Planting a forest could help prevent the next pandemic
April 19, 2020
Life has slowed to a crawl.
In the United States alone, 22 million people have filed for unemployment since the second week of March. Meanwhile, the global GDP is expected to fall more than 3 percent. And as of Saturday afternoon, 159,620 people have died globally from the coronavirus.
With all that’s at stake, we must do what we can to avoid these viruses in the future. But right now, we’re headed in the wrong direction: Pandemics are likely to be more frequent in the coming decades.
Infectious diseases have been rising since the 1950s, with an increasing number of them coming from animals — a strain of diseases called zoonoses. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that three out of every four new infectious diseases in people come from animals.
We’ve seen examples of rampant zoonotic diseases in our lifetimes, like Ebola, SARS, H1N1 and yes, COVID-19.
Part of this increase is from climate change. Climate change increases the likelihood of both zoonoses and vector-borne diseases because as the Earth warms and seasons shift, some species move from their habitats while others breed earlier in the year.
But the other part of this is habitat destruction. As humans encroach and destroy habitats, like the Amazon Rainforest — where more than 20 percent of the rainforest has been cleared for farms, logging and more living space — they come in close contact with wildlife and all the diseases they carry.
Research suggests that between 2003 and 2015, for every 10 percent of forest the Amazon lost, it gained 3 percent more malaria cases.
And on top of making pandemics more likely, deforestation also contributes about 10 percent of emissions worldwide, making it a primary contributor to climate change. Rainforests, in particular, are huge carbon sinks, helping to slow climate change by removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in trees. Models typically predict this benefit will last decades more, but we’re quickly outpacing their intake.
When we burn trees, all that carbon is released and heads back into the atmosphere, worsening air quality. Smoke from the clearing of forests for palm oil plantations in Indonesia, for example, began killing animals and humans in neighboring towns. And, research strongly suggests that any amount of air pollution increases the likelihood of dying from the coronavirus.
New diseases are likely to emerge as medicines become less effective, but they won’t come nearly as frequently as with unchecked climate change. If we take climate action and stop or slow deforestation, all species will be safer and healthier.
Stop deforestation by supporting companies that take an active role against it. And, this Earth Day, consider donating to The Canopy Project, where every dollar plants a tree.