‘We have brought this on ourselves’


World Environment Day is today, Friday June 5, but you could be forgiven for not having it marked in your calendar.

It could be because you don't lend much credence to "World X Day" celebrations manufactured by brands and organisations, in this case the UN.

Maybe you're distracted by other events going on right now, or maybe you just straight don't care about the environment and think climate change is a global conspiracy.

As at least one of Australia's finest scientific minds have pointed out, the COVID-19 pandemic has really taken a lot of attention away from climate change.

This is even after Australia sweltered through our hottest and driest year ever, and large parts of the country were scorched by bushfires exacerbated by a changing global climate.

Whenever the pandemic eventually subsides and climate change resumes getting the attention it deserves - it's going to take more than one day to do something about it.

But one of the world's most well known naturalists thinks the pandemic could be exactly the wake up call we needed, and provide a fresh slate for a new beginning.

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Dame Jane Goodall is a world renowned anthropologist. Picture: AAP / David Mariuz
Dame Jane Goodall is a world renowned anthropologist. Picture: AAP / David Mariuz

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Jane Goodall DBE is considered the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, having studied the social and familial interactions of the primates in the wild over 60 years.

In addition to her work, she's a noted conservationist, and she thinks our disregard for the environment could have helped coronavirus spread, and lead to more pandemics in the future.

"We have brought this on ourselves because of our absolute disrespect for animals and the environment," she said.

"Our disrespect for wild animals and our disrespect for farmed animals has created this situation where disease can spill over to infect human beings."


Dame Goodall made the comments during a livestreamed event held by farm animal welfare organisation Compassion In World Farming.

She also called for an end to factory farming for food. Factory farming and animal agriculture (and its related deforestation and animal emissions) is another contributor to climate change, and can sometimes throw up some confronting news.

Most recently, The Intercept revealed a factory farm in Iowa that claims to be "producing pork responsibly" was essentially "roasting" pigs alive to "depopulate" the herd of pigs that had become "commercially worthless".

The article claimed the barn's ventilation is turned off and the heat turned up, as steam is injected to raise the internal temperature until eventually, after several hours, most of the pigs experience "ventilation shutdown" and die.

Steam still visible inside of a barn where pigs were
Steam still visible inside of a barn where pigs were "depopulated". Picture: Direct Action Everywhere

Factory farming also uses huge amounts of antibiotics, which can lead to drug resistant "superbugs".

Dame Goodall said factory farming was one of the things the world will have to give up.

"One of the lessons learnt from this crisis is that we must change our ways. Scientists warn that to avoid future crises, we must drastically change our diets and move to plant-rich foods, for the sake of the animals, planet and the health of our children."

But a different sort of intensive farming could help us transition.

Under a vertical farming system, agricultural operations previously relegated to paddocks far away, are instead moved into the city, and this could help reduce environmental impact while also shoring up Australia's food supply.

"It's a completely clean, safe supply of fresh produce, which is grown indoors in a fully automated warehouse," robotic vertical farming company Stacked Farm CEO Conrad Smith said.

The recent pandemic has also highlighted another advantage of vertical farming.

"People are more concerned than ever about who is handling their food, where it's coming from and how many stops it made before arriving on supermarket shelves," Mr Conrad said.

He said his company saw a spike in interest in the early stages of the pandemic, which "mainly centred around control over food security, food quality and food safety".

"One of the big draw cards is that from seed to packaging it's fully automated and not once touched by the hand … the greens are packaged and sealed as soon as they're harvested by robotic farming, so it's safe, clean and in pristine condition when delivered," said Mr Smith.

He said vertical farming allowed them to produce more product, quicker, while using 95 per cent less water and considerably less space than traditional methods.

Originally published as 'We have brought this on ourselves'