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Coronavirus Disease 2019

What the COVID-19 Crisis Is Telling Humanity

Humans are largely responsible for the alarming increase in zoonotic diseases.

Key points

  • Two physicians with impeccable credentials tell us in an easy-to-read essay what we need to know and do about the ongoing global COVID pandemic.
  • Humanity has to recognize the oneness of all life.
  • What is good for nonhuman animals and the planet is also good for humanity.

I recently read an excellent essay by Dr. David Wiebers, Emeritus Professor of Neurology and Consultant Emeritus in Neurology and Health Sciences Research/Epidemiology at Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Valery Feigin, Professor of Neurology and Epidemiology and Director of Auckland University of Technology's National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neuroscience, titled "What the COVID-19 Crisis Is Telling Humanity." It was first published in the prestigious journal Neuroepidemiology and reprinted with some additional text and commentaries in Animal Sentience.

Source: MiroslavaChrienova/Pixabay
Source: MiroslavaChrienova/Pixabay

"What the COVID-19 Crisis Is Telling Humanity" is a very concise and easy-to-read, detailed summary of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, and I'm pleased that Dr. Wiebers could take the time to answer a few questions about this landmark essay.

Why did you and Valery write "What the COVID-19 Crisis Is Telling Humanity"?

The COVID-19 crisis, while creating incredible hardship and destruction, has also provided us with important information, messages, and opportunities relating to the future of our species and other lifeforms on Earth. We felt compelled to point out the most pertinent of these latter aspects, along with what we thought were the relevant implications not only for the medical community but also for all of society.

How does your essay relate to your backgrounds and general areas of interest?

Valery and I have been trained in medicine, neurology, and epidemiology, and the COVID-19 crisis has impacted all of these areas enormously, along with the broader field of brain health, which is central to all health and includes cognitive, psychological, psychiatric, and neurological aspects. We have also had a longstanding interest in protecting nonhumans as well as humans, and I have always personally viewed my work in animal protection as an extension of the work I do in medicine. The primary goal of the medical profession is to decrease the amount of unnecessary death and suffering in human beings—and the animal protection community simply wishes to extend this same goal to beings other than humans.

Who is your intended audience?

Our intended audience was an all-encompassing one, including the medical and scientific communities; governmental, non-governmental (NGO), corporate, and academic entities; the One Health and One Welfare communities; the animal and environmental protection communities; and broader society, because all are greatly affected by these issues, and all will be needed as part of the solution.

What are some of the topics that are woven into your piece, and what are some of the major messages?

As we begin to find our way through this crisis, it is imperative for us as a species to reflect deeply upon what this and other related human health crises are telling us about our role in these increasingly frequent events and about what we can do to avoid them in the future. Our failure to do so may result in the unwitting extermination of all or a good part of our species from this planet.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest example of how human behavior in connection with other lifeforms has brought about an alarming increase in zoonotic diseases in recent decades with the potential to cause massive amounts of societal and economic devastation. The time has come for us to rethink our relationship with all life on this planet—other humans, nonhumans, and the Earth. In this context, a One Health and One Welfare approach, rooted in the premise that human, animal, and environmental health and welfare are inextricably linked, becomes imperative to our collective future.

Rather than simply attempting to react to crises like COVID-19 after death and destruction are already upon us, we need to have the vision, wisdom, and compassion to address the fundamental underlying causes and act now to mitigate and prevent the numerous disasters that are literally waiting to happen.

The Chinese government should be applauded for taking the much-needed step of banning the trade and consumption of wild animals in China on February 24, 2020. Although shutting down this $74 billion wildlife farming industry has been criticized by some as economically harmful, such harm pales overwhelmingly in comparison to the vast health and economic threats to China and the world involved in continuing to allow business as usual. Other nations throughout the world should also ban the trade and consumption of wild animals associated with live-animal markets. Such a ban should also apply to the import, export, and internal transport of live wildlife or wildlife meat intended for sale in wildlife markets.

Intensive confinement of animals in factory farm operations should be discontinued worldwide for the sake of animals, humans, and the environment, and we should rapidly evolve to eating other forms of protein that are safer for humans, including a wide range of time-honored, fundamental, plant-derived food sources as well as the more recently developed plant-based meat/dairy and egg alternatives, and even cultured meat (which is produced by culturing animal cells). Additional investment in plant-based agriculture to grow crops to feed humans rather than livestock for human consumption would feed far more people while utilizing far less land and water, allowing for the preservation of vital ecosystems for innumerable species.

The COVID-19 crisis has provided us with a wake-up call, an opportunity—and it is important that we as a species awaken to the imperative for us to change and that we act in ways that are beneficial to all lifeforms. What is good for nonhumans and the Earth is virtually always in the best interests of humans, given the profound interconnectedness of all life. All that we do depends upon abundant plant and animal life as well as clean air and water—and each of us can have a positive impact upon these fundamentals by demonstrating and inspiring enhanced mindfulness, beginning most basically with what we eat and how all of our daily choices and actions may be affecting animals and natural habitats. Ultimately, the survival not only of other lifeforms on this planet but also of ourselves will depend upon humanity’s ability to recognize the oneness of all that exists and the importance and deeper significance of compassion for all life.

What are some of your current projects?

We are now focusing a great deal of attention on global brain health and its connection to a One Health approach, the overarching importance of brain health to overall health, and a number of global COVID-19 research efforts.2We are also active in efforts to carry out the suggested actions on behalf of all life that we have laid out in this current paper.



By Marc Bekoff with David Wiebers.

1) Responses to "What the COVID-19 crisis is telling humanity" are listed here. They include:

Cao, Deborah (2020) Global risks of intensive animal farming and the wildlife trade. Animal Sentience 30(2)

Cao, Deborah (2020) Global risks of intensive animal farming and the wildlife trade. Animal Sentience 30(2)

Eshel, Gidon (2020) Pandemic leadership failures and public health. Animal Sentience 30(3)

Greger, Michael (2020) Whenever possible, treat the cause: Shut down the flu factories. Animal Sentience 30(4)

Anomaly, Jonathan (2020) Cultured meat would prevent the next Covid crisis. Animal Sentience 30(5)

Fox, Michael W. (2020) One planet, one health. Animal Sentience 30(6)

Broom, Donald M (2020) The necessity of human attitude change and methods of avoiding pandemics. Animal Sentience 30(7)

Schuck-Paim, Cynthia (2020) Intensive animal farming conditions are a major threat to global health. Animal Sentience 30(8)

Fawcett, Anne (2020) One Welfare, the role of health professionals, and climate change. Animal Sentience 30(9)

Lovell, Jarret S. (2020) Plant-based diets and COVID-19: Those who harvest crops are at high risk. Animal Sentience 30(10)

Whitfort, Amanda (2020) China's lack of animal welfare legislation increases the risk of further pandemics. Animal Sentience 30(11)

Bryant, Christopher J. (2020) Innovation in meat production: a problem and an opportunity. Animal Sentience 30(12)

Feigin, Svetlana (2020) It does not cost the earth to be kind. Animal Sentience30(13)

Morand, Serge (2020) New approach to health and the environment to avoid future pandemics. Animal Sentience 30(14)

Wyatt, Tanya (2020) Harm, Earth Jurisprudence and human/nonhuman relationships. Animal Sentience 30(15)

Robbins, Jesse (2020) Be wary of simple solutions to complex problems. Animal Sentience 30(16)

Marcum, James A (2020) Can we handle the truth of what COVID-19 is telling us?. Animal Sentience 30(17)

Skerratt, Lee (2020) Wildlife health systems. Animal Sentience 30(18)

Lee, Kelley (2020) Rethinking global governance to address zoonotic disease risks: Connecting the dots. Animal Sentience 30(19)

Kona-Boun, Jean-Jacques (2020) Anthropogenic suffering of farmed animals: the other side of zoonoses. Animal Sentience 30(20)

Toates, Frederick (2020) Covid-19, evolution, brains and psychology. Animal Sentience 30(21)

Bergstrom, Bradley J. (2020) Re-engage with the world for global health and animal welfare. Animal Sentience 30(22)

Davis, Tyler; Ireland, Molly E; Van Allen, Jason; and Worthy, Darrell A (2020) Zoonotic realism, computational cognitive science and pandemic prevention. Animal Sentience 30(23)

Gerlai, Robert (2020) Tribal brains in the global village: Deeper roots of the pandemic. Animal Sentience 30(24)

Wehbe, Yzar S. and Shackelford, Todd K. (2020) Appealing to human intuitions to reduce animal abuse. Animal Sentience 30(25)

Hawkins, Ronnie Z. (2020) Thinking longer, looking deeper. Animal Sentience 30(26)

Urbanik, Julie (2020) Reinforcing boundaries does not contribute to change. Animal Sentience 30(27)

Marazziti, Donatella (2020) Reflections on psychological and psychiatric consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. Animal Sentience 30(28)

Figueroa, Daniela and Duprat, Ximena (2020) Remedying anthropogenic zoonoses. Animal Sentience 30(29)

Wiebers, David and Feigin, Valery (2021) Heeding the call of Covid-19. Animal Sentience 30(30)

2) For more information on the One Health approach click here.

Bekoff, Marc. GUNDA: A New Film on Animal Sentience Recalibrates Morality.

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