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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Phil Gasper <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 28 Feb 2020 09:49:38 -0600
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How the Climate Crisis Is Making the Spread of Infectious Diseases Like
Coronavirus More Common
StoryFebruary 27, 2020 [image: Watch icon]Watch Full Show

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   - Coronavirus <>
   - Healthcare <>
   - Climate Crisis <>


   - Sonia Shah <>
   investigative science journalist and the author of *Pandemic: Tracking
   Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond*. Her new book is titled *The
   Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move* and
   will be published in June. Her latest article, published in *The Nation*,
   is titled “Think Exotic Animals Are to Blame for the Coronavirus? Think


   - Sonia Shah on Twitter <>
   - "Think Exotic Animals Are to Blame for the Coronavirus? Think Again."

Sonia Shah is an investigative science journalist and author of “Pandemic:
Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond.” Her new book is
titled “The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the
Move” and will be published in June. She says the climate crisis is making
outbreaks of infectious diseases more common, with the destruction of
natural animal habitats and the changes in migration bringing humans and
animals into ever-closer contact and making new pathogens more likely. Her
latest article, published in The Nation, is titled “Think Exotic Animals
Are to Blame for the Coronavirus? Think Again.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

*AMY GOODMAN:* This is *Democracy Now!* I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to
look at the spread of the coronavirus, with cases now diagnosed in at least
47 countries and on every continent, save Antarctica. Nearly 3,000 people
have died so far. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak
an international health emergency.

For more, we’re joined from Cleveland, Ohio, by Sonia Shah, science
investigative journalist and the author of *Pandemic: Tracking Contagions,
from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond*. Her new book is titled *The Next Great
Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move*. Her latest article
published in *The Nation*, “Think Exotic Animals Are to Blame for the
Coronavirus? Think Again.”

Explain, Sonia Shah. And thanks so much for joining us.

*SONIA SHAH:* Thanks for having me. So, what I was trying to get at in that
article was this fact that over the past 50 years we’ve had over 300 new
pathogens either kind of newly emerge, that never have been seen before, or
come into new places, where they’ve never been before. This novel
coronavirus is just one of a whole spate of other pathogens we’ve seen —
Ebola in West Africa, where it had never been seen before, Zika in the
Americas, where it had never been seen before, new kinds of tick-borne
diseases, new kinds of mosquito-borne diseases, new kinds of highly
drug-resistant bacterial pathogens. And we know that about 60% of these new
pathogens originate in the bodies of animals. About 70% of those are in
wild animals. But it’s not because wild animals are particularly infested.
It’s because of the way humans and wildlife are coming into novel intimate
contact, and that is because of human activities.

*AMY GOODMAN:* So, talk about this connection between climate crisis and
the coronavirus. We’re not hearing very much about this.

*SONIA SHAH:* Well, we know, in a general sense, that the climate crisis is
resulting in tens of thousands of wild species moving into new places. It’s
scrambling our migration patterns. And so that’s going to contribute to
this broader phenomenon of people and wildlife coming into new kinds of
contact. We can see with, for example, deforestation, that when you cut
down the trees where bats roost, for example, they don’t just go away. They
come and roost in your back gardens and your farms and your yards instead.
And that allows people and bats to come into new kinds of contact. And the
microbes that live in their bodies, which don’t cause them any kind of
disease, can spill over into human bodies. And that’s how we turn animal
microbes into these epidemic- and pandemic-causing pathogens.

*AMY GOODMAN:* So, how should this be dealt with? How should people
understand the coronavirus? Diseases always exist, but how are epidemics
and pandemics preventable?

*SONIA SHAH:* I mean, infectious disease is always going to exist. We live
on a microbial planet, so that’s part of the human condition. We’re not
going to get rid of all of the microbes, nor would we ever want to. But
pandemics are something that we can do a lot to prevent. There’s a lot we
can do to protect wildlife habitat, for example, so that the microbes in
animals’ bodies stay in their bodies and don’t cross over into our bodies.
We can do a lot to do active surveillance, to actually look for microbes
that might be turning into human pathogens, and try to contain them before
they start to cause epidemics. And that is scientific work that has been
really successful the past 10 years. So if we have the political will to
continue funding that kind of research, there is a lot that we can do to
kind of reduce the risk of pandemics.

*AMY GOODMAN:* This is Congressmember Jan Schakowsky questioning Health and
Human Services Secretary Alex Azar Wednesday about whether the coronavirus
will be affordable to all.

*REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY:* You’re saying it will for sure be affordable for
anyone who needs it?

*HHS SECRETARY ALEX AZAR:* I’m saying we would — we would want to ensure
that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price,
because we need the private sector to invest. The priority is to get
vaccines and therapeutics. Price controls won’t get us there.

*AMY GOODMAN:* Schakowsky tweeted, following the hearing, she gave Azar
three chances to assure us that any coronavirus vaccines or treatments
developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be affordable and accessible to
everyone, and he flat-out refused to do so. Sonia Shah?

*SONIA SHAH:* I mean, it’s just reprehensible. I think there’s a
well-understood principle in the global health community that these are
commodities that we need to make public. So, you know, this is like a real
failure of leadership, and it’s actually — it’s a travesty.

*AMY GOODMAN:* Finally, what do you feel the corporate media, the
mainstream media, is missing here, that you feel is essential for people to

*SONIA SHAH:* I think there’s a sense in which we kind of frame narrative
around disease outbreaks as something foreign, like an encroachment from
outside that invades us, and kind of posits us as sort of these passive
victims. But, actually — and I think that really obscures the larger story,
which is that there’s a lot of human agency involved in how we’re turning
microbes into pathogenic and pandemic-causing pathogens. So, I think we
need to recast the whole way we talk about disease as not a problem of
foreign invasion, you know, this — you know, we talk a lot about places
when we talk about where diseases come from. We talk about the “Wuhan flu”
or the “Spanish influenza,” even though that influenza did not originate in
Spain. So, there’s a sense in which we want to try to make it seem like
these are foreign things that are coming to get us and encroach upon us.
And that’s a habit of mind that we have around a lot of other subjects, as
well. But I think that obscures what our own role is. And there’s a lot we
can do and that we are doing. We are turning a lot of these microbes into
these pathogenic microbes instead.

*AMY GOODMAN:* And finally, with the Trump administration gutting the very
government programs that were tasked to deal with something like this, the
CDC cut 80% of its efforts to prevent global disease outbreaks because it
was, quote, “running out of money.” The department went from working in 49
countries to just 10, with President Trump with his isolationist tendencies
— you know, why give money to other countries? Explain why, Sonia Shah.

*SONIA SHAH:* Well, I think the — and the other program that’s been cut,
that probably protected us from unknown pathogens, that we don’t know how
much we’ve been protected, is the Predict program, which funded — was
through the USAID and funded scientists to actually look for microbes that
might be turning into pathogens. And over 10 years, they found about 900
different microbes that might be doing that, and were able to contain them
at their source. And that’s the kind of program that the Trump
administration also cut. And I think the reason they gave was that they
were uncomfortable funding cutting-edge science.

*AMY GOODMAN:* Well, Sonia Shah, I want to thank you for being with us,
science investigative journalist, author of *Pandemic: Tracking Contagions,
from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond*. This is *Democracy Now!*,, *The War and Peace Report*. We will link to her piece
in *The Nation* magazine that she just wrote, called “Think Exotic Animals
Are to Blame for the Coronavirus? Think Again.”