One Health Stresses Working Together to Heal a Broken Planet
Playing the blame game doesn't really help us clean up global problems.
Posted April 4, 2020
We're all in this mess together and must work as a unified community to heal our wounded and troubled planet.
The ongoing, universal, horrific, and increasingly virulent COVID-19 pandemic affects everyone, every single human and nonhuman animal being. While some humans and nonhumans will suffer less than others, the only way we'll get out of what's currently happening—to one degree or another—is to work together and put aside class, species, and all other barriers that get in the way of working hand-in-hand or hand-in-paw as a unified community.
There's no doubt that humans have harmed and killed countless animals and have decimated vast areas of our magnificent planet and beyond. And, despite what we've done and continue doing in an era called the Anthropocene—usually referred to as "The Age of Humanity" but more appropriately called "The Rage of Inhumanity"—we're still around to keep wreaking havoc in alarming and likely irreversible ways. I'm surely not a fan of how numerous humans violently mistreat other animals and Earth as if it's business as usual. However, because we're still major players in causing global problems, we must play some role in healing our severely wounded and troubled homes and all inhabitants right now and in the future as long as we're around.
Given that humans have to be part of the healing process, I decided to revisit the One Health movement because I'm receiving many emails, a good number teeming with expletives, about how "bad" we are and how the world would be better off without us. While this might be the case in the future, right now numerous humans and other animals are dependent on the good intentions of those who are in a position to help them along, and blaming ourselves for everything bad that's happened and is happening now really doesn't work very well. Indeed, there are many humans who work tirelessly and selflessly for the good of other animals and Earth, and we need to join forces with other people who, for one reason or another, don't seem to care. This may include people who are leaving rampant messes for the next generation to clean up.
The strength of the One Health movement.
The Centers for Disease Control characterize the One Health movement as follows:
"One Health is a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach—working at the local, regional, national, and global levels—with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment. One Health is an approach that recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment. One Health is not new, but it has become more important in recent years. This is because many factors have changed interactions between people, animals, plants, and our environment."
I am a strong supporter of this initiative and you can read more about it in an interview I did with the University of Denver's Sarah Bexell, who has been a leader in this movement. Dr. Bexell correctly notes, if we harm one of the three pillars of the One Health movement—humans, other species, and the natural environment—all three are harmed. The pillars are closely interlinked. On the positive and hopeful side, when we work to protect one pillar, all have a better chance of positive outcomes and surviving.
Where to go from here?
How can we expand our compassion and kindness footprints to include all beings? There are many ways. Here are a few: Be kind to everyone; think about the One Health movement; apply the Golden Rule; teach children and their teachers well; get kids out into nature and allow them to express their thanks, hopes, and dreams; pay attention to the 12 Ps of rewilding by being proactive, positive, persistent, patient, peaceful, practical, powerful, passionate, playful, present, principled, and proud; and recognize the intrinsic value of all living beings.
What we're doing now will result in a disastrous situation for future generations. Damaging the Earth's health really ends up damaging human health over time. I see rewilding as a process that will result in much closer and deeper reciprocal connections with other humans and other animals and their homes, and that if enough people rewild themselves, rewilding will become a heartfelt and heartful meme, a behavior that will spread from person to person and to future generations as a form of cultural evolution.
It's also important to be kind to people with whom you disagree. On occasion, it's OK to agree to disagree and move on because most of us have finite time and energy for putting forth messages about the importance and power of cross-species cooperation and kindness.
Playing the blame game doesn't work.
"... our findings strongly suggest that humans’ views about human rights and animal rights are tightly linked."
While we have massively destroyed our own and other animals' homes, playing the blame game doesn't work. When, and if, we ever recover—and we'll likely have to redefine what we mean by "recover"—we can ponder how the world would have done or will do at some point in the future without us, or at least without selfishly dominating our planet and all of its residents. It's likely that most post-human animals, including companion dogs, cats, and others, won't miss us very much at all.1,2
Regardless of future possibilities, for now, while we're here, we need to deal with our ubiquitous presence. We must work together and do much better than we've done. Looking to youngsters for words of wisdom about other animals, other humans, and nature is a good way to go. Many people also are turning toward companion animals, other animals, and nature to find some solace in these extremely challenging times. They know what works for them.
It's easy to accrue compassion and kindness credits. When we have more inclusive umbrellas of kindness, compassion, and respect, it'll be a win-win for all, including future generations who depend on our working hard to hand over a much healthier and peaceful world.
It's also essential to remain positive in gloomy times. I like to keep in mind what 7-year-old Shannon empathically and emphatically once told me: "You can never be too kind." And, it's really easy to do.
You can read more about what different scenarios might look like as and when we disappear in these essays: "How Will Dogs Reshape Nature Without Humans to Control Them?"; "As Dogs Go Wild in a World Without Us, How Might They Cope?"; "Puppy Mills, Pandemics, Disaster Preparedness, and Decency," and "I'm a Mess About My Dogs and Coronavirus—How Will They Do?" A good number of serious scientists are paying close attention to various catastrophic trajectories that decimate human populations, and what's happening right now provides a lot of food for thought.
Along these lines, as I was completing this piece, I saw an essay in the New York Times called "The Bronx Zoo Is Also Empty, but the Animals Don’t Mind."
Bekoff, Marc. Easy Ways to Connect Kids to Animals, People, and Nature. (Some simple practical tips for how they can express their hopes and dreams)
Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence. New World Library, Novato, California, 2014.
The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint. New World Library, Novato, California, 2010.
Ferrucci, Piero. The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life. TarcherPerigree, New York, 2016.
Goodall, Jane and Marc Bekoff. The Ten Trusts: What We Must Do to Care for The Animals We Love. HarperOne, San Francisco, 2002.