Could Climate Change Lead to More Epidemics?
Climate change has contributed to catastrophic losses of our natural surroundings, but during a pandemic, climate change contributes to environmental loss as well as the spread of the coronavirus.
While scientists have not directly suggested that climate change has played a role in spreading COVID-19, the pandemic has exacerbated the outbreak through increased human and animal interaction that does not typically happen. The virus will continue to thrive without human intervention.
It is by now widely believed that coronavirus originated from a bat, but what is not as known is the deforestation that has forced animals out of their habitats and into cities. The blame of the coronavirus does not lie with the animal that spreads it, but greedy corporations that are willing to sacrifice the environment for money.
The School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University released in April a study, which was published in Landscape Ecology, that found people in Uganda were at a greater risk of interacting with animals that carry viruses. These findings further suggest that more destruction of necessary forests will result in similar diseases and that coronavirus will ravage the world.
Since COVID-19 appears to have been passed to humans from a bat, this study serves as a warning for potentially new and worse global pandemics in the upcoming decades. Tropical forests suffer the most from agricultural conversion, and as a result, there is so much habitat destruction that the area can no longer support the species living there. This is why animal-to-human interaction has increased and will continue to do so.
Climate change directly affects the temperature, but the indirect effects include limiting space for various species and limited availability for clean drinking water and food. Without projects like Salumei Rainforest Project and Congo Basin Rainforest Project that help protect and preserve forests in Papua New Guinea and Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is nothing that stops the continued conversion of these lands.
The interim director of the Change Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University, Aaron Bernstein, warned in a Propublica interview against ignoring climate change issues during this time. Bernstein said that disease-carrying animals will inevitably come into contact with humans as there is rapid land development.
“Nature is trying to tell us something,” Bernstein said. Diseases have had an easier time spreading since there is a significant loss of biodiversity globally and severe degradation of habitats. Without layers of protection from the environment, the Earth has continued to warm, and the warm temperatures foster diseases like coronavirus. As COVID-19 continues to unfold, climate change will keep worsening it.
Not only will climate change release more diseases, but it will disproportionately destroy the lives of communities of color. Recent research has shown that people who are living with low air quality have a higher chance at dying from COVID-19. The lack of air quality already most likely comes from fossil fuel companies who have deemed communities of color as an ideal spot to build something like an oil rig.
Black, Indigenious and people of color are even more likely to live near trash incinerators. People exposed to this low quality air are already at risk of respiratory disease infections. For those who are living in areas where climate change heavily impacts them, such as in coastal regions that are constantly at risk of flooding or hurricanes, the risk of death significantly increases. That’s without accounting for socioeconomic status and health-care access that could further place people at risk.
As COVID-19 continues to unravel, we are now seeing an interconnected web of health problems across the world. The coronavirus is tied to another international issue: climate change. However, there is still time to prevent further infectious outbreaks, and it is undeniable that this is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
As Bernstein said, it is a “dangerous delusion” to not see how climate change and the pandemic are connected. This is potentially a place for new climate policy to be created as we face a combined threat of infectious diseases and climate change.