Environment Day: How Climate Change Opened the Door for COVID-19

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By Siddhant Sarang

The year 2020 marked the 46th year of World Environment Day celebration and the theme is ‘Biodiversity: It’s time for nature’. For all of us, this is the most unusual of World Environment Day. We are isolated and alone. Through COVID-19, the planet has delivered its strongest warning yet that we must change our ways. Human activity has altered virtually every part of the land. As we displace the natural world, we are destroying vital ecosystems, and biodiversity, that thrives on them. We are causing climate change, opening the door to new illnesses such as COVID-19. It’s time to listen to the planet’s warning.

The year 2020 started with a variety of distressing news. Australian bushfire, melting of New Zealand glaciers, Taal volcano eruption, Dubai and Indonesia floods, cyclones, COVID-19, Vizag Gas Leak, Locust attack, etc. A horrifying video surfaced on the internet of a mudslide in Alta, Norway. Soon the year started turning into a nightmare. No one would have been imagined that the majority of the world would be in lockdown and witnessing a fatal human crisis of our time. People here do not heed any advance warning until some catastrophic happens to them. Scientists have always called for greater and more urgent action to limit the deepening, and more accelerated, the threat of climate change humans face today. The first alarm on global warming and climate was sounded 40 years ago, scientists say that very little has been done to fully mitigate the impact the entire range of human activities has been having on the planet. And when the coronavirus pandemic occurred and threatened our lives, we took immediate actions. Lockdown imposed, travel restricted, orders to close factories imposed, and many more restrictions government imposed to slow down the spread of coronavirus. All of this happened when there were no other options left. We only listen when it comes to our life. If the urgency the governments had just shown, if the urgency had been seen earlier, we would have avoided an epidemic like coronavirus.

Our health issues have direct relations with climate change. Studies have shown a firm relationship between low biodiversity and scale of viral transmission. Let me explain to you. The average temperature of the Earth raised by 1°C since the pre-industrial era due to Global warming. As a consequence, for this reason, natural calamities like the melting of ice, an increase of sea level, flood, cyclone, drought, and earthquake, etc started happening. A new study published in the American journal Science Reports found suggested that species have started shifting away from the Equator due to the rise of temperate and moving towards the pole to find places where conditions are cooler for their survival. Climate Change is driving animals towards the high grounds. This migration of species brings them in contact with new pathogens, to which they have not evolved resistance. These animals are also stressed and have a weak immune system, hence more sensitive to infection. Dissolution of forests for humans and large numbers of cutting of trees for urbanization, establishing power plants and factories brings humans in closer contact with animals, the interaction between them increases. We destroy their habitat which leads to extinction and relocation of species with growing predominance of invasive, resilient species. Research shows that these become likely to harbor and transmit pathogens. In the environment, higher diversity often leads to lower infection prevalence in hosts. This is called the dilution effect. It implies that where species vary in susceptibility to infection by a pathogen. An area of low biodiversity has a low rate of viral transmission.

“History shows that pandemics such as COVID-19 typically last for years, and come in recurring waves. The Spanish Flu of 1918, one of deadliest in history, was far more fatal in the second wave. It affected one-third of the global population and almost certainly altered the course of the ongoing First World War,” said Science Historian Rohit Gupta in an interview with The Hindu.

By exploiting nature, we are digging graves for ourselves. Nature is intricately intertwined. Destroy one element of nature’s complex web, and the entire food and health systems can collapse, threatening life as we know it. In India, we have always worshipped and cherished mother nature, i.e., river, trees, sun, etc. In India, we worship and cherish nature and it’s elements, i.e., rives, sun, fire, etc, but somewhere along the way in our pursuit to industrialize and globalize, we adopted the arrogance that has pushed nature to the brink. The COVID-19 pandemic is a timely reminder of the threats we face when biodiversity is undermined. We must hear this warning of the planet act to save it. Actions for nature means a lower risk of future pandemics. Slowing climate change.

The views are author’s own.

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