Welcome to our weekly round-up of the ties between COVID, conservation, and what comes next

May 1, 2020

Humans. We are unrivaled social learners. We spend our first two decades of life sponging up as many lessons as possible from parents, peers, teachers, friends, and increasingly these days, social media. As we veer into adulthood, we continue to strive to learn from our experiences, gleaning meaning out of the social hardships, relationship struggles, and career calamities life throws our way. But what to make of a pandemic? We suddenly find ourselves entangled with a virus that is wreaking havoc on human populations around the world. What does it all mean? And what lessons are we meant to learn from it?

I’m sure I’m not alone in asking these questions. And based on the articles I’ve been reading and podcasts I’ve been listening to over the past five and a half weeks, there are plenty of experts from nearly every discipline out there willing to wager an answer. The UN urges a “build back better” effort. The Guardian tells us to “halt the destruction of nature or else.” The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says “stimulus measures must work for all living things” and places the blame for the pandemic squarely on the shoulders of rapacious human behavior. But for this week’s Greater Gila Campaign’s Weekly COVID Roundup, I wanted to focus on those voices that are elevating the not-so-new idea of “One Health.” I say not-so-new because the same essential concept can be found throughout Indigenous Ecological Knowledge systems the world over (which I will write about for next week’s blog post). But as a term used in an attempt to galvanize new ways of relating to our world, it’s certainly making the rounds. But what does One Health mean, anyway? And why does it matter?

In a cursory dive into the history of the “One Health” concept, the One Health Initiative pops up early in a Google search. Their mission statement is something along the lines of tending to human health, animal health, and ecosystem health through cooperation and collaboration between experts related to each field. Health care should include a holistic understanding of the ways human well-being is tied to animal and environmental well-being. Yes. Exhibit #1: COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also houses a One Health Office, which offers similar collaborative approaches to health care, mobilizing terms like “multisectoral” and “transdisciplinary” in their gambit.

There’s the One Health Commission, formed in 2007, which aims to understand the interdependence of human and natural systems. And the World Health Organization’s (WHO) One Health program that espouses much of the same. So it seems safe to say that the notion of One Health—politically, socially, and environmentally—is widely accepted as an important perspective in understanding and establishing metrics of wellness.

It’s also a useful concept in conservation work, it turns out. WildEarth Guardians recently launched a moving Earth Day at 50 Pledge. It covers much of the same ground as the above initiatives, asking for unequivocal protections of the complex ecosystems that ensure the health of the human and the more-than-human, the two being inextricably linked. Zooming further in, I’d proffer that the work of the Greater Gila campaign, in seeking large landscape-scale designations of public land in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, is practicing another form of One Healthcare. We see the palliative effect of land that is allowed to be wild, the nourishing quality of land that is free to harbor the plants, animals and rivers that depend upon its dynamism. We know in our bodies and spirits that the flourishing of that kind of health is also the flourishing of our own.

The pandemic teaches us that there is truly only One Health—Earth Health. We must all recommit ourselves to ensuring that the systems that maintain the immunity of this One Health are robust and resilient. Let’s take this lesson and run with it.

Each week, the Greater Gila Campaign Team of Leia Barnett and Madeleine Carey will share what they are reading, listening to, and watching and how it shapes the connections they draw between the current crisis and their work to conserve large landscapes.

About the Author

Leia Barnett | Greater Gila New Mexico Advocate, WildEarth Guardians

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