Climate Change Impact
Climate Change Impact: Going Sustainable Could Prevent the Next Pandemic or “The Connection Between Human Impact and Zoonotic Diseases”
There is a frequently dismissed fact about the origins of epidemics and pandemics. It is the fact that human actions significantly impact the way diseases transmit. Through a complex set of interactions, when the natural balance is disturbed it is way more likely that a disease of zoonotic nature has means of spreading. Zoonosis in simple terms, is an animal originated infectious disease that passes from an animal to a human. As a mind-blowing fact, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) states that “more than 70% of human diseases are of animal origin, and have a direct relation with humans’ reliance on animals for food” (Mishra et al., 2021). According to the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, with very high confidence it is shown that the vector-borne diseases have increased in terms of occurrence and the range of occurring has expanded geographically. Also, the report proves that “animal and human diseases, including zoonoses, are emerging in new areas.” As shown in the graph almost all regions in the world are exposed to the increasing negative impact of infectious diseases.
Covid-19 pandemic is also thought to be of zoonotic nature. According to WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, although there has been some research on the origins of the virus, the results are not fully conclusive. However, Peter Ben Embarek who lead an investigation on behalf of WHO traced the origins of the virus alongside with other virology experts. The general belief is that the virus came from the wildlife market in Wuhan. This finding confirms that human activities are in fact very influential on how pandemics emerge.
Humans through activities such as habitat fragmentation, deforestation, biodiversity loss, intensive agriculture and livestock farming, uncontrolled urbanization, pollution, climate change and bushmeat hunting and trading create the perfect storm for infectious diseases to spread. These activities, often in combination, create ideal situation for infectious diseases to have devastating effects. That is why the only feasible solution to prevent pandemics is to slow down global warming and significantly alter some of the economic activities and the way we do them. To have a better understanding on how exactly this happens and build an insight for solutions, it useful to examine some of the factor behind the spread of zoonotic diseases.
For starters human induced global warming significantly changed the climate in some areas extending the tropical corridors which are home to some vectors and carriers of diseases. As an example of carriers mosquitos are the most infamous ones. Changing environmental conditions force animals like mosquitoes to adapt which in turn allows them to live in more diverse places.3 As a result, these carriers have more chance to interact with humans making pandemics more likely.
Similarly, extreme weather conditions facilitated by the global warming is another factor that allows disease carrying animals to spread. Floods create a perfect environment for some of the vectors to multiply and droughts cause shortage in food which would eventually create a dependency on bush meat, meaning some of the population will have to consume meat of wild animals in order to survive. Both of these extreme weather conditions have other severe implications but our recent experience with Covid-19 pandemic showed that there were dangers that we were not even aware of as humans.
Loss of biodiversity due to anthropogenic activity is another reason why pandemics and endemics could occur more often. Morand et al. in their work show that decrease in species richness causes emergence of infectious diseases. Also, destruction of forests and habitats where wildlife is in a fragile equilibrium causes carrier animals to move closer to human populations especially around farms where there is livestock. Then the transmission of diseases from wildlife to livestock to humans became inevitable.
One other reason is the human economic activities such as extensive livestock production, intensive agricultural practices increasing urbanization and pollution. For example, The Netherlands is a very densely populated country with more than 500 inhabitants per km2 land area, meanwhile the livestock density is even higher. The total amount of livestock compared to available land areas is extremely high. This would point out to two problems. First being, in order to provide necessary space for the containment of livestock many natural habitats are being transformed from their original status. Second point is that rapid urbanization combined with large livestock farms mean there would not be enough buffer zone in between these two ecosystems. Also, ever increasing pollution creates ideal ground for zoonotic diseases to emerge. These factors combined would allow diseases to easily jump from wildlife to livestock to eventually humans. And with pace of the globalization today, humans are very mobile and a disease could hardly be contained in a confined area. It could easily be transmitted into all around the world.
Obviously, it would be impossible to eliminate all the risk of zoonotic diseases, they are a part of natural equilibrium. However, it very much seems like we are doing nothing to prevent it. In contrast, anthropogenic activities are only making pandemics more possible. The first step to the solution goes through developing and awareness for the problem. The connection between global warming and pandemic is not salient to many people. After that the solution goes through adapting livestock practices, limiting our Co2 footprint so that the effects of global warming do not get any worse. After all that has been lost due to Covid-19 pandemic, preventing the next one is largely on us and our actions.