The Sage, the Virus and Biodiversity



Human progress is measured by the concessions that the folly of the wise makes to the wisdom of fools (Jean Jaurès)

Antivax, provax, fake news, conspirator … in this summer for once not scorching, insults rain in the skies of France and secession rumbles. The nuanced and subtle remarks are requested to be kept outside all borders. But can they? It is exactly this type of scenario that has led to the collapse of several civilizations facing ecological challenges according to the great biologist Jared Diamond.

Ecological or health? This is probably where, failing to agree on short-term remedies, we could at least find ourselves around one of our undisputed sages, Montaigne: “I mistrust the inventions of our mind, our science and our know-how, in favor of which we have abandoned nature and its rules and to which we do not know how to keep moderation or limit. “ (Essay, LII, ch. 37).

Because this is ultimately the origin, the cause of this new class of so-called emerging viruses which have been multiplying for several decades. How to do ? We are absolutely right to be concerned about the climate emergency, of which the 150,000 fires in progress on the planet are burning symptoms both literally and figuratively. We would be wrong to underestimate the biodiversity crisis of which the current pandemic is a similar symptom. Of course, it will certainly take years to know the precise origin of Covid-19. A virus leak from a Wuhan lab is also a debated hypothesis. But anyway, if it hadn’t been for the Covid-19, another pandemic would undoubtedly have occurred.

For more than 20 years, researchers such as Serge Morand and Jean-François Guégan have been rehearsing, demonstrating and publishing work on the fact that human activities are disrupting ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and causing an increase in the number of epidemics. While cities, high densities and the rush of travel on a global scale facilitate their spread, the fall in biodiversity is multiplying increasingly diverse infectious agents.

One of its main causes is recognized: industrial agriculture. Take the explicit example of the Nipah virus in Malaysia. At the end of the 1990s, the exploitation of deep forests in favor of palm oil caused the exodus of bats, which went to feed on fruits in orchards, fruits which contaminated pig farms. , then humans. This is just one example, but this pattern of zoonosis repeats itself. Since 1940, the number of epidemics has multiplied by more than 10 and 60% of wild animals have seen their populations decline in 50 years.

→ ANALYSIS. Pandemic: how to do better next time?

After the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, many articles or books have dealt with the subject but no strong political measures have been taken to remedy this dramatic decline in biodiversity. We know the number one adage in health: prevention is better than cure. So let’s show the same wisdom as the Montaigne des Lumières. Calling into question our model, and in particular agriculture and food, would change the deep structures of our societies and allow the construction of models respectful of nature. This would also make it possible to preserve the water resource which is becoming more and more precious because of climate change.

Numerous scientific studies have shown that agroecology, respectful of living, local, which favors polyculture and where each waste is used as a resource, could completely feed the planet and reduce the risk of viral zoonoses. Civil society is multiplying social innovations in these areas, innovations that would suffice to support and generalize. Could we at least agree on this transition?

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