Solidarity Radio

Solidarity Radio

Covid-19 and Capitalism: the science and the social/economic context

April 24, 2020

Let’s start with the origins of this pandemic. Where did Covid-19 come from?

For the past few decades now, there’s been an uptick in these emerging diseases, which are products of capitalism’s disruption of the relationship between humans and earth’s ecosystems. There have always been transfers of diseases from animals to humans and probably back the other way too, for example, rabies or the bubonic plague. But, in the past three or four decades, this has increased sharply. Deforestation and the decline of biodiversity have facilitated the threat of these diseases. And we’re talking about diseases from HIV to Lyme disease, to Ebola, to Zika to Hantavirus, and the Coronavirus. 

Where did Covid-19 come from? What are the challenges to ending the global pandemic?How should the left respond?

A well-known area of ecology called Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functions and Services began developing about 20 years ago. It studies how biodiversity contributes to various functions that shape an ecosystem. We’re talking about things like carbon storage or net productivity. We’re talking about things like resilience, the ability to bounce back. And we’re talking about things like resistance to invasion by pests and pathogens.

Listen to part 1 of the 2 part original audio Old Mole Variety Hour for April 6, 2020

Listen to part 2 of the 2 part original audio Old Mole Variety Hour for April 13, 2020

Diseases will spread through an ecological community much more easily when biodiversity has been reduced. Biodiversity is being reduced on our planet. We’re faced with habitat destruction, deforestation, contamination of habitats and so on. Many, many species or populations of these species are disappearing.

Biodiversity and the dilution effect

A robust ecosystem includes predators and competitors of animals that are normal hosts for a lot of viruses and bacteria, so there are fewer primary hosts for the pathogen. Diminishing biodiversity then expands the number of potential hosts. Second of all, in diminishing biodiversity you are eliminating alternative, poorer quality, hosts for a lot of pathogens. This is what they call the dilution effect. For example, in the natural environment, Lyme disease affects more than just deer and mice. It affects squirrels; it affects other organisms. But these other organisms are not necessarily the best hosts to the bug. The bug hasn’t adapted as efficiently to these hosts, and so it may not be able to reproduce in them or it may not be able to make the connection with vectors like ticks and so on.

These are some of the ways that biodiversity decline actually enhances the possibility of transmission of these bugs. This is what has happened in the case of Lyme, in the case of Hanta or, perhaps, in the case, which I’ll explain, of Covid-19.

We need a program that’s going to address these environmental issues, while providing economic security, food security, housing security, you know, basic needs for people, and we need to amplify the Green New Deal to incorporate Medicare for all

Organisms that survive biodiversity decline are often opportunistic species. They’re often what we would call generalists, like bats or rats or mice. These organisms proliferate in areas where biodiversity has been reduced, where there’s been deforestation, where human settlements are creating edge environments. So, for example, the deer mice that carry Lyme proliferated in grassy fields in the suburbs that were created when real e...