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Home / Analysis / Covid-19: A call to save the planet, writes Valmik Thapar

Covid-19: A call to save the planet, writes Valmik Thapar

China’s irresponsibility has led to this crisis. So has the myopia of our political, business leaders

analysis Updated: May 04, 2020 18:23 IST
Valmik Thapar
Valmik Thapar
Put forests, wildlife and the environment on the top of the agenda if you don’t want to be plagued with more disease and death
Put forests, wildlife and the environment on the top of the agenda if you don’t want to be plagued with more disease and death(AFP)

Our world lies torn and shattered, and all because of an invisible virus that probably was let loose by a horseshoe bat. In our understanding of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), one critical factor stands out. The destruction of wildlife and wildlife habitats led to its creation.

It could be from Wuhan’s horrific wet wildlife markets or experimenting with bats in a Wuhan laboratory or destroying bat habitats that led to a crisis where millions are infected and hundreds of thousands are dead.
Intermediary species like the pangolin might have helped in mutating this virus and,
over the last decade, humans have left no stone unturned to decimate pangolins and smuggle them live into wildlife markets. They could very easily have been the intermediary species.

China is hugely responsible for the demand and needs to be shamed across the world. I squarely place blame on its actions. I watched closely its enormous role in the tiger crisis that enveloped India from the 1990s for two decades. I watched its increasing presence in Africa and the resultant decline in Africa’s wildlife. At many international meetings for the last 30 years, it was warned to end its illegal wildlife trafficking and markets. It paid no heed. Many wildlife warriors fought to prevent China from this highly destructive role.

But China, as a global economic power, cared little and plunged on regardless in its craze for wild animal parts and associated medicine. As far as I am concerned, this virus is a result of this. This virus is also a result of the actions of all those political and business leaders who did not care. All those who scoffed at and mocked nature’s warriors, hurled abuse on those who served both wildlife and nature.

The disrespect that many who serve nature have suffered is shocking. Many of us are now angry and unforgiving. Our warnings over the last 50 years have come true. We have tirelessly strived to prioritise the protection of our natural world. Very few who made policy or took decisions listened. Today, they should be drowning in guilt. Big business has failed nature. Few provide grants to protect it. Corporate leaders prefer to remain ignorant of the ways of nature. Now they have been hit where it hurts most. Trillions of dollars lost, and economies at a standstill. If we wake up from this nightmare, will they learn? Will they shed their arrogance? The less said about our politicians and bureaucrats, the better.

I remember how hard I tried to get Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh to create a department of forests and wildlife (which did not exist in the ministry of environment and forests) so that this essential sector was governed properly. The idea was to create a separate ministry over time and allow a ministry of environment and climate change to be independent of it. He agreed with my logic, (10 years ago), and instructed that it should be done. But a bunch of secretaries vetoed him. PM Narendra Modi has not held one meeting of the National Board of Wildlife in seven years. Nobody cares. They still do not realise that the virus they deal with originates in wildlife and is unleashed because of poor governance. They do not realise that India is in dire straits, the economy a mess and life disrupted because of how we deal with the natural world and its myriad species.

Prime ministers, ministers, political leaders, bureaucrats, business leaders, and society must be educated, and fast, as nature’s time bomb is ticking. This coronavirus is a warning shot over the bow. Next time around, nature will let loose a virus that will be much more virulent.

This global pandemic could have come much earlier. It did not because of the tireless service of both nature warriors and wildlife warriors. These people come from all walks of life, in villages, towns and cities and spend their time passionately defending nature. Without them, we would have no world to live in. They provide the most essential service to the nation, but aren’t recognised or respected. More often than not, they are relegated to oblivion. We need to remember all of them today and salute them.

Who are these people? They are, among others, the 150,000 forest officers and forest guards. About 100,000 are scientists, wildlife watchers, wildlife travel promoters, wildlife hotel creators, wildlife photographers, wildlife filmmakers, writers, conservationists, naturalists, village volunteers and non-governmental organisations. We need to celebrate them when we are out of this crisis. The PM must brainstorm with them. You cannot run an economy without a healthy natural world. This virus reveals how easily economic collapse comes. Leaders of the world will have to put forests, wildlife and the environment on the top of the agenda if they do not want to be plagued with more disease and death.

Economic recoveries must be green. No longer can we harm the natural wealth of our country or any country. This virus from Wuhan has proved that it can bring the world to its knees. That is the interdependence of the world today. Healing nature must be our call sign. Our leadership across this planet must wake up to a new era where life, the economics of it, the design of it are non-wasteful and non-exploitative and tempered with great respect for nature.

Preventing global warming and the climate crisis must be immediate priorities. This virus has revealed how our planet is vulnerable and without healing nature, we, as a human race, will die. Let’s learn our lessons and act hand-in-hand with the natural world. We need an educated and enlightened media that does its homework. We need urgent global meetings of world leaders on forests and wildlife. We need global decisions to close wet markets and wildlife trade. We need to find non-invasive solutions for our future. Enough of diplomacy; it is time to call a spade a spade. Enough of G7 and G20 meets. They need to be re-strategised in light of what has happened.

Our mission today must be to create key strategies to protect natural ecosystems, wilderness and all the life that abounds in it. If we do not achieve this mission, there is no hope for our planet’s future.

Valmik Thapar has worked for 45 years with wild tigers. He has also written 30 books on India’s tigers and wildlife
The views expressed are personal
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