Making Sense of Covid-19 and Its Spread

Glacier in Chile
Credit: LuisValiente / Pixabay

The U.S. President Donald Trump on Jan. 29, 2019, tweeted, “In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Warming? Please come back fast, we need you!” Similarly, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi on being asked by a girl about climate change replied, “That the climate is not changed, nothing like that even exists, it’s the tolerance power of the humans which has reduced because of ageing.” How interesting are these remarks by the leaders of the largest economy and the largest democracy of the world! A complete denial of the very major problem which the whole world is facing — the problem which if continued could make human extinct within the next 400-500 years.

Global Warming and Rise of Pandemics

The average temperature of Earth has increased by 1.1oC since Industrial Revolution, as per estimates an increase of 1.5oC has the potential to kill 18 percent of the world’s species, push 400 million more people worldwide under water stress, increase the sea level to flood out various low lying areas and whatnot! The increase of 0.5oC during winters could reduce the wheat harvest by 0.45 tonnes per hectare in India. With the current level of CO2 emission, the Himalayan glaciers which provide water to 1.65 billion people, two-thirds of it are sure to get dry by 2100. This process of emission of gas and warming of atmosphere has a lag period of 20-30 years, and in the current situation, we are already committed to an increase of 0.7oC in global temperature. Hence, the effects mentioned above are sure to take place.

In an ideal case, the sun rays would have reflected back from the glaciers and refracted out through the thin layer of atmosphere belt. The heavy emission of CO2 has made this thin layer of the atmosphere much thicker to allow the radiation to escape, as a result, a significant amount of radiation gets trapped into the earth surface, the majority of it is absorbed by the oceans, resulting into a high increase in the temperature of water bodies, which further results into hurricane and tsunami. Since a major chunk of the glacier is present under the water bodies, the increase in temperature cause it to melt. The melting of permafrost in the Arctic Tundra also releases methane, of which there are 70 billion tonnes, and methane has 23 times the warming potential than CO2. As these glaciers melt, there will be less of it to reflect the radiation back, warming further, melting more and the positive loop continues. According to an analysis, “Global Warming has heated the oceans equivalent of one atomic bomb explosion per second for the past 150 years.”

The warming of the oceans coupled with their ongoing carbonic acidification due to carbon emissions, kill off a lot of marine life. The last of the remaining coral will be bleached, thus destroying one of the most biologically productive areas of the planet. It will also kill much of the phytoplankton that produces about half of the oxygen we breathe. The simple act of breathing will most likely become far more effortful, far more of a struggle in the future. The meltdown of the glaciers also allow the insects/species buried under them to come up, as more and more glacier will be melted, the more disease-causing insects will come out. Combined with this, the heavy deforestation, rapid urbanization and throwing of wastage in forests affect the ecosystem and the food-web of the land species.

Now the question which arises is — how does this destruction in the animal ecosystem is going to affect us? Zoonoses happen when a disease-causing pathogen – bacteria, virus, fungus – leaps from non-human animals to humans. The novel coronavirus is the most recent in a list of high-profile zoonoses that includes the SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika and Nipah viruses. Zoonoses make up over 60 percent of all emerging infectious diseases around the world, and nearly 72 percent originate in wildlife. Now, in an ideal scenario the hosts become a dead-end for the pathogens, but because of the destruction which we caused, their ecosystem and food-web is completely ruptured. The increase in pathogen carrying reservoirs because of melting of glaciers, and reduction in organisms above them in the food chain because of heavy deforestation and mass killing, have allowed this pathogen to spillover from animals to humans. As it could be very well concluded from this, COVID-19 is not the last one to cause this “unprecedented situation,” it is merely one in the starting, the coming part of this century might have a lot many such pandemics for us if we continue to work in this manner.

Spread of Pandemics

The spread of COVID-19 from Wuhan to the rest of the world portrays a very interesting relationship. In the Middle Ages, it took a decade or so for the Black Death (bubonic plague) to spread from China to Europe, a further decade to move to Britain and beyond, majorly through trade routes and the movement of armies during the Hundred Years War. With capitalism well established, the “Spanish Flu” of 1918 spread in months from Spain through France to Britain, and then to the U.S. and Canada. To a large extent, it followed the course of battle lines, troop movements, and military logistics during WWI. In the era of just-in-time logistics, it took the coronavirus mere days to spread from Wuhan to other Chinese cities hundreds of miles away. It took only two weeks to move beyond China, simultaneously along major supply chains, trade and air travel routes to the industrial areas of East Asia, oil producing Middle East, industrial Europe, North America, and Brazil.

Dun & Bradstreet estimates that 51,000 companies around the world have direct suppliers in Wuhan, while 938 of the Fortune 1000 companies have tier one or two suppliers in the Wuhan region. This explains the finding of tracking map from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, showing the concentrations of infection in the U.S. mirrors similar maps from the Brookings Institution’s studies of concentrations of manufacturing, transportation hubs, and warehousing. This is yet another indication that this virus has moved through the circuits of capital and the humans that labour in them, and not solely by random “community” transmission.

The same report demonstrates that the countries or regions most economically affected by disruptions in global value chains originating in China were (in order of magnitude): the EU, U.S., Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Singapore — all among the most affected by the virus in the early stages. Hence, it very well concludes that labour follows the capital and pandemic follows the labour. 

Our current Plans?

With the current COVID-19 crisis, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has suspended all environmental regulation enforcement. In the name of “deregulation,” its head, Pruitt has told corporations they can boost their profits by poisoning the water, fouling the air, contaminating the food and threatening the planet we call home. Working on the similar lines, the Govt. of India is attempting to relax environmental regulations to improve the ease of doing business and invite more foreign investments. China has relaxed more laws and modified its ways of supervision to boost post-coronavirus recovery. The irony is — coronavirus  is not the last one to hit us, it is very well among the first ones, with such relaxations we are promoting corporates to emit more gases in the air, increase the temperature of the water bodies, melt more glaciers and eventually allowing them to invite more such pandemics.

Marketism was supposedly the tool to achieve the Peoplism, but given the current situation where the greed of corporations is above the well-being of people, it feels that the marketism was the ultimate goal.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.