We are in an “era of pandemics” that will get worse and worse unless action is taken to protect the environment, a group of top international scientists have said in a new report, which highlights the need to focus on preventing new pandemics from taking off by tackling the source: damaging environmental behaviors that drastically raise the risks of new diseases.
- The majority of emerging diseases and practically all pandemics are caused by diseases that spillover from animals into humans, the researchers said, including flu, Covid-19, HIV, SARS, Ebola and Zika, ultimately costing humans over $1 trillion a year.
- Many environmentally unfriendly activities, such as industrialized agriculture, deforestation, and trading in wildlife and bushmeat, dramatically increase the risks of spillovers happening, primarily by bringing animals and the pathogens they harbor into close proximity with each other and with humans, allowing more opportunities for germs to spread.
- Taxing high pandemic-risk activities like meat consumption and livestock production, incorporating emerging disease risk assessments into land use plans, avoiding environmentally destructive uses of land, and stopping the trade of high-risk wildlife, could therefore help reduce the risk of future outbreaks, the researchers, an international group convened by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, said.
- Though expensive to implement, the costs of these policies “will be trivial in comparison to the trillions of dollars of impact due to Covid-19, let alone the rising tide of future diseases,” as well as helping in the fight against climate change.
- The researchers also recommend setting up a global monitoring network to keep an eye out for potential outbreaks or risky emerging diseases, as well as a high level intergovernmental council dedicated to pandemic prevention, who would be able to ensure decision makers are aware of potential hotspots and have up to date scientific information to make evidence based decisions.
850,000. The researchers estimate that there could be up to 850,000 unknown viruses capable of infecting humans circulating in mammals and birds.
The very same human activities that are driving climate change and biodiversity loss are also driving the emergence of new and deadly diseases. Dr. Peter Daszak, who chaired the group, stresses this: “Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.”