Fevered Planet: How Diseases Emerge When We Harm Nature by John Vidal - review by Oliver Balch

Oliver Balch

Animal, Mineral, Pathogen

Fevered Planet: How Diseases Emerge When We Harm Nature


Bloomsbury 352pp £20

Did it start with a pangolin? Were safety regulators in China’s wet markets to blame? Or does the fault lie with a top-secret biological lab in Wuhan? Nearly seven million deaths later, no one really knows for sure what actually caused Covid-19.

Wisely, John Vidal doesn’t opine. For The Guardian’s former environment correspondent, Covid-19’s origins matter less than what it points towards – namely, mankind’s persistent and seemingly irreversible trashing of nature. His basic argument is the following: the more forests we cut down and the more green space we tarmac over, the more likely it is that nasty germs will jump across the species barrier from animals to humans.

True, zoonotic diseases are nothing new. Our Neolithic ancestors had to deal with animal-borne infections, such as influenza, cholera, smallpox and the common cold. The rise of these maladies in concurrence with the domestication of sheep, goats, pigs and the like is no coincidence.

But if the exchange of pathogens is as old as the hills, our recent decision to bulldoze those same hills has sped up the process exponentially. SARS, MERS, Lassa fever and the Zika, Nipah and Marburg viruses are just some of the thirty or so new infectious diseases

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