MUSINGS OF AN OCTOGENERIAN VEGETARIAN VETERINARIAN
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
CALLING FOR A ONE HEALTH- UNITED ENVIRONMENTAL NATIONS
During the COVID-19 pandemic millions of people have been driven into poverty and hunger while more billionaires have been recorded than ever. Richer nations, some accused of COVID-19 vaccine hoarding, and private corporations are spending $$ billions not to address the Climate, Extinction and Public Health crises but to put rockets into space to circle and explore Mars and to seed telecommunications satellites around the Earth; to manufacture more weapons of mass destruction and animal and human-tested, genetically engineered pharmaceuticals, crops and other animals for biomedical research and human consumption.
A United Environmental Nations* is needed to temper, regulate and redirect the hegemony of this rising, global bio-technocracy. Its current economic, social and environmental trajectory clearly will make life on Earth ever more of a challenge for future generations of indigenous peoples and species. To believe otherwise is to deny the evidentiary science and accept the pseudo-science of bio-technocratic “progress” and its false promises of a better world to come, totally corrupted and deluded by vested interests and ideologies far removed from the concept and praxis of One Health. Indeed, One Health, One People, One Economy and One Earth is the existential reality of global bioethics** which we cannot afford not to adopt.
Millions of people around the world are malnourished while others have limited access to healthful foods and have had little or nutrition-education. Obesity and related diabetes mellitus are prevalent in the latter communities, the World Obesity Foundation reporting the highest incidence of COVID-19 fatalities in countries where obesity is prevalent.
Transitioning to low, ideally zero carbon emission organic agriculture providing nutritious, principally plant-based diets is an ethical imperative to reduce the environmental, climate change and public health costs of high-input, fossil-fuel, petrochemical-based industrial agriculture.
Many solutions lie in enlightened capitalism and responsible socialism but not at Nature’s continued expense with loss of biodiversity and escalating pollution. Both political spheres are stymied by polarizing and paralyzing political ideologies and vested interest. But in re-defining the meaning of progress from the One Health perspective we may re-define what it means to be human and survive and prosper in spite of ourselves before a nihilistic third-party of bio-fascism takes hold. Equalitarianism, respecting human rights and the interests and intrinsic value of other species, plant and animal, coupled with environmental ethics and planetary CPR—conservation, protection and restoration—is the foundation for a viable and just democracy.
*See Maria Ivanova’s article At 50, the UN Environment Programme must lead again. To protect the planet’s health, the agency must rediscover its capacity for connecting organizations. Nature 590, 365 (2021) doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-00393-5**See my book Bringing Ethics to Life: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society published by the State University of New York Press.
THE WEATHER AND NATURE ARE ALWAYS SPEAKING TO US
I feel for the many Texans and others suffering the ravaging consequences of the February 2021 winter storms. Many of them, especially from America’s main fossil fuel processing state, deniers of Climate Change, feel at least that these storms support their denial.
I feel deeply for the birds and other wild creatures including sea turtles and the many outdoor horses and farm animals freezing and starving to death across states where they are not adapted to such conditions. Conditions that are anthropogenic; man-made. Climatic crises like this, and droughts, fires and floods in other regions of the world, were predicted and evidence presented in Congress by myself and many others in the 1980s. Our main opponents were the multinational fossil fuel, hydroelectric power, mining, agribusiness and timber industries. As speaker an elected member of the Washington DC branch of the Club of Rome, noted for its 1972 book Limits to Growth, I appreciated the prescience of concerned scientists and economists about population growth and future socio-economic security. If these legitimate, documented climatic and population concerns had been addressed during these later decades of the 20th century we would not have the 21st century’s climate and refugee and migrant crises that richer nations must deal with today, along with internal, unresolved racial, religious and political conflicts. Millions are malnourished, disenfranchised, unemployed, oppressed, desperate political and economic migrants seeking sanctuary and safety. With the extinction of philopatry, of home and community, come the pathologies of antipathy, apathy, despair and anomie.
Climatologists report changes in the behavior of the Jet Stream caused by accelerated warming in the Arctic polar region are responsible for these devastating winter storms along the southeast, gulf states and up the northeast of the U.S.
In Australian aboriginal lore there is a natural energy force called the Rainbow Serpent which they revere and tells them when and where they will find water. I equate this with North America’s Jet Stream, the regular behavior of which makes for more predictable seasons and rains essential for our food production and ultimate national security. Every farmer reads the weather. Another climate-influencing “serpent”, the deep-sea Gulf Stream, is reported by oceanographers to be weakening due to climate change. This Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation — a current that underpins much of the world’s weather — is now at its weakest state in 1,000 years. The results could be storms and heatwaves in Europe and sea-level rises on the east coast of the United States.
Australian aboriginal law was never to take from Nature more than you need to sustain your basic needs otherwise you will be impoverishing the resource-base and the generations to come. The more disconnected we come from feeling for the living soil and empathy for all living beings, the greater the dystopia and dysbiosis. And the COVID-19 pandemic along with the Climate and Extinction Crises are all anthropogenic. We are too many to consume as much as we do, from animals to energy. Many of our activities and industries, from agriculture to health care are variously driven by fear and profitability with an over-arching adversarial attitude toward Nature.
The February 2021 United Nations report Making Peace With Nature underscores the urgency to change how we perceive, relate and treat the life community on planet Earth and the interlinked environmental crises we face today and that “Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive” according to U.N. Secretary-general Antonio Guterres.
This report provides the ground-work for enabling international collaboration to make the global economy sustainable, non-toxic and “green.” This call to reset global government is the antidote to the Climate, Extinction and Public Health crises we face today, the suppressing of the COVID-19 pandemic being a potential catalyst. After all, it is one of Nature’s warnings which some call retribution. “To achieve world government, it is necessary to remove from the minds of men their individualism, loyalty to family tradition, national patriotism, and religious dogmas.”—Dr George Brock Chisholm, who served as the first Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) from 1948 to 1953.
MAKING AMERICA GREEN AGAIN: AND THE WORLD
Making America “green” again with clean air, water and safe and nutritious food calls for government administrations that do not roll back protective rules and regulations to allow industries to continue to pollute our environment and harm our health. Because of such harmful deregulation in the service of mammon some have called Donald Trump the anti-Christ. Others see him as their savior, creating jobs and protecting their rights, especially those White Supremacists who have been “Saved by Jesus.” Trump is certainly the master of “Doublethink”. The British social critic and seer, George Orwell, in his seminal book Nineteen Eighty-Four. coined the term Doublethink as a process of indoctrination whereby the subject is expected to accept as true that which is clearly false, or to simultaneously accept two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in contravention to one’s own memories or sense of reality.
I think it better to keep religion but not ethics out of such dystopian divisiveness, objectively examine world- views and not criticize and give derogatory monikers to various individuals. All should have a chance to see the light of reason and determine if their world-view and actions cause more harm than good beyond the narrow circle of their vested interests and investors. The league of Conservation Voters posted the announcement on April 25th 2020 that the Trump administration had just indefinitely suspended enforcement of environmental laws at the EPA, clean air an being a key public health issue.
There is no lack of evidence of linkages between environmental pollutants and immune-related diseases according to Kostoff, R.N., Briggs, M.B., Porter, A.L.et al, The Under-Reported Role of Toxic Substance Exposures in the COVID-19Pandemic, Food and Chemical Toxicology, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2020.111687 At least Donald Trump signed the Nov 25th 2019 Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, that had bipartisan support to make showing of videos of animals being tortured a federal crime It expands a 2010 law signed by President Barack Obama that banned videos that show animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled or subjected to other forms of torture. Now, intentional acts of cruelty shown in the videos are also felony offenses.
America can be great again, but not until the individual liberties Donald Trump repeatedly alluded to in this Feb. 28th C-SPAN delivery are coupled with individual and corporate responsibility for environmental protection, conservation, restoration, animal rights and related public health: In sum, the common good and the good of the Commons. We especially need to make international trade “green” and America should not, for instance, be importing beef from Brazil that is destroying the Amazon forest to raise cattle and livestock feed.
Here are some critical issues that call for international collaboration to arrest climate change and loss of biodiversity which imperil our own future and quality and kind of life on Earth that will survive us.
The saying “When the trees are gone the sky will fall” may well be true. Our forests are the main “carbon sink” that absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide and give off life-sustaining oxygen. Warming temperatures are fueling the expansion of pine and spruce beetle outbreaks across North America, Europe, and Siberia, ravaging tens of thousands of square miles of woodlands. Scientists warn that some forest ecosystems may never recover.
Altogether, with their advance fueled by climate change, bark beetles have ravaged 85,000 square miles of forest in the western United States. Pine beetles also have killed trees across roughly 65,000 square miles of forest in British Columbia, and in the southeastern U.S., they have caused millions of dollars of damage to the timber industry in states such as Alabama and Mississippi. They are now advancing up the Atlantic coast, reaching New York’s Long Island in 2014 and Connecticut the following year and could begin moving into the twisting pitch pines of New England and the stately red pines of Canada’s Maritime provinces by decade’s end. Warming winters could push the beetles north into Canada’s boreal forest within 60 years, climate scientists say. (https://e360.yale.edu/features/small-pests-big-problems-the-global-spread-of-bark-beetles )
Because pesticides leach into ground-water and eventually into lakes and rivers and are also lifted into the air in dust particles they are spread to remote regions. This is why neonicotinoids (banned in Europe) and implicated in causing birth defects in deer, birds and other animals have been found in deer throughout Minnesota. (Greg Stanley, Star Tribune, March 2, 2021. See also Judy Hoy’s 2017 book Changing Faces: The Consequences of Exposure to Gene and Thyroid Disrupting Toxins).
These pesticides used on commodity crops like corn and soybean for animal feed and for export are responsible for the poisoning and declines in insectivorous birds and other insectivores as well as many beneficial insects including pollinators. Insects most likely to survive are those whose larvae are protected inside the trees: the bark beetles. Millions of acres of dead and dying forests mean more devastating forest fires and air pollution.
Particulate air pollution comes especially from the burning of fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this pollution causes early death (both short-term and long-term exposure); cardiovascular harm (e.g., heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, congestive heart failure); respiratory harm (e.g., worsened asthma, worsened COPD, inflammation); may cause cancer and reproductive and developmental harm and cause inflammatory and degenerative changes in brain, pancreatic and other organ functions. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter, December 2009. EPA 600/R-08/139F.).
Polluted cities mean less sunlight and solar-sourced vitamin D for inhabitants which can increase their susceptibility to infection. “Philanthropist” and mass-vaccination advocate Bill Gates is promoting another global solution that may cause far more harm than good by blocking coronavirus-killing UV light. He is now funding research proposing millions of tons of chalk dust be spread in the upper atmosphere (called geoengineering) to shade the Earth from the sun as a solution to climate change.
Exposure to DNA damaging and immunosuppressing electropollution by telecommunication and other devices emitting non-ionizing radiation and electromagnetic fields of varying intensity put people at risk where they live and work. (See Electropollution posted at www.drfoxonehealth.com). 5G is of particular concern, close to microwave cooking energy, is documented to kill insects and other life forms.
The COVID-19 pandemic pales before the enormity of the issue of plastic pollution. Plastics are burned in many countries, releasing cancer and birth-defect-causing, lung and brain-damaging dioxins and other chemicals into the air that eventually settle on the crops we eat and surface waters we ultimately drink.
Plastics in our oceans break down into microparticles and are in the fish we eat as well as the water we drink and air we breathe, along with toxic chemicals that adhere to these microparticles.
Scientists have linked ocean microplastics with declines in ocean phytoplankton that are a major source of atmospheric oxygen and “sink” for absorbing carbon dioxide, ecological services similar to what our declining forests provide for all life on planet Earth. Phytoplankton, along with zooplankton which are also harmed by microplastics, are the foundation of the marine food-chain, the other end of which is threatened by over-fishing. ( For details see article From Mineral Oil and Multiple Sclerosis to Plastics, Nanoparticles, Public, Animal, and Environmental Health by Michael W. Fox, AHVMA Journal, Vol. 57, Winter 2019. P 19-21).
A huge amount of carbon stored at the bottom of the ocean is released every year as massive fish nets are dragged along the sea bed, whirling up marine sediment. Scientists estimate that CO2 emissions from bottom trawling amount to one billion tonnes per year on average — exceeding carbon emissions from global air travel. The bulk — more than 750 million tonnes — comes from trawling activities in coastal waters in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of China, followed by the EEZs of Russia, Italy, the United Kingdom, Denmark and France.
Expanding protected areas, including in heavily-trawled national waters, could greatly reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. At a biodiversity conference later this year, nations will discuss plans to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030. “One notable priority for conservation is Antarctica, which currently has little protection,” says ecologist David Mouillot. ( Sala, E., Mayorga, J., Bradley, D. et al. Protecting the global ocean for biodiversity, food and climate. Nature (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03371-z).The COVID-19 pandemic and post-pandemic socio-economic recovery should not distract us from the urgency of addressing the above interconnected issues in order to secure some quality of life for whatever generations are to inherit this Earth.
THE GREAT HEALING:ECO-ECONOMICS, EMPATHY AND REVERNCE FOR LIFE
Bill Neidjie, aboriginal elder and spokesman for the Bunitj clan of the Gagudju language group of Australia’s Northern Territory, gives us some insight into the kind of pan-empathy that is called for in planetary stewardship and now, healing and restoration, in the following words: “If you feel sore…headache, sore body, that mean somebody killing tree or grass. You feel because your body in that tree or earth. Nobody can tell you. You got to feel it yourself….Tree might get sick…you feel it.” (from The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures and Creation by Dr. Michael W. Fox, 1996. Quest Books, Wheaton IL.)
Through such empathy, which can call for endurance, courage and self-sacrifice, founded on bioethics and sound science, humankind may begin the Great Healing: The One Health of people, other animals, plants and the environment, long symbolized in the wisdom teachings of the Medicine Wheel and Sacred Hoop of native American Indian tradition.
One day perhaps in the Forever we will always be able to go and hear the songs of myriads of insects in the jungle night and the dawn choruses and choirs of waking birds. In such Glory restored and protected we may walk in humility and grace and be worthy of our self-anointed title of Man the wise: Homo sapiens indeed! Or will it be a virtual world devoid of virtue with desecrated and polluted wildlands, chemical wastelands of genetically engineered agribusiness crops feeding an electronically- wired sub-species, Homo technos, technocentric man?
I prefer the biocentric, but the choice and fate of future generations is ours to make: To listen to the Earth and care, or not. No democracy can function long, or any civilization, if it is not first and foremost biocentric, feels for the trees like Bill Neidjie and practices the wisdom of St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment, who said “It is in giving that we receive.”
There is more joy and fulfillment in giving rather than having: In liberating rather than possessing: In cherishing rather than coveting and in conserving rather than consuming. Sublimation and the sublime are linked by the self-transcending power of loving kindness, also by our openness to the life and beauty in Nature along with the suffering and transience of sentient life in myriad forms and realms of existential awareness, sense and sensibility. The “dark” side of Nature with animal predation, starvation, disease, earthquakes and other natural disasters we cannot control but they pale before what we can control-our greed, hatred, cruelty and delusion if we chose to evolve rather than cause suffering and perish. The virtues that pave the way to peace and justice for all beings hold the moral compass of conscience and compassionate action through reason and empathy that becomes dysfunctional with egotism, objectivism and psychopathy.
We must break away from our virtually unbroken human history of violence against the natural order as well as against our own kind and other species since we all, ultimately, suffer the consequences because the common good and the good of the Commons are inseparable. Today there is only one dominant economy be it socialist or capitalist. It is fundamentally anthropocentric rather than eco-centric: Exploitive rather than regenerative. A sustainable economy does not “externalize” costs of pollution, resource depletion, public health,animal suffering climate change and loss of biodiversity. These adverse consequences are discounted and variously justified as the “price of progress”, economy of scale, efficiency and productivity and job creation by the global economics of planetary exploitation.
EVOLVE OR PERISH
Between the takers and the leavers we variously define, refine or confine ourselves but ultimately and hopefully, discover the self-in-other in the light, the power and the glory of this living Earth and all who dwell therein. Nicholas Black Elk, a holy man of the Oglala Sioux, wrote that “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that its center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” It is such spiritual vision that inspired Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy and praxis of reverence for life, a universal concept of ethics that could reconcile the drives of altruism and egoism by advocating and upholding respect for the lives of all other beings. He declared that “Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.”
The risk of infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans rises where natural forest is wiped out. Researchers found that, from 1990 to 2016, increases in outbreaks of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases were linked to deforestation. The effect was present even where trees remained but biodiversity was lost, such as at palm-oil plantations. The loss of predators and habitats allows disease-carrying animals, such as mosquitoes, ticks and sandflies, to flourish, say the authors. Outbreaks of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases Are Associated With Changes in Forest Cover and Oil Palm Expansion at Global Scale by Serge Morand and Claire Lajaunie 24 March 2021 Front. Vet. Sci. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.661063
Reverence for life is good preventive medicine and the moral compass for those values, the memes that act epigenetically, like genes, to influence our perception, cognition and behavior. Humane education in grade school and bioethics in high school and college would be the best investment in securing a life of meaning and purpose for all and a safer and more sane society better able to resist totalitarianism and constrain consumerism. To see the living world as a communion of subjects and not a collection of objects, as my friend the late Fr. Thomas Berry was fond of saying, is an evolutionary step which our mutual mentor, Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Jesuit theologian, philosopher and paleontologist, saw as the point “when humanity will realize that biologically it is faced with a choice between suicide and adoration.”
Some of the rituals of initiation and the vision quest once widely practiced by indigenous peoples to facilitate the transformation of adolescents and their attachment-separation-identity conflicts into responsible members of society need to be revisited and restored. With the “greening” of religious and secular organizations this could be quickly accomplished along with the re-wilding of natural areas in and around all our communities. This would enable healing communion with Nature, the physical and mental benefits being documented by practitioners of “forest bathing” away from the technosphere where most of our waking hours are spent connected to cyberspace in the energy-consuming telecommunications matrix of harmful non-ionizing radiation and electromagnetic fields of Homo technos.
Basic education in self-care/health-care maintenance, from good nutrition and home-economics (once taught in all U.S. High schools), to Hatha yoga, baking your own bread and making your own dog food are seeing significant progress thanks to people who still have freedom of choice to embrace the basic principles of One Health in their personal and professional lives and places of work and worship. (For more details visit https://onehealthinitiative.com/ /). COMPASSION FATIGUE The COVID-19 pandemic has given the public greater understanding of the nature of compassion fatigue in those health-care workers in the front-lines of fighting this pandemic caring for many patients who do not recover in spite of everyone doing their best to save lives. Compassion fatigue has both physical and psychological consequences including exhaustion, frustration, anger, guilt, disrupted sleep and appetite, weakening of the immune system, illness including psychosomatic disorders, anxiety, depression, despair, alcoholism, drug addiction and suicidal ideation. It must be recognized early as a situational and relational psychophysical crisis and supportive intervention sought and provided by sympathetic and understanding staff, friends and relatives as well as professional stress-management therapists.
Compassion fatigue may include a diminution of empathy but it is the antithesis of the empathy deficit disorder which is an endemic psychopathology of varying degrees of desensitization, objectification, separation and disassociation exemplified by the rapist, trophy hunter and mass-shooter.
Compassion fatigue needs to be more widely and sympathetically acknowledged since it has been an issue for decades for many caring souls working on other front-lines especially in animal shelters and in the veterinary profession as well as those working in wildlife protection and conservation. Coping with the burden of our own empathy for others, be they human or non-human, can be a challenge and calls for personal vigilance and self-care so we can better care for those whom we love, stive to save and heal. Those caring in-home for a terminally child, parent, spouse or companion animal may suffer some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue. This can cloud end-of-life and euthanasia decisions but affordable and effective palliative, hospice care and support from visiting nurses and veterinary assistants can be of significant benefit for all concerned.
I hope that from the COVID-19 pandemic greater international collaboration will be established, especially prohibiting wildlife trafficking (coupled with sex and drug trafficking) and also live animal markets along with animal factory farms which are the main sources for such pandemics. I see an emerging generation of informed consumers and kitchen anarchists demanding organic whole foods so the world will be made green again. The healthier our environment, the healthier are our immune systems, cognitive functions and any offspring we may choose to have.