To be in favour of more care for the environment is just fine. It’s even defensible – even if misanthropic – to prefer the environment to human beings. It’s just a value judgement and as with fundaments we’ve all got one of those.
Where George Monbiot goes wrong is in not understanding the details of what he’s talking about. Here he wants to tells us that Covid was because we’re destroying the environment. This is something that could even be true even if we’ll leap over that particular point here. The problem is in certain other things he says in the process:
This in turn has brought people into ever closer contact with wild animal species, many of which carry dangerous pathogens and diseases. When humans venture into ecosystems and destroy the habitats of wild species, these diseases can jump from animals into the human population.
Around three-quarters of new diseases that infect humans come from other animals.
Well, yes, that’s fair enough. That’s how evolution works. Things do not spring whole and new from the environment, they are always mild adaptations of what was there before. Germans are, as we’ve been told, that series of adaptations that runs from Austrians through Bavarians to the full flowering of Otto von Bismark.
We tend not to have diseases – parasites yes, but not really diseases – that jump from fish to humans because too much of an adaptation is required for this to happen. Intermediate forms are required to get from fish to mammals. From other mammals to humans is easier and does indeed happen – to a certain extent measles is the cattle disease rinderpest that has made that leap to humans, rinderpest is the human disease measles that has leapt to cattle. Canine distemper being another variant. Not wholly and exactly you understand but as an aid to the base of the idea it’s fair enough.
Covid from bats to human? Sire, both mammals, why not?
It’s this next bit:
As countries have sought to grow their economies, activities like logging, mining, road building, agricultural expansion and urbanisation cause massive habitat destruction.
Ah, no. Urbansiation reduces habitat destruction. Putting 10 million people in London reduces, massively, the habitat required to accommodate 10 million humans.
It means investing to decarbonise the global economy as fast as possible, and shrinking our environmental footprint. It means bringing an end to destructive activities like deforestation and intensive mining.
Umm, no, not really. Mining is part of the solution, not a cause of the problem. At two levels in fact. That idea of decarbonising the economy means replacing fossil fuels with minerals. The minerals we’ve got to go mine for – the silicon, aluminium, steel and so on. That’s what the process actually is, replacing one mined material with another.
The other point is that if we were to be worrying about land, the expansiveness of civilisation, alone then we’d prefer the fossil fuels. Because a coal mine and a plant to burn it requires very much less land than the equivalent output from a series of windmills. This is true for whatever level of energy generated civilisation we require or desire.
Monbiot is not being contrarian here, he’s being contrary. He’s arguing for a form of energy generation that requires more land be used. As with his complaint about urbanisation, non-urbanisation requires more land, more contact with potentially zoonotic diseases.
But then we knew Poor George was getting confused, right?