Businesses are closed. People are out of work. Grocery store shelves are empty. Toilet paper, bottled water, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes are sold out. Shoppers have been lined up with carts packed high as if they won’t get to another store for a while. A number of cities in the world are on lockdown or will be.

It all feels like something out of a science fiction movie. Despite the surreal effect of this situation, the reality is that we are living in a strange time. To make things more challenging, it’s not easy to tell exactly what is accurate with all of the information floating around in the media and on the internet.

Amidst the confusion, however, one thing is strikingly clear—humanity is headed down a dark path. We have some very serious looking-in-the-mirror to do. Beyond this current pandemic, our planet is buckling under the pressure of climate change and environmental devastation. The Amazon rainforest—which produces about 20 percent of the earth’s oxygen—has been subject to burning. Wildfires have ravaged Australia. The polar ice caps are melting. Species are going extinct at an ever-increasing rate.

While there are a myriad of factors across the spectrum of planetary issues, there is a common denominator: humanity’s use and consumption of animals.

Animals being sold in a live market in China sparked the COVID-19 outbreak. Some scientists have determined that the virus originated in a bat and transferred to another animal, likely the pangolin, which then passed on to humans.

Chris Walzer of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said, “The animals are captured in the wild (or alternatively raised on a so-called wildlife farm) and transported to a market, where they interact with other species from other locations. Here, the animals are confined under stressful conditions, exchanging excrements and thus viruses before being slaughtered on-site. This allows for blood and organs to be exposed and increases the interface to humans.”

In addition to thinking about the fact that animals held captive in a market was the initial start of this virus, I have been thinking about the innocent animals who are now being tested on for the COVID-19 vaccine. In short, we are using animals to prevent something that could have been prevented by not using animals in the first place.

Animal exploitation is the root of so many issues. Let this pandemic be a global wake-up call for humanity to stop exploiting animals. Besides COVID-19, using and consuming animals has created epidemics such as swine flu, SARS, and bird flu, among others. A message is being sent to us loud and clear. Will we ignore it or will we rise together and end the exploitation of animals? Are we foolish enough to continue choosing hamburgers over the planet? To continue choosing turkey sandwiches over our health? It’s 2020—it’s not like alternatives don’t exist.

Nowadays, many environmentalists are advocating for a plant-based diet, considering that animal agriculture is a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, ocean dead zones, water pollution, deforestation, and species extinction. Add this to the increasing number of health issues (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer) related to the consumption of animal products, and it becomes undoubtedly clear that it behoves humanity to work together to end animal farming.

Many hold the view that our own issues should be solved before animal issues are addressed. Yet animal issues and human issues are inextricably connected. If we truly want to have a chance at living in a peaceful world, we must pay attention to the ways in which our problems are connected and honor the interdependence between the human species and others.

While the Coronavirus is devastating on multiple levels—affecting so many lives and livelihoods—this is also an opportunity for major growth and awakening. Let this catastrophe open our hearts and minds to the critical need to stop using nonhuman animals. May we take this chance to learn from our mistakes and rise together to save the planet and ourselves. The most powerful thing that anyone can do as an individual is to live a vegan lifestyle. Not only is living vegan a rejection of the exploitation of animals, but it drastically reduces one’s carbon footprint.

We need a revolutionary shift to a vegan world. The survival of the planet and all of its inhabitants depend on it.