a plaster over the wound, rather than healing it. To truly heal, we must fundamentally change our relationship with nature. We are the problem but we are also the solution. Over the last five weeks, we’ve caught a glimpse of what our nature could look like if we restored the balance. We’ve seen a drop in nitrogen dioxide emissions in major cities all over the world. Cities, usually choked with smog, are seeing blue skies. Waterways are clearer and bird song has returned to urban areas. The COVID lockdown has shown that changing the way we live makes a big difference. While I dream of the end of lockdown, I don’t dream of returning to life as it was. I dream of a new life, a new world, a world in balance. Ki te kotahi te kākaho ka whati, Ki te kāpuia e kore e whati. (Alone we can be broken. Standing together, we are invincible.)
WWF is working hard to restore this balance. Are you with us?
*Environment Aotearoa 2019
** Our Marine Environment 2019 & Our Freshwater 2020