The global Coronavirus pandemic is a great example of how fragile our current way of life has become and our growth-based economy that we rely on today.
Unfortunately, climate crisis also looms on the horizon. And it may bring a catastrophe of equal or greater scale than COVID-19.
Like COVID-19, climate change and its impacts do not observe any national and physical boundaries. The two crises are in fact quite similar except for a major difference: Climate change is happening gradually, unlike COVID-19.
The relationship between climate change and health has long been recognized. It was known for a long time ago that pandemics are very likely to happen, but no one expected COVID-19 to arrive and escalate so quickly. Now science tells us that pandemics will occur with increasing frequency in the near future.
It has been proven that climate change, deforestation and wildlife trade are the main contributing drivers behind pandemics. Recent studies also link air pollution to higher coronavirus death rates.
Our health depends on the climatic conditions and other organisms that we share the planet with.
Today, we are facing the consequences of pushing Earth beyond its natural limits. We demand as much from nature as if we live on 1.75 Earths. Increasing demands of resources, minerals and wood leads to the degraded ecosystems and ecological disruptions that drive such pandemics.
Forest cover and land systems are rapidly changing because of intensive farming, mining and infrastructure projects. This process depletes the ability of nature to balance itself, thus disrupting ecological cycles. If current consumption and production patterns continue, the earth will need 183 billion tonnes of material every year by 2050, which is almost three times more than today’s amount and impossible to sustain.
Experts claim that destroyed habitats create the perfect conditions for coronavirus to emerge, and science has already shown that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases come from wildlife.
Global figures for deforestation have rapidly increased – every year an area of forest the size of UK is being lost around the world, leading to loss of critical habitats too. Destruction of natural places will create further conditions for the spread of other pathogens by reducing the natural barriers between virus host animals. It will also drive wildlife to live closer to people, which creates opportunity for pathogens to get into new hosts.
As UN environment chief has said, “Never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people.”
We must say no to wildlife trade, a critical driver of novel infectious diseases by enabling transmission of zoonotic viruses from wildlife to humans.
The planet regenerates quickly. There is now less air pollution, but not for long.
The irony is that current pandemic crisis has reduced levels of toxic air pollutions and greenhouse emissions in many areas as places go into lockdown. Earth observer satellites have detected significant reductions in air pollution levels as less vehicles take to the roads and a lot of activity shuts down. In China, for example, industrial shutdowns have led to a 25 percent drop in CO2 emissions in February, compared with the emission levels in the same period last year. The concentration of NO2 levels - a noxious gas which is primarily produced by traffic and factories - have also fallen dramatically.