In this week of chaos, I looked online for occasional moments of relief. I found fascinating videos of animals looking for food in all the wrong places: an escaped ostrich-like emu stopping highway traffic and a herd of elephants crossing a street into a village. But my favorite was a bear cub eating a delivery pizza on a doorstep in Colorado. I chuckled as he devoured the entire pizza.
But I felt guilty for laughing because bears on our doorstep are like canaries in the coal mine. They signify the new COVID-19 reality, and it isn't funny.
No one laughs when poachers take advantage of closed wildlife preserves and hunt down endangered species for valuable skins, teeth and horns. So I agreed when asked to protest poaching and animal cruelty toward sacred cows in India. But I wasn't just being altruistic. These criminals could be responsible for our COVID-19 mess by selling virus-infected animals. We all fear the next pandemic they might generate.
But many choose to ignore the criminals who, at the same time, are illegally clearing forests and destroying wildlife habitats. We have trouble digesting the fact that animals search for food on city streets because so much of their natural habitats and food sources have been destroyed. We think a bear cub munching on a pizza is cute, and elephants taking to village streets are fascinating. But we forget that we're animals, too. And our own food supply is increasingly at risk.
Even before COVID-19, food insecurity affected 10.5% of American households, or 35 million people. The pandemic's affect on jobs, health and economies has meant less money for food, an increase in food deserts with store closings, and fewer school lunches because students are no longer at school.
The number of Americans experiencing food insecurity has more than doubled. Food banks are now essential. From March through June of this year, they distributed almost 2 million meals and might reach 6 billion meals this year.
The last thing we should do is damage the habitat that is our source of food for animals like ourselves. While some may say that deforestation is not an issue, it's time to look more closely at the environmental problems that are being intensified as we speak. Rolling back regulations contributes to an unhealthy water supply. And a ban on dumping one poisonous chemical has led to companies dumping a new harmful chemical. The result isn't just the rotting of our innards; it means a rotting of our habitat, agriculture and food supply.
Climate change is intensifying the damage. Look at the historic fires in our Western states. Farms and livestock that provide our food, as well as the Napa Valley vineyards, are burned out of existence. Washington's governor said, "There is no fire suppression plan on this planet that does anyone any good if it doesn't even acknowledge the role of climate change."
Yet the Trump administration is stalling a congressionally mandated climate change report. We're to ignore that this is the hottest year in history while the administration expands logging in Alaska's 10 million-acre national forest. We're to deny climate change as 7,000 oil, gas and petrochemical companies receive billions in COVID-19 loans intended for small businesses.
Roman emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned, an apt comparison to our own habitat going up in smoke. But we don't have to be silent as flames engulf us. So, instead of chuckling about a bear stealing someone's delivery pizza, consider that you could be next. Do something to save our habitat and ourselves. Vote.
Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at deborah @diversityreport.com.