Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Jennifer Barckley: What Climate Change and the Coronavirus Have in Common

The time couldn’t be more opportune for us to reevaluate our relationship with our planet and the billions of factory-farmed animals who inhabit it against the laws of nature. 

It’s estimated that 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions—not including water and soil pollution—are caused by animal agriculture. More than planes, trains, and motor vehicles combined. (Photo: Tim Geers/Flickr/cc)
It’s estimated that 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions—not including water and soil pollution—are caused by animal agriculture. More than planes, trains, and motor vehicles combined. (Photo: Tim Geers/Flickr/cc)

At its best, each day lately is full of some degree of uncertainty. Stay-at-home orders. Lockdowns. Economic plunges. None of this is normal. Yet, it oddly shares commonality with a different kind of drawn-out pandemic—climate change. Hurricanes, wildfires, extreme temperature shifts are not normal either. These events, unlike the current coronavirus peak, are spread out geographically and seasonally, with the most ravaged effects often occurring beyond our sight. 

What if we could stop the next pandemic before it starts? What if we could curtail climate change before it sweeps us aside? Incidentally, both crises share a common cause: our food system. 

Repair our food system, repair our health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three out of four infectious diseases in people come from animals. That’s 75 percent, of which COVID-19 is one. Others, like SARS, Ebola, swine flu, and bird flu, have similar animal origins.

Until recently, virtually no one was searching for the infamous Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed nearly 50 million people—far more than in World War I. Suddenly, 102 years later, mass Googling began. Why? Like the virus we’re experiencing now, the Spanish Flu originated in an animal—the commonly consumed pig. This is not just a problem of earlier, less medically-advanced eras. In 2009, the swine flu returned, taking between 151,000 and 675,000 lives. Similarly, COVID-19 is suspected to have originated in bats, jumping to humans from another mammal.

While COVID-19 may seem like a foreign disease that we have fallen victim to, it’s just one of many viruses that stem from the extreme confinement of animals being raised for food. In the US alone, nine billion animals are raised each year on factory farms, posing a massive pandemic risk

Add to that the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, attributed to the overuse of antibiotics to promote the growth of animals raised for food. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 700,000 people die each year from drug-resistant diseases. They have been warning us that zoonotic diseases are transferred from animals to humans through exposure to animals and/or their products. The guidance is clear. We need to end factory farming or be prepared for an unhealthy future of pandemonium. 

Repair our food system, repair the planet

Alongside our current crisis looms the seemingly obscure threat of climate change. There have been glimmers of hope that skies and waterways around the world are clearing, as flights and rush hour traffic all but halted. But pausing human activity for a few weeks is not going to stop the tide of climate change.

While curbing global warming requires change on many levels, one most obvious one is that of animal agriculture. It’s estimated that 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions—not including water and soil pollution—are caused by animal agriculture. More than planes, trains, and motor vehicles combined. 

The time couldn’t be more opportune for us to reevaluate our relationship with our planet and the billions of factory-farmed animals who inhabit it against the laws of nature. Crammed into tiny cages. Packed into giant sheds. Instantly taken away from their mothers at birth. Treated like pure products being manufactured for profit. Except, like us, they have heartbeats, emotions, and curiosity. Like us, they get sick, that sickness spreads—through our soil, our water, and directly to humans.

Repair our future

At a time when many of us are looking to regain control of our lives, we can start by taking control of our plates, by reducing our consumption of animal products. Because the truth is—virtually all animals raised for food come from unhealthy factory farms. 

Because the truth is—virtually all animals raised for food come from unhealthy factory farms. 

We’re lucky to live in an era of plant-based burgers that bleed like meat and latte-foaming milk made from liquified oats. Innovations that allow us to experience food like many have grown accustomed to, with less risk and more benefit. 

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), substituting plant protein in lieu of animal protein is associated with lower mortality. Just the dose of health we could all use right now. 

If you want to transform the health of people and our planet in one shot, stand up against factory farming, and fight for a better food system, by taking action with organizations who are doing just that. It’s time to take control of our health and our future. To define the new normal before our quarantines define us.


Jennifer Barckley is the Vice President, Communications for The Humane League, a global nonprofit that works to rebuild our broken food system and end the abuse of animals raised for food.

First published in Common Dreams. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Almost all the meat produced in the US comes from factory farms which are incubators for viruses that spread to humans and a major contributor to climate change. (source: Food & Water Watch)

4 comments on “Jennifer Barckley: What Climate Change and the Coronavirus Have in Common

  1. ShiraDest
    May 13, 2020

    This was one of the major reasons that I have gone for years at a time as a vegetarian, but I inevitably find myself anemic, ill, and going back to eating meat. Particularly when the weather is below F 80°. Any action items for those of us who have difficulty going entirely meatless, and also on a limited budget?
    Best,
    Shira

    Liked by 3 people

  2. kennethrosenpoet
    May 7, 2020

    I’m too old to hate a pig–which of course is not the issue–too foul from all my wallowing, but that sweet photo you post of young pigs in their doomed innocent eagerness, not only reminds me that a pig’s snout ends in an inverted valentine, but has somehow forced me to realize, so does the bottom of my nose. My childhood was spent on small, poor, grubby, desperately corner-cutting family farms. I remember the day, still too young to understand things, when kid goats were born, and anyone stillborn, or with merely a broken leg, was hurriedly tossed into the apparently bottomless black muck of the barnyard. They flew through the air like dead birds and disappeared. Like seagulls on an asphalt city street. Now I’m too old to understand anything. There was a girl my age at one farm named Lovey. I was too shy to call her by name. Factory farms are certainly worse, indubitably loveless.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Barbara Huntington
    May 7, 2020

    Thank you. I found it easy to give up meat. The bleeding fake burgers give me the creeps.

    Liked by 3 people

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