Climate Change Multiplies the Threats of Infectious Diseases
Truthout - April 19, 2020
As the novel coronavirus continues to rage like a wildfire across the planet, its devastating toll has left many asking whether climate change — another multifaceted phenomenon with global reach — has played a part in spreading, even triggering, the pandemic. Some, like Katharine Hayhoe, a climate change scientist and professor of public policy at Texas Tech University, have been able to provide answers.
“Climate change didn’t cause the pandemic, and climate change directly causes very few of them,” Hayhoe told Truthout. “But what climate change does is it interacts with, and in many cases has the potential to exacerbate the impacts.”
For those well-versed in the mechanics of climate change, this comes as no surprise — scientists, policy makers and other experts have long acknowledged the links between global warming and the spread of infectious diseases, promulgating the sorts of findings described in the wide-ranging 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, detailing what efforts are needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Dig down, and this multilayered issue has knock-on effects — from the way rising temperatures exacerbate certain health problems to the disruptions that extreme weather events have on the global supply chain — that are inextricably linked with one another. What’s more, the governmental response to the coronavirus crisis, say experts, offers a troubling glimpse into what might happen in the future as the global thermometer inches upwards.
“What it underscores in the first instance is how underprepared we are,” said Sherri Goodman, a senior fellow at the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and Polar Institute. As a former first deputy undersecretary of defense in environmental security, she coined the term “threat multiplier” to describe climate change’s kaleidoscopic impacts.
“Our systems — institutional, infrastructure, health, emergency response — could all be overwhelmed from the climate crisis,” Goodman said, warning that the time for wholesale climate resiliency preparedness is upon us. “What we have now is history accelerating itself — things are happening so fast.”
“Where Can These People Go?”
Perhaps most salient in terms of current events is the issue of zoonotic diseases spread between animals and humans, like the COVID-19 virus, which is believed to have originated in bats before being transferred to humans via scaly animals like pangolins. As the world’s population growth continues to rise, natural habitats will continue to be encroached upon and destroyed, not only removing valuable carbon sinks like rainforests but creating environments in which notorious zoonotic disease carriers like bats and rats thrive.
Climate change is also likely to encourage the spread — both in terms of seasonal risk and geographic reach — of “vector-borne” diseases. These are illnesses like West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease that are borne by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, and already account for a significant number of deaths annually.
According to Sheri Weiser, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), there’s still much to learn about how rising temperatures are impacting the spread of infectious diseases. “But we know the common cause of climate change and COVID-19 — the globalization that’s driving fossil fuel emissions — contributes to the pre-conditions that pave the way for viruses like that,” Weiser said. ...
See full report at Truthout