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Daily Maverick: COVID-19 = Capitalism + Ecological Destruction

Road construction into the Lacandon Rainforest, Chiapas, Mexico, 1996. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

COVID-19 and Capitalism: ‘Pandemics… have their roots in environmental change and ecosystem disturbances’

Daily Maverick 24 Mar 2020

Dale T. McKinley

As the escalating crisis of climate change is so tragically and consistently showing, unless there is a reframing of human consciousness and practice centered on planetary health (which umbilically links human and ecosystem health), then our world is heading for a future of perennial planetary disasters.


Understandably, the dominant focus (conceptually and practically), of most governments, media outlets and the general public both globally and in South Africa, has been on understanding and confronting the immediate impact and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, this focus has been directed at global as well as national impacts and responses related to human health and economic relations.

For the most part, however, what has been missing is an understanding of the pandemic’s more foundational causes. As we move through this unprecedented crisis such an understanding can potentially provide fertile ground for some of the conceptual and practical systemic changes we so desperately need.

At the heart of the multi-level crises that this virus has unleashed is the fact that so little is known about it and that it is not an isolated case. The reasons for this are there to find if we look hard enough.

Namely, that the increased occurrence of largely unknown and ever-more-virulent viruses is directly linked to the nature/character of land use and food production under the neo-liberal model of capitalism; to the contemporary dominance of an “industrial model” of agriculture that is umbilically tied to the never-ending search for maximum profits, whatever the human, social and/or environmental consequences.

More specifically, there is a clear connection to the vast increase in mono-agriculture production, which entails the massive appropriation and exploitation of land (forests, jungles, small-scale farms etc.), by corporate and/or state-owned and facilitated agri-business. This is practically achieved by the complimentary destruction of natural animal habitats and richly bio-diverse areas through logging, clear-cutting, mining, road construction and rapid urbanisation.

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