We are all inundated with news about the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing is glaringly missing from the coverage: the underlying structural reasons for why this is happening. Yes, in our globalized economy, travel has increased exponentially in the past 20 years, not just for pleasure, but also for profit. Still, that alone does not explain why we’ve had a litany of infectious disease outbreaks over the same period, each one coming hot on the heels of the last and doing nothing to alter our public health response. What does? Evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace, of the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota, has some answers. For the past 25 years, he’s been studying the evolution and spread of influenzas and other pathogens. His research shows that if you really want to understand the nature of global outbreaks, you have to look at global agriculture. Where are large industrial farms or monocultural plantations encroaching on the habitats of wild animals that are the natural hosts for pathogens, like bats and civets and pangolins? Who has pushed people on the margins of society off their subsistence farms and deeper into hinterlands that used to regulate themselves before their ecosystems were destroyed? Who is really to blame for our current predicament?
Go beyond the episode:
- Rob Wallace’s Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Influenza, Agriculture, and the Nature of Science
- Read his article connecting coronavirus to agriculture, “Notes on a novel coronavirus”
- Check out “How to Think About the Coronavirus,” the first in Philip Alcabes’s weekly updates on the spread of COVID-19
- For more of Wallace’s work on Ebola, check out “Ebola’s Ecologies,” co-written with RodrickWallace (or these two academic articles)
- The most critical thing we can do now: flattening the coronavirus curve
- “Inequalities of US health system put coronavirus fight at risk, experts say”
- “This is where universal health care coverage and security intersect”: Read W.H.O. official Dr. Bruce Aylward, leader of the team that visited China, on how its free medical care stacks up against the U.S.
- Yes, there really is facial recognition technology for pigs
Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.