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LETTER: COVID-19 a wake up call for humanity

‘Missing in the COVID-19 conversation is how the virus was able to mutate and transfer to sapiens’

Dear editor,

Re: COVID-19 epidemic: Wake up call for humanity

I can’t be the first person to see COVID-19 as H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, in reverse. It’s too obvious.

Recall that in the science fiction classic, it’s the martians who invade. They – insect-like creatures with six spindly limbs – arrive in pods and start assembling huge towers with killer-ray weapons mounted on top. As they set about destroying humanity, all military defences are brought to bear, including, as a last resort, atomic bombs. Just when it looks like it’s all over for homo sapiens, the aliens mysteriously start dying off in droves. The protagonist narrator/survivor, hiding out in a remote country cottage, wakes up one morning to discover the creatures’ corpses littering the roads. Subsequent autopsies reveal that the aliens, despite their technological superiority, lacked the most primitive weapon of all; an immune system. Finally, it was lowly microbes that saved us.

Was Wells even suggesting an alternative interpretation, namely that we take a good look in the mirror and consider who the real invaders are; who/what the real threat is? After all, Wells was a committed socialist, a student of Darwinian evolution, and deeply suspicious of industrial capitalism even then, when the Industrial Revolution was still taking shape.

So indiscriminately destructive has conventional human behaviour become — woven into the social fabric you might say — that we don’t even bat an eye when another species goes extinct. We stand by, powerless while the last stands of old growth forest are cut down to make toilet paper, “inconvenient” mammals removed to make way for roads and runways, mountain tops blown off for dinosaur coal, 95 per cent of all fish species harvested to the brink. In the 21st century we’re still beholden to what is perhaps the most pernicious myth ever perpetrated on the public; that of infinite growth on a finite planet.

Missing in the COVID-19 conversation is how the virus was able to mutate and transfer to sapiens. This isn’t the first virus to make the species leap, nor will it be the last. Make no mistake — this is all about meat, and the mass confinement, mis-treatment and slaughter of animals, in this case wildlife “wet markets” in the Third World. The mass confinement and mistreatment of animals — mostly hidden from sight in North America — is the meat industry’s ugly little secret.

You’re not supposed to care about where your food comes from, how much suffering/abuse goes into producing your beef, pork and chicken, or the enormous hidden subsidies that make so-called cheap food possible. As Paul McCartney put it: “If slaughterhouses were made of glass, everyone would give up meat”. And, if this weren’t enough, there’s another more scientific reason for rejecting meat; one that has everything to do with climate change.

It’s impossible not to think of the Anthropocene — the new geological age humans have forged — in these existential terms. You keep hearing about the asteroid on a collision course with Earth. There’s another kind of asteroid, one that’s already arrived. We just haven’t recognized it yet. Our existential predicament reminds me of the remark made by Oliver Hazard during the War of 1812 when the Red Coats suddenly appeared over the horizon: “I’ve never seen the enemy sir. It’s us”.

Hugh Nevin,

Fort Rupert