DEAR READERS: The agreement that was reached Nov. 13 at the COP26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow is woefully inadequate. This is because of the last-minute inclusion of this troubling phrase: "... accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies." The term "phase-down" replaced the original "phase-out" at the request of India and China. India is also one of the world's biggest producers of buffalo meat that is exported for sale as beef.
There will only be a very slow end to the burning of fossil fuels and raising billions of animals for their meat if their adverse public health, wildlife, and biodiversity and environmental consequences are not recognized, publicized and rectified. These connections were evidently not considered at this summit, even though there were many voices and public demonstrations advocating conservation, environmental and social justice: the political ethos of the One Health movement embraced by various "green" parties and Indigenous peoples (onehealthinitiative.com).
We must all focus on how we can live gentler, healthier lives and refrain from harming other species -- domesticated, farmed or wild -- or their habitats. One consequence of our ignoring and disrespecting ethical, humane and ecological boundaries has been the increase in viral diseases spread from animals to humans. The global COVID-19 pandemic is the latest consequence.
China, highly advanced in gene engineering animals, denies the possibility of a lapse in biosecurity at one of its virology laboratories. But such lapses have happened -- in the U.S. and several other countries. Regardless of its origins, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is related to other infectious organisms that are on the horizon of "emerging diseases" forecast by epidemiologists.
A major failure of the recent global summit was to make any concrete, coordinated commitment to address the looming crises of extreme weather events, including droughts and floods, and the consequential urgent need for humanitarian aid, food security and support of medical and veterinary services -- without borders. Failure to agree to "loss and damage" finances for countries that are especially vulnerable to climate change was most regrettable indeed.
The increasingly fiery, violent waves of desperate and disenfranchised environmental, economic and political refugees, like the burning of coal, should not smolder on for another generation. Social and environmental justice go hand in hand, along with human and non-human rights. As Mike Davis of advocacy group Global Witness reported, "Global leaders ... have failed to put people and the planet ahead of profits and vested corporate interests."
The ethics of the Golden Rule and nonmaleficence -- the "do no harm" principle espoused by physicians -- should be applied to all our activities, relationships and industries.
DEAR DR. FOX: The life expectancy in the Central African Republic is 53. Instead of breeding and supporting so many pets, let's first find meaning and joy in raising the standard of living for humans. Insulin shots for 14-year-old dogs, for instance, are truly unnecessary. -- T.V.H., Tulsa, Oklahoma
DEAR T.V.H.: Your letter raises an important moral issue, and it does seem hypocritical, if not unjust, to give better nutrition, medical care and surgical treatments to companion animals ("pets" in the vernacular) than to the poor at home and abroad.
I regard compassion as a boundless ethic, as per the titles of my books "The Boundless Circle" and "Bringing Life to Ethics." We have a duty to care for all our relations, human and non-human. The social, educational, medical and emotional benefits of animal companionship far outweigh the costs of care and annual wellness veterinary checkups.
Raising the standard of living for humans is inseparable from raising the standards of care for domestic animals, wildlife and the natural environment. Just giving people medicine and food aid, and pouring more money into corrupt regimes, will only extend human suffering without the involvement of nonprofit doctors and veterinarians, government aid agencies and conservation organizations.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)