Wednesday, October 22, 2014

that magic orange grease though....,

farmingpathogens |   There’s something fishy about the bushmeat narrative of Ebola.

In August we explored the way the story internalizes the outbreak to local West Africans. It’s part of the ooga booga epidemiology that detracts from the circuits of capital, originating in New York, London and elsewhere, that fund the development and deforestation driving the emergence of new diseases in the global South.

But in addition, and not unconnected, there’s something missing from the model’s purported etiology. Indeed, Ebola may have almost nothing, or only something tangentially, to do with the bushmeat trade.

In this new commentary just published in Environment and Planning A, a team of ecohealth scientists of which I’m a part proposes Ebola emerged out of a phase change in West Africa’s agroecology brought about by neoliberal development.

We hypothesize more specifically that the pathogen arose as oil palm, to which Ebola-bearing bats are attracted, underwent a classic case of creeping consolidation, enclosure, commoditization, and proletarianization that at one and the same time curtailed artisanal production and expanded the human-bat interface over which Ebola traffic likely increased.

Explorations of such structural causes, the heart of the matter, have largely been shelved before they’ve begun. The emergency response, or lack thereof, has moved front and center. Both eminently understandable and opportunistically convenient. The failure to address upstream causes produces the crisis that becomes another way of avoiding such a discussion.

The tension manifests in some striking ways, with many veiled allusions to structural sources of the outbreak but few open declarations. It’s as if scientists and first responders are expected to talk about the outbreak’s origins without using anything more than generalities, careful euphemisms and pointed ellipses, avoiding offending funding sources whose capital accumulation helped drive the outbreak in the first place.