If We Don’t Heal the Climate, We’ll Get Sick Again

By Fernando Valladares (IPS)

Foto: Jacob_09 / Shutterstock

HAVANA TIMES – Submerged in confinement and a health crisis without precedent, we attempt to seek medicine and vaccine for Covid 19. We study how the virus functions, its life cycle, evaluating different hypotheses about its origin. But without a doubt, it is our habits and behavior that put us at risk because behind this pandemic is the destruction of nature.

There is not health care system with enough security forces to offer us the protection that nature can—a nature that is rich in species and that functions well.

Biodiversity: the shield against the virus

Fifteen years ago, the first scientific indications of how biodiversity protects us were contributed. Thanks to the effects of dilution of the viral potency and the eventual reduction in contagion rates, biodiversity represents the most effective barrier to zoonosis—the passage of a pathogen from an animal to a human.

We have seen numerous practical cases from the Bird Flu to Lyme disease that have corroborated the initial theoretical studies and epidemiological trials.

Fernando Valladares

Every day we understand a little more about the origin of the pandemic. Molecular studies allow us to unravel some of the key steps in zoonosis, probably originating in bats, passing to pangolins and then to humans.

The SARS-CoV-2 has co-evolved over a long period in bats in such a way that when the bat is healthy, the viral potency is low. However, when stressors, such as when its being chased, hunted and manipulated, the immune system of the animal is depressed, and the viral potency strengthens.

Something similar occurs with hosts like the pangolin, a target of hunting and illegal trafficking in Asia and Africa. It is in this situation, when the host is stressed and has a depressed immune response, that the virus potency increases and becomes dangerous for humans.

This is how nature protects us

A healthy environment with functioning ecosystems and species diversity protects us broadly from infections to pathogens, not only through biodiversity.

For example, nature can slow desert sands and reduce atmospheric contamination, two vehicles that propagate virul growth that aggravates the respiratory symptoms in patients infected with Covid 19.

When we add climate change into the equation, nature has less room to contend with disease impacts and protect our health. The global phenomenon not only decreases the ability of forests to absorb carbon but makes them more susceptible to extreme forest fires like those that recently occurred in Australia.

Smoke affected 80% of the country’s population, but the problem didn’t only affect Australians. Like this pandemic, the smoke quickly traveled around the world.

There is no national or international body that can prevent the spread of smoke that showed up in major cities around the world within 10 days, heightening their pollution problems. At the same time, there is not one industry or business capable of reducing greenhouse gases at the same rate as a tropical rain forest can.

The health-giving functions of nature, such as protecting us from zoonosis, are priceless.

Globalization and climate migration

A large part of the problem with zoonosis today is globalization which brings with it rapid and massive shifts in human populations. For this reason, the most urgent and effective measures have to do with limiting the movement of people.

Perhaps what we are forgetting is the grand scale of human migration that has been increasing for decades all around the planet. The phenomenon not only triggers regional migration from Africa into Europe or into the United States, but also causes disruption within certain zones. And this is now happening in Europe.

Migration inspired by environmental causes also generate health and social problems.

The climate crisis continues

This confinement may serve to help us reflect and learn what to do the day after. Lately, we hear the mantra that our efforts are working to regain normalcy soon.

But, what normalcy? The one that got us to this point? The normalcy that favors pandemics, that destroys ecosystems, that contributes to climate change and engenders social inequity and bases itself on an unsustainable economic model?

In China, they have returned to burning coal to generate energy, even more than before, as if economic recovery is a higher goal than facing the environmental costs.

The pandemic shows us just how sensitive we are to an environment that doesn’t function well. The current situation should serve as a trial to re-think what next great crisis awaits us, one that doesn’t end, one that is harder to handle than the coronovirus pandemic—the crisis of climate change.

The politicians at the climate summits cannot seem to agree, but each one back home in their country, in their own way, ends up converging on the need to relaunch their economies in traditional ways.

If we are going to strive to not return to this unfeasible normalcy, but instead to a new normalcy based on equilibrium with nature, sustainable over time, it will be necessary to profoundly question the current social and economic framework in which we find ourselves.

No one wants to go through another pandemic in a couple months, a pandemic that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), could be even more lethal than coronovirus.

In the biosphere equation, Homo sapiens cannot continue to hoard such a large portion of her resources and continue to cause such profound environmental changes at a rate higher than nature’s capacity to recover and regenerate ecosystems.

Only through a common vision of us all, expert or not, economists, biologists, doctors, mathematicians, sociologists, will we begin a new day, truly different, with hope of not ending up in another shut-down like this one in only a couple more months.

*Fernando Valladares, Research Professor in the Department of Biogeography and Global Change at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Spain

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6 thoughts on “If We Don’t Heal the Climate, We’ll Get Sick Again

  • Stephen, how can you possibly talk about credibility having written:
    “Whether Covid-19 is consequence of climate change is disputable among scientists, governments, medical authorities and other learned individuals.”
    Goodness know where you got that idea, but perhaps you can name those “learned individuals”? Perhaps Noam Chomsky is one?
    Obviously you are unaware of the mosquito plagues that trouble Winnipeg in particular being low lying at the confluence of two slow flowing rivers and close to many sloughs and lakes, or that Canadians actually daily venture forth from the protection offered by screens in their homes to attend work, to shop and pursue various forms of recreation. If it were not for that, Deet would not be required.
    My comment about countering mosquitoes was consequent to watching during the last three years, the methods being used by the grey uniformed squads (in communist jargon “brigades”) who enter homes on an almost weekly basis to spray the interiors – whilst we the occupiers have to move out for 45 minutes, but fail to spray still water containing ditches ideal for mosquito larvae. (I assume, but perhaps incorrectly, that you know the life cycle)
    But Stephen, you are obviously at liberty to sneer at will.

  • Carlyle,

    I am not even going to reply suffice to say that your credibility to put forth coherent and intelligent information is questionable and dubious at best.

    Were you not the contributor awhile back who made the egotistical suggestion to Cuban medical personnel that they look to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to comprehend how to handle marauding mosquitoes?

    Your arrogant and idiotic suggestion, laughable is probably more pronounced, about not knowing that every Canadian home is appropriately outfitted with screen doors and windows preventing any thing with wings to enter (that is a fact) is truly embarrassing, would you not agree? Yet you persist.

    Any professional Cuban medical personnel knows that fact. Obviously you don’t know that fact; now you do know that fact.

    Noam Chomsky does not have knowledge denied to others as you state but you would be a much better contributor if you would edify yourself and read and study about far more qualified, intelligent people than yourself rather than continuously posting for egotistical points – absolutely childish.

    “Let us be guided by fact!” as you state. Absolutely. You start.

  • Stephen ought to be aware that the Corona-19 virus commenced in the so-called “wet market” in Wuhan, where the Chinese can pursue purchasing almost anything that moves and consuming it. How do we know the source Stephen? Because the Chinese Government said so!
    Historically the Castro and far-left sycophants contributing to these pages have felt obliged at intervals to drag in the so-called “eminent historian, political scientist and economist” Chomsky, as if he had knowledge denied unto others. Far more qualified people have spoken about climate change, but it was not a causal factor in the development of COVID-19.
    Let us be guided by fact!

  • Whether COVID-19 is directly a result of climate change is disputable among scientists, governments, medical authorities and other learned individuals.

    I think Professor Fernando Valladares’ article is a wake up call to all potential pandemics about to inundate this globe in the future.

    Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus – MIT – the eminent historian, political scientist and economist has publicly warned in his lectures and numerous books about the imminent danger of climate change on the world’s populations. Climate change does lead to massive movement of people – Bangladesh as an example – where people can no longer live on land once available for human habitation. By extension this massive movement of people leads to stresses on humans to relocate for survival in areas they are not accustomed resulting in severe transferable diseases and sickness, perhaps novel, which we may not be able to readily contain.

    North American/Latin American history can teach us a lesson. Europeans in early history escaping the continent because of famines and other reasons landed on the shores of North America/Latin America transferring their diseases to the local inhabitants to which the visitors were immune; however, the local natives not ever having met a European died in droves because of lack of immunity. Their physiology could not resist the invasion of foreign pathogens.

    The point here is in the future climate change will be the instigator that will cause massive movement of people to areas they are not accustomed to and this will lead to many deaths pandemic or otherwise. So, I agree with Professor Fernando Valladares’ article title: ” If We Don’t Heal the Climate, We’ll Get Sick Again”

    COVID-19 is properly attributed to China as Mr. L has stated. Climate change there not a factor according to him. However his view is a micro analytical one. The macro, more profound, analysis to which I believe Professor Fernando Valladares was alluding, no doubt, attributes future human suffering, whether from a pandemic or transferable human diseases, to creeping climate change. Let history be our guide.

  • Well said Mr. L! Valadares clearly is unaware of the weather conditions i Northern Italy in January through March.Your first paragraph is very accurate and apt.

  • I’ve been waiting for someone to blame Covid-19 on climate warming, and it hasn’t taken long. I thought it originated in China as a result of a rare but unfortunate cross-species transmission in a wet food market – and in winter. How is climate involved?

    And then Valladares claims that the migration into Europe is also due to climate warming. The vast majority of refugees are from North Africa and the Middle East as a result of war and terrorism. Al Qaeda, the Gulf Wars, the western invasion of Iraq ISIS, the disastrous British and French involvement in Libya; The Syrian, Tunisian and Libyan civil wars; ISIS terrorism in the Sahara; and now Russian, Turkish and American interventions in Syria…reports a few months ago were of refugees freezing in heavy snow in Syria…

    Climate warming is happening and requires mitigation, but to blame everything on global warming is lazy thinking. Plenty of far better examples, such as melting glaciers, ocean acidification…

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