Apr 27, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus is tied to climate and biodiversity crises


Illustration: Axios on HBO

Addressing the coronavirus without paying attention to climate change and biodiversity crises would be a mistake, given the ways in which all three are interrelated, an expert in wildlife conservation told "Axios on HBO."

Why it matters: If we fail to recognize the connection, we are likely to see more difficult-to-tackle diseases jump from animals to humans, the Wildlife Conservation Society's Joe Walston said in an interview.

Context: Much attention has focused on so-called "wet markets" in China, where lots of wild animals are held close together and sold to humans for consumption. Although diseases can spread from animals to humans in other settings, Walston said chances are greatly increased when animals are taken out of their natural habitats and put under stress and in close proximity to other animals.

  • Closing such markets would make it much harder for viruses like SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, to jump from animals to humans, he said.

The big picture: More than a billion people each year become sick from diseases related to animals, Walston said. Many of the most recent serious new diseases came from animals.

  • Removing wild animals from their environments disrupts their native ecosystems, which harms biodiversity and exacerbates climate change, he added.
  • "When you remove elephants from the forests of Central Africa, you've removed the major seed disperser and the major gardener of that system, and forests start to degrade," he said.

Between the lines: Walston threw cold water on the theory that the virus was created in a lab or even that a research lab played a role in its spread. "Before it got from that bat into humans, there was absolutely no evidence that it came from any laboratory."

Walston suggested that this dangerous moment for humanity could be a turning point in all three crises if we heed the warning.

  • "It actually, sadly, takes people to die on people's doorsteps, for people to die in people's families, for that wake-up call to happen, which is always inevitably later than it should be. But I believe that the world is realizing now that these are environmental problems, that they are going to happen again unless we take action."

The bottom line: The cycle could easily repeat and intensify if we fail to take appropriate action.

  • "We have the complete power to be able to destroy practically everything," Walston said.
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