Micheal Klare examines the effect of the changing environment on potential pandemic breeding grounds.  His essay is about not strictly about the current pandemic, but rather humanity’s affect on the limited resources and carrying capacity of our world.

“Climate Change and Pandemics

Back in 2014, the IPCC did not identify human pandemics among potential climate-induced tipping points, but it did provide plenty of evidence that climate change would increase the risk of such catastrophes. This is true for several reasons. First, warmer temperatures and more moisture are conducive to the accelerated reproduction of mosquitoes, including those carrying malaria, the zika virus, and other highly infectious diseases. Such conditions were once largely confined to the tropics, but as a result of global warming, formerly temperate areas are now experiencing more tropical conditions, resulting in the territorial expansion of mosquito breeding grounds. Accordingly, malaria and zika are on the rise in areas that never previously experienced such diseases. Similarly, dengue fever, a mosquito-borne viral disease that infects millions of people every year, is spreading especially quickly due to rising world temperatures.

Combined with mechanized agriculture and deforestation, climate change is also undermining subsistence farming and indigenous lifestyles in many parts of the world, driving millions of impoverished people to already crowded urban centers, where health facilities are often overburdened and the risk of contagion ever greater. “Virtually all the projected growth in populations will occur in urban agglomerations,” the IPCC noted then. Adequate sanitation is lacking in many of these cities, particularly in the densely populated shantytowns that often surround them. “About 150 million people currently live in cities affected by chronic water shortages, and by 2050, unless there are rapid improvements in urban environments, the number will rise to almost a billion.”

Such newly settled urban dwellers often retain strong ties to family members still in the countryside who, in turn, may come in contact with wild animals carrying deadly viruses. This appears to have been the origin of the West African Ebola epidemic of 2014-2016, which affected tens of thousands of people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Scientists believe that the Ebola virus (like the coronavirus) originated in bats and was then transmitted to gorillas and other wild animals that coexist with people living on the fringes of tropical forests. Somehow, a human or humans contracted the disease from exposure to such creatures and then transmitted it to visitors from the city who, upon their return, infected many others.

The coronavirus appears to have had somewhat similar origins. In recent years, hundreds of millions of once impoverished rural families moved to burgeoning industrial cities in central and coastal China, including places like Wuhan. Although modern in so many respects, with its subways, skyscrapers, and superhighways, Wuhan also retained vestiges of the countryside, including markets selling wild animals still considered by some inhabitants to be normal parts of their diet. Many of those animals were trucked in from semi-rural areas hosting large numbers of bats, the apparent source of both the coronavirus and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, outbreak of 2013, which also arose in China. Scientific research suggests that breeding grounds for bats, like mosquitoes, are expanding significantly as a result of rising world temperatures.

The global coronavirus pandemic is the product of a staggering multitude of factors, including the air links connecting every corner of the planet so intimately and the failure of government officials to move swiftly enough to sever those links. But underlying all of that is the virus itself. Are we, in fact, facilitating the emergence and spread of deadly pathogens like the Ebola virus, SARS, and the coronavirus through deforestation, haphazard urbanization, and the ongoing warming of the planet? It may be too early to answer such a question unequivocally, but the evidence is growing that this is the case. If so, we had better take heed.”

This is one of the “i told you so’s” that I hope does not come fruition.