David Quammen (1948, Cincinnati) is one of the most charismatic journalists and writers of the moment. He writes for National Geographic, New York Times, Rolling Stone and Harper’s, among others. His book Spillover. Animal infections and the next human pandemic, published in 2012, reviewed from a scientific perspective different viruses, bacteria and single-celled organisms that infect animals, but sometimes make the leap – therefore the concept of “spill”, spillover-, spreading to the human species. His careful analysis -or “prediction”- and his knowledge on the subject attracted the interest of numerous media around the world. Quammen is also the author of Ebola (2014) and The Chimp and the River (2015), two renowned informative essays about the virus that devastated Africa and on AIDS.

David Quammen

A vegan society would prevent viruses like the Ebola or the SARS-CoV-2?

Eating less meat would indeed reduce the impact of 7.7 billion humans on the natural world, and therefore reduce the chance of more spillovers of new viruses from animals into humans. Decreasing the level of our human population would also reduce that chance. Population plus consumption equals impact. If we have many millions more children being born, to vegan parents, and they become vegans too, the problems continue to grow.

What would we need to change in our individual and community lifestyle?

We need a disaster to persuade us to change. Now we have one. Maybe it will work.

Why does the food industry matter when talking about the viruses?  A sustainable-based production system is needed to prevent situations like the current Pandemic?

Food systems are enormously important. Population size is also enormously important. There’s no point in talking of one without the other.

Your book Spillover. Animal infections and the next human pandemic (2014) predicted a human pandemic. Have we reached a point where there are too many human beings on the planet? 


How to deal with it?

Population multiplied by consumption equals impact. Since we have a catastrophically large human population, and still growing, we must by choice reduce our consumption levels to reduce our overall impact.

You talk about the “Woesean revolution” in your book about Carl Woese’s work, The Tangled Tree (2018). How to understand the human life’s history? 

Thank you for asking about “The Tangled Tree” in the midst of this “Spillover” crisis! Thinking about the long history of evolution is still important, yes, and that’s my point in “Tree.” The history of evolution on Earth has been vastly more complicated, more counterintuitive, and more…tangled…than what we thought we knew 50 years ago. That’s the story I tell in this other book. Carl Woese was an amazing scientist, a curmudgeon, an interesting man, a man of simple and common tastes with deep curiosity and deep understanding.

What is a species?

A species is not a distinct entity. It is a tangle of histories, genomes from various branches of the tree of life, improbable events, and amalgamations. Likewise an individual. Each of us is not one thing. We are composites of genetic elements from across, not just upward through, the tree of life.

Autor: Oriol Urrutia, Co-Editor.

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