As the world’s leading scientists race to find a pathway out of the coronavirus pandemic, either through a treatment or a vaccine, a report by top biodiversity experts has shed light on an unexpected factor in the pandemic’s origin.
While much the origins of this particular strain of coronavirus are still unclear, it is widely believed to be zoonotic – that is, it first developed within a species of animal before crossing over into humans. Experts believe this phenomenon is likely to increase. Zoonotic diseases have surged in recent years. These include mad cow disease, the avian flu, swine flu and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – which has been transmitted to humans from camels – among others.
Scientists from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) believe that as many as 1.7 million unidentified viruses in animals could infect humans and trigger future pandemics even deadlier than Covid-19. Their verdict is unequivocal: human activity is the main culprit behind this dangerous new trend. The paper cited deforestation, intensive industrial farming, mining, urban development and the exploitation of wild animals as the main factors behind the rise of zoonotic diseases.
These findings draw a direct link between preserving the environment for future generations and preserving the human species from disease. Once this pandemic is over, humanity must strive to find ways to reconcile conservation efforts with the economy and efficiently combat climate change. Such an endeavor is possible, and could even create more jobs in new sectors such as clean energy and cooperative-based farming if it is pursued with these dual objectives in mind.
Even before the emergence of Covid-19, climate change had started to take a very visible toll on our daily lives. For instance, hotter weather in the past five years has created the perfect conditions for swarms of locusts to thrive in the Middle East and Africa. An ongoing locust infestation in the region is threatening livelihoods, as the pests eat away the crops of local farmers. The swarms are jeopardising the food security of a part of the world already prone to desertification and now suffering additional pressure to its supply chains as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Failing to preserve the environment will, in the long run, lead to more job loss, and potentially hunger.
At a time when millions of people worldwide risk losing their livelihoods due to the economic effects of the global pandemic, it is imperative to reconcile economic growth with environmental responsibility in the pursuit of a healthy and responsible future.
It is difficult to plan ahead when the whole world is reeling under a major health crisis. No one expects nations to rethink their environmental policies in the middle of a pandemic. But it is an important conversation to have after a measure of calm is restored, and something everyone would do well to think about in the meantime.