Our obliteration of the natural world’s habitats create ideal conditions for pathogens to emerge.

A small remnant of Tallgrass Prairie in Sugarcreek Metro Park, Ohio, The first pioneers found western Ohio’s open tracts of warm season grasses and colorful summer wildflowers quite formidable. Dense seas of vegetation grew as tall as a person on horseback and the often wet conditions bred mosquitoes and other biting insects. Prairie was initially ignored for farming and development due to its lack of trees. The early thought was any land that didn’t support forest was infertile and not worth the time or effort to tame. Once that mindset was reversed and the prairie’s deep, rich black soil was bitten into by the steel plow, it wasn’t long before it had all but disappeared. Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Not since the plague, also known as the Black Death, arrived in Europe in the early 1300s has the human population been more vulnerable to exotic disease. Black Death is estimated to have killed 30 to 60% of the population of Europe.  With international transport of people and goods, dense human populations in cities, and a social structure based on close interactions among us, the human population is more vulnerable to catastrophic pandemics than at any time since the Black Death. Fear the fever. William J. Schlinger, Duke University

Despite the illegitimate and incompetent Trump regime and their strategy of blaming the other for the Coronavirus (this time around the victims are Chinese), to bolster his reelection chances in 2020 should be doomed to fail in a reality-based world.

But these are not ordinary times. After all, Trump won the election in 2016 with the help of Vladimir Putin, who easily manipulated social media and successfully divided the country Vlad is helping Trump again with apparently none to little blowback from the federal government.
Except for the role James Comey played in Trump’s election, the tricks of GOP voter suppression, misinformation campaigns and, blatant racism, this critical election cycle will be even uglier than in 2016.

Sane people understand that this pandemic is a virus and was not gifted to the world by some nefarious plot from China. Trump is incapable of doing nuance. He lacks the intellect to do so and the inability even to try. So here we are.

Humans are to blame for this virus and other pathogens. We have invaded into and destroyed much of the natural world, and it is absurd even to attempt a finger pointed at the Chinese, at animal species, or even the virus itself.

Sonia Shah from the Nation explains:

It could have been a pangolin. Or a bat. Or, as one now-debunked theory that made the rounds suggested, a snake.

The race to finger the animal source of COVID-19, the coronavirus currently ensnaring more than 150 million people in quarantines and cordons sanitaires in China and elsewhere, is on. The virus’s animal origin is a critical mystery to solve. But speculation about which wild creature originally harbored the virus obscures a more fundamental source of our growing vulnerability to pandemics: the accelerating pace of habitat loss.

Since 1940, hundreds of microbial pathogens have either emerged or reemerged into new territory where they’ve never been seen before. They include HIV, Ebola in West Africa, Zika in the Americas, and a bevy of novel coronaviruses. The majority of them—60 percent—originate in the bodies of animals. Some come from pets and livestock. Most of them—more than two-thirds—originate in wildlife.

David Quamann writes an opinion piece on the elephant in the room in the New York Times. 

Current circumstances also include 7.6 billion hungry humans: some of them impoverished and desperate for protein; some affluent and wasteful and empowered to travel every which way by airplane. These factors are unprecedented on planet Earth: We know from the fossil record, by absence of evidence, that no large-bodied animal has ever been nearly so abundant as humans are now, let alone so effective at arrogating resources. And one consequence of that abundance, that power, and the consequent ecological disturbances is increasing viral exchanges — first from animal to human, then from human to human, sometimes on a pandemic scale.

We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.

x

Current circumstances also include bureaucrats who lie and conceal bad news, and elected officials who brag to the crowd about cutting forests to create jobs in the timber industry and agriculture or about cutting budgets for public health and research. The distance from Wuhan or the Amazon to Paris, Toronto or Washington is short for some viruses, measured in hours, given how well they can ride within airplane passengers. And if you think funding pandemic preparedness is expensive, wait until you see the final cost of nCoV-2019.

John Vidal provides additional information in The Guardian.

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

x

“There’s misapprehension among scientists and the public that natural ecosystems are the source of threats to ourselves. It’s a mistake. Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage. The health risks in a natural environment can be made much worse when we interfere with it,” he says.

Ostfeld points to rats and bats, which are strongly linked with the direct and indirect spread of zoonotic diseases. “Rodents and some bats thrive when we disrupt natural habitats. They are the most likely to promote transmissions [of pathogens]. The more we disturb the forests and habitats the more danger we are in,” he says.

Felicia Keesing, professor of biology at Bard College, New York, studies how environmental changes influence the probability that humans will be exposed to infectious diseases. “When we erode biodiversity, we see a proliferation of the species most likely to transmit new diseases to us, but there’s also good evidence that those same species are the best hosts for existing diseases,” she wrote in an email to Ensia, the nonprofit media outlet that reports on our changing planet.

x

Climate change is also a threat for unleashing pandemics. From the University of California.

Arctic and Antarctic ice loss will account for about one-fifth of the warming that is projected to happen in the tropics, according to a new study led by Mark England, a polar climate scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and Lorenzo Polvani, the Maurice Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics at Columbia Engineering, England's doctoral supervisor.

x

A small remnant of Tallgrass Prairie in Sugarcreek Metro Park, Ohio, The first pioneers found western Ohio’s open tracts of warm season grasses and colorful summer wildflowers quite formidable. Dense seas of vegetation grew as tall as a person on horseback and the often wet conditions bred mosquitoes and other biting insects. Prairie was initially ignored for farming and development due to its lack of trees. The early thought was any land that didn’t support forest was infertile and not worth the time or effort to tame. Once that mindset was reversed and the prairie’s deep, rich black soil was bitten into by the steel plow, it wasn’t long before it had all but disappeared. Ohio Department of Natural Resources
A small segment of restored farmland into Tallgrass Prairie at Sugarcreek Montgomery-Greene County Metro-Park, Ohio,  Mature, undisturbed prairies store more carbon below ground than forests can store above ground. “The first pioneers found western Ohio’s open tracts of warm season grasses and colorful summer wildflowers quite formidable. Dense seas of vegetation grew as tall as a person on horseback and the often wet conditions bred mosquitoes and other biting insects. Prairie was initially ignored for farming and development due to its lack of trees. The early thought was any land that didn’t support forest was infertile and not worth the time or effort to tame. Once that mindset was reversed and the prairie’s deep, rich black soil was bitten into by the steel plow, it wasn’t long before it had all but disappeared”. Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Duke Tip Insights on Biodiversity and Protecting the Natural World.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on the earth and is typically measured at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Think of all the different kinds of species that call earth home, the unique subspecies within these groups, and each organism’s unique genetic makeup.

Though biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake can be compelling enough (I mean, who doesn’t like having lots of awesome animals around?), you should be concerned with biodiversity because the health of the entire planet depends on it.  

Think of biodiversity like a weave; genetic, species, and ecosystem biodiversity all form knots that help hold an ecosystem together. In this weave, organisms of all sizes and types can play vital roles, from the honeybees pollinating our plants to the seemingly lifeless coral reefs providing habitats for more than a quarter of ocean creatures.

When an ecosystem is biodiverse, it’s more resistant changes. And in a world made up of ecosystems, you want those ecosystems to be healthy, with a strong weave of biodiversity holding them together. It’s an awesome natural defense mechanism that mother nature has been developing for billions of years, but it can’t be taken for granted.

When ecosystems experience a pattern of species loss, those knots in the weave come apart, threatening all living things within them. Scientists say the concerning pattern of extinctions we’ve seen over the past few decades poses an existential threat to the entire planet, with some saying we’re living in the sixth mass extinction right now.

x

The Guardian nails it:

Nature powers human endeavours – underpinning productivity, culture and even our beliefs and identities. But our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide are under threat. We are exploiting nature faster than it can replenish itself.

The IPBES assessment has shown the strong interrelationship between climate change, the loss of biodiversity and human wellbeing. Climate change has been identified as a primary driver of biodiversity loss, already altering every part of nature. Likewise, the loss of biodiversity contributes to climate change, for example when we destroy forests we emit carbon dioxide, the major “human-produced” greenhouse gas.

We cannot solve the threats of human-induced climate change and loss of biodiversity in isolation. We either solve both or we solve neither.

x

As policymakers around the world grapple with the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, it is essential that they understand the linkages between the two so that their decisions and actions address both.

The world needs to recognise that loss of biodiversity and human-induced climate change are not only environmental issues, but development, economic, social, security, equity and moral issues as well. The future of humanity depends on action now. If we do not act, our children and all future generations will never forgive us.

Soldiers are treated for Spanish flu at a hospital in Camp Funston, Kansas in 1918.

For decades, the Inuit woman, a victim of the 1918 Spanish flu, lay buried in a mass grave under six feet of Alaskan permafrost. But when the frozen ground began to thaw in the 1990s, the Inuit town of Brevig Mission gave scientists permission to dig her up. Her ample body fat kept her lungs insulated against warmer temperatures, helping to preserve the fragments of the virus that lay within.

Thanks to this discovery, researchers were able to decipher the virus’s genetic blueprint, which recently allowed them to understand why the 1918 flu had been so lethal. They say their insights will help public health experts better prepare for the next pandemic.

This is potentially one small upside of a slow-moving disaster in the Arctic. Rising temperatures are melting permafrost, releasing huge sums of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas. But as the earth thaws, it also could reveal the origins of many diseases, such as scarlet fever or the coronavirus, helping scientists understand past outbreaks and cope with new ones.

And finally, from the UPI:

Feb. 26 (UPI) — If world leaders, land managers and other policymakers can find a way to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius and conserve a third of the land in the tropics, global species loss could be cut in half.

Currently, planet Earth is losing biodiversity at a worrying clip. But according to a new study published this week in the journal Ecography, conserving 30 percent of the tropics will reduce the risk of extinction for plants, birds and mammals by 50 percent.