One commonality lies at the core of these massive global challenges: the destructive relationship between humanity and the natural world. Human activities drive these invisible enemies, and our hope for the future will derive from solutions based on caring for nature.
With Covid-19-related mortality expected to be high in vulnerable populations
, at least one expert, NYU climate economist Gernot Wagner, has likened the pandemic to "climate change at warp speed
." The exponential growth rate of Covid-19 makes the pandemic far more apparent to most people, on a daily basis, than a warming planet. Yet the devastating recent fires in Australia
and the loss of Pacific islands to sea-level rise
remove any doubt that climate change is a fast-moving crisis.
The report highlighted clear evidence of reductions in pollination, water regulation, soil health and pollution regulation among a myriad of lost "natural capital." It also provided evidence that intact ecosystems -- especially our vast tropical and boreal forests -- play a critical role in abating runaway climate change. These areas soak up around 30% of mankind's carbon emissions each year and will continue to provide this huge service if effectively conserved.
Such natural systems also offer humanity its best defense against climate change by regulating local climate, for example, and reducing risks of climate-related hazards such as sea-level rise and floods. Areas of high biological diversity often also hold a high level of viral diversity. As such, increased degradation of our world's intact ecosystems can pose human health risks.
Scientists use the term "zoonosis" to refer to infectious diseases like Covid-19 (caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2) that spread from animals to humans. The current pandemic has been associated with a market in Wuhan, China, where the flow of wild animals from forest frontiers to urban communities likely provided the source of infection.
Yet wild animals themselves do not cause the problem. Rather, people continue to place increased pressures on the Earth's remaining biodiverse ecosystems
. Activities such as the commercial wildlife trade, logging and deforestation, and the expansion of agriculture into previously undisturbed areas alter the "normal" circulation of viruses. These changes can increase contact and exchange-rates of pathogens between wildlife and humans.
In other words, as humanity encroaches further into nature, people have a greater chance of coming into contact with new pathogens carried by animals, and humanity finds itself at greater risk of pandemics like the one unfolding now.
The problems of pandemics, climate and biodiversity loss are linked -- but so are the solutions.