Continued Environmental Degradation Will Unleash Future Pandemics (Video)

There’s been a lot of finger pointing over where the coronavirus originated.

Did it come out of a Huanan seafood market, otherwise known as a wet market, in Wuhan, China?

Was it transmitted to humans from a pangolin?

Was it somehow contracted from a bat?

Did China develop it as a bio-weapon?

Maybe no one is responsible.

We’re all familiar with climate change‘s role in increasing extreme weather.

It’s also plausible this pandemic is simply another result of our environmental degradation.

At next month’s United Nations summit on biodiversity, scientists are prepared to warn world leaders present levels of deforestation and losses to biodiversity will result in new deadly global pandemics.

Widespread land development has contributed to a third of all developing diseases.

Zoologist Peter Daszak, who heads EcoHealth Alliance, an organization that studies the connections between human and wildlife health, said in an interview with Slate:

“More and more people are also living and working closer to wildlife. It isn’t about one or two individuals putting people at risk. The risk also comes from clear-cutting rainforests, remote mining, and even widespread suburbanization.”

A recent study out of the University of the West of England and the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter hypothesizes that biodiversity and natural processes are “ultimately interlinked” with diseases.

Lead author, Dr. Mark Everard, explained:

“Ecosystems naturally restrain the transfer of diseases from animals to humans, but this service declines as ecosystems become degraded. At the same time, ecosystem degradation undermines water security, limiting availability of adequate water for good hand hygiene, sanitation and disease treatment. Disease risk cannot be dissociated from ecosystem conservation and natural resource security.”

Stuart Pimm, professor of conservation at Duke University, added:

“There are now a whole raft of activities–illegal logging, clearing and mining–with associated international trades in bush meat and exotic pets that have created this crisis. In the case of Covid-19, it has cost the world trillions of dollars and already killed almost a million people, so clearly urgent action is needed.”

Zoologist David Redding from University College London said:

“In places where trees are being cleared, mosaics of fields, created around farms, appear in the landscape interspersed with parcels of old forest. This increases the interface between the wild and the cultivated. Bats, rodents and other pests carrying strange new viruses come from surviving clumps of forests and infect farm animals–who then pass on these infections to humans.”

We need no clearer example than the HIV virus, which spread from chimpanzees and gorillas hunted in West Africa for bush meat.

Then there is the South Asian Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03, for which s 2007 study concluded:

“The presence of a large reservoir of Sars-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a timebomb.”

Ebola is another, which transmitted from bats, to primates, to humans.

Swine flu ten years ago and COVID-19 now passed to humans from bats, as some researchers estimate more than 3,000 strains of coronavirus able to be transmitted to humans currently exist in bats.

Princeton University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Andy Dobson, explained:

“When workers come into rainforests to chop down trees, they don’t take food with them. They just eat what they can kill. So that exposes them to infection all the time.”

Stuart Pimm elaborated:

“I have a photograph of a guy slaughtering a wild pig deep in the Ecuadorian jungle. He was an illegal logger and he and his fellow workers needed food, so they killed a boar. They got splattered with wild pig blood in the process. It’s gruesome and unhygienic and that is how these diseases spread.”

Explaining that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases originate in the wild, United Nations’ environment chief, Inger Andersen, asserts:

“Never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people. Our continued erosion of wild spaces has brought us uncomfortably close to animals and plants that harbor diseases that can jump to humans.”

She warns:

“There are too many pressures at the same time on our natural systems and something has to give. We are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves. And as we hurtle towards a population of 10 billion people on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally.”

Late last year, 11,000 scientists from 153 countries posed the warning that humanity faces “untold suffering” unless it effects major societal transformations.

Ecocide is already underway and putting society at extreme risk, according to a recent 1,800-page United Nations (UN) global assessment Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES) report more than 450 scientists and diplomats took over three years to compile from 15,000 academic studies and reports.

16 to 33% of all warm-water coral reefs are suffering bleaching; rainforests are devolving into savannahs; wild mammal biomass has declined 82%; natural ecosystems’ have lost about half their area; and a million species are at risk of extinction, most alarmingly at least one in 10 insects and two in five amphibian species.

Humans’ damage to the planet is due to an explosion in population (doubled since 1970), staggering economic growth, and global trade that has led to destruction of forests, particularly in tropical areas.

Between 1980 and 2000, 100 million tropical forest hectares disappeared, mainly due to cattle ranching in South America and palm oil plantation farming in Southeast Asia.

The wetlands are worse.

Only 13% that existed in 1700 were still around 300 years later.

Our urban areas have also doubled since 1992.

Plastic pollution has increased ten times since 1980, and each year we dump 300-400 million metric tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other waste into our oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams, from which 33% of fish stocks were harvested at unsustainable levels in 2015, compounded by evidence that our appetites for fish and meat are growing.

In most animal and plant groups studied, approximately 25% of species are already facing extinction.

On average, natural ecosystems have declined by 47%.

Wild mammal biomass has dropped by 82%.

Zika virus, dengue fever, chikungunya, and West Nile cases are expected to more than double by 2050.

Now we have the COVID-19 virus against which the United States appears to be completely powerless.

In her book This Changes Everything, author and activist Naomi Klein argues the reason the United States fails to adequately address climate change is because of the obscene amounts of money fossil fuel companies pump into lawmakers’ (mostly Republican) campaigns.

We have already passed too many tipping points to avoid some of the climate’s most devastating effects, and many scientists theorize the world has begun a sixth mass extinction.

Yet there is still hope as long as we heed the experts’ advice.

The question is, will we?

Or will we continue doubling down on a smash-and-grab strategy to extract every drop of fossil fuels the planet can yield for pure profit?

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.