With a new year ahead, people are itching with excitement to finally leave 2020 behind, along with the global pandemic and all of the devastating consequences that came with it. It is reasonable to be hopeful for the future; however, it is a common misconception that society will regain some sense of normalcy following this year while the threat of climate change is continuously growing. In fact, many roots of the environmental crisis are responsible for the increased risk of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.
Habitat loss has been a growing concern revolving around the climate emergency. It is largely a result of using land to grow crops and raise livestock for humans, in addition to the building of housing developments, roads, malls, etc. Loss of habitat gives animals no choice but to look for new places to live and to seek homes with adequate food sources. As animals venture from their destroyed habitats, they travel closer to humans and other animals, which can lead to the spread of disease and heightened sharing of germs. According to the United Nations Environment program, new infectious diseases emerge in humans around every four months, and 75% of those diseases come from animals by means such as this.
Many other roots of climate change have similar effects, such as deforestation. Agricultural expansion, infrastructure creation, and production of palm oil are a few main causes for deforestation — all usually for human consumption. Not only does the cutting down of trees further habitat loss, but the massive livestock farms also contribute to the increasing transmission of infections from animals to humans.
On a genetic and species level, habitat loss, deforestation, and climate change all contribute to the decreasing of biodiversity, which is dangerous because the diversity of a species is what makes it difficult for pathogens to spread rapidly. As more species go extinct, more animals die off, and genetic variation lessens, our chances of survival are lowered in being able to resist change in our environment (which is changing more as the years go on due to human manipulation). Biodiversity and genetic variation are vital to a species survival against infectious disease, which is only set to increase in the future.
The coronavirus thrived in the world due to how utterly unprepared everyone was. Now, with the science, the activists, and the harsh reality of the environmental crisis coming to light, there is no reason for humans to be unprepared — and yet we are. There is a difference between optimism and ignorance, and I am afraid history has a way of repeating itself. We should not underestimate climate change just as we underestimated COVID-19, especially because these are the problems that threaten life the most. This is the truth, and as terrifying as it is to think about, actions need to be taken. People can choose to eat less meat and implement sustainable approaches to breeding crops and animals to offset the risk of emerging infectious disease, or government officials can enact additional habitat conservation plans and protections. The coronavirus may have been inevitable, but humans have the power to address the roots of climate change and to lower the chances of future generations having to confront an epidemic. We have control over our own fate, so we should channel our excitement for the new year into actions to protect our future.