The following piece was written as part of The Pandemic: Science and Society course offered from Aug. 17 – Sep. 4.
When COVID-19 forced most of the country, and our world, into a lockdown, many of us were shocked at the “unforeseen circumstances” that would inevitably lead to an everlasting impact on our society and lifestyles. However, anyone working in the fields of infectious diseases, or anthropology can tell you that these circumstances were far from unforeseen. There were multiple research articles and studies that predicted a novel respiratory disease. While there have been a number of driving forces for the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, one contributing factor is the negative actions of humans on the environment, specifically habitat loss caused by deforestation and agricultural development.
Upon losing their natural habitat, animals that often carry contagious diseases—such as bats—migrate into human habitats, increasing the likelihood of interactions that transmit disease from species to species. Moreover, the species most affected by habitat loss are large mammals, which ordinarily curtail the transmission of viruses from smaller animals to humans. As the population of large mammals decreases in proportion to other species due to habitat destruction, the chances of rodent-to-animal virus transmission rises.
While habitat loss and deforestation is only one example of the ways in which climate change contributed to the outbreak of COVID-19, the main message is that COVID-19 is not a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. In fact, if climate change continues, the frequency and severity with which novel, lethal diseases are introduced into human populations will increase drastically. Reversing the effects of climate change will not only make Earth a more liveable place for all forms of life, but it will also help prevent future outbreaks of potentially deadly diseases.
Edited by: Daniel Berkovich