Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists have been searching for answers.
Now, they know that climate change played a part in the outbreak.
“We have come to discover that climate change is actually a mechanism that accelerates the transmission of these viruses,” said Camilo Mora, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Mora and his colleagues mapped out the world’s vegetation over the last century and found dramatic changes in the landscape due to higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, increased temperature, changes in precipitation patterns, and decreased cloud coverage.
Areas that were once covered in shrubs have transformed into dense forests which have made perfect habitats for bats.
“As the climate is changing, conditions of temperature and precipitation are making the conditions over all of this area in southeast Asia suitable for bats to move in there. So now there are over 100 new species of bats coming into this area and obviously, every one bat is a potential recipe for disaster,” said Mora.
Their research shows southern Chinese Yunnan province and neighboring regions in Myanmar and Laos have formed a global hotspot of climate change-driven increases in bat populations.
But, it’s not just an increase in the bat population itself. It’s also deforestation of those bat habitats to make way for industries, agriculture and infrastructure development that’s leading to more human interaction with animals that could be carriers of the virus.
“For every human being, we’re cutting two trees. Fourteen billion trees are being cut a year, so obviously we are just making it possible for us to increase this contact between the bats and us. We just keep moving closer and closer to these habitats…and there are consequences. These bats are not going to go easy on us and this COVID is just one out of hundreds of these examples in which things go wrong,” Mora said.
In order to prevent more outbreaks like this one in the future, Mora says we have to quickly get to work on investments and solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
The National Academy of Sciences just released a new report on how the United States can do just that. The bottom line is that we must “decarbonize”.
Among their many recommendations, they cite the need for a fair and equitable transition away from fossils fuels to clean energy. That includes protecting vulnerable workers and communities while increasing jobs and reestablishing the U.S. as a global leader in energy innovation.
You can read the full report from the National Academy of Sciences here.
Of course, carbon dioxide does not reside within national borders. It circulates throughout the entire globe and stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. So, this is a global problem that requires countries work together on a solution and everyone has to do their part.