Climate change and epidemics
Published by the Visayan Daily Star
Editor-in-Chief & President
Bureau Chief, Dumaguete
MAJA P. DELY
|CARLOS ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA
The COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the globe and changed our world as we know it almost certainly came from a wild bat in Wuhan, China, highlighting the danger of humanity’s constant encroachment on the planet’s dwindling wild species.
Aside from our expanding ecological footprint causing epidemics, another emerging driver of infectious diseases is climate change which can expand the footprint of mosquito-borne diseases as well as potentially defrost prehistoric pathogens from the Siberian permafrost.
Even if humanity manages to cap global warming to under two degrees Celsius, the cornerstone goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the permafrost area is expected to decrease by a quarter by 2100. Scientists fear that as the ground thaws, once-frozen soil particles, organic material and microorganisms that had been locked away for millennia may be carried toward the surface by water flows.
Jean-Michel Claverie, an emeritus professor of genomics at the School of Medicine of Aix-Marseille University in France, believes pathogens such as smallpox or the influenza strain that killed tens of millions in 1917 and 1918, may be present in the sub-Arctic region and their return triggered by climate change cannot be excluded. The good news is there are vaccines available for such diseases. However, what keeps scientists up at night are unknown pathogens possibly trapped in the deeper strata that have not seen daylight for two million years or more. With ongoing climate change and the industrial exploitation of the Arctic, the risk factors of pathogens and the people to carry them are already present.
Climate change and global warming may have slowed down along with humanity’s activities during the lockdowns and quarantines caused by COVID-19, but not enough has been deliberately done and we still need to be aware of the impact of our lifestyles and activities on our planet, and ultimately our health.
The disproportionate attention we have focused on the pandemic and our recovery from its effects may have caused us to forget the other burning issues confronting our planet’s future but that is something we cannot afford. Climate change and global warming will not stop or slow down unless we take deliberate steps. We should not forget these concerns as we make plans for the new or better normal.*