I’ve been living in America for a few years now and I still can’t put up with the waste and pollution going on here. I see people wash their cars with clean water every week because here they like the cars perfect. And drive their cars 3 to 4 blocks when they could easily walk just because it is too hot or rainy or too cold. I see people throw food that is not expired and even if it is expired it might still be good to eat. I see buildings having assessment for aesthetical reasons. All this destruction to have something quite similar ! And what is the most shocking is that most of those people have kids. I guess as one woman who had just given birth told me one day, THEY WILL MANAGE. HOW SELFISH IT IS, I ANSWERED. She surely never lacked of food or water or any other things that make her life so comfortable. IF ONLY WE COULD LEARN THE LESSONS FROM THE VIRUS……………………………..
Ten Lessons The Coronavirus Has Taught Us About The Planet
In the four months it has taken for COVID-19 to scale beyond China’s borders in mid January, much has been written that connects human health with our planet’s health.
Here are ten lessons the coronavirius pandemic has taught us about the environment in the last few weeks.
1. Nature can rebound
As cities have shut down around the world, the world has seen coyotes on the streets of San Francisco, peacocks dancing in Mumbai, wild boar roaming in Barcelona, a resurgence of bees and rare wildflowers in the UK, other animals reclaiming human spaces and a report that suggests that within 30 years much of the ocean could be restored to full health.
This gives hope that with the right management, nature and wildlife can rebound within a generation.
2. Wildlife Trade must end to prevent future zoonotic diseases
Much has been written about zoonotic diseases – diseases that transcend the species boundaries. There is significant speculation that the source of the current novel coronavirus outbreak originated in a Wildlife Market in Wuhan, China. Other deadly wildlife-trade linked diseases include Ebola in the DR Congo and the Nipah Virus in Malaysia in the late 1990s. Even the ocean is now seen as a transmitter of new diseases impacting both humans and ocean-bound animals. The reason for such wildlife trade include exotic pets, food and use in traditional medicine.
60% of new infectious diseases around the world originate from animals, and these are emerging more rapidly than any time in the past. Never has there been stronger calls to stop wildlife trade and live wildlife markets, with over 200 environmental groups writing to the World Health Organisation last week calling for such a ban.
New models of growth may be needed in some regions to ensure a more harmonious relationship between wildlife and humans, and reduce the risk of such diseases spreading in future.
3. The world should protect half the planet
Over the past 40 years, planet earth has lost 60% of its animal population and half the world’s rainforests. The expansion of the human footprint through deforestation, agriculture and urban sprawl has increased the interactions between wildlife and humans, increasing the risk of such wildlife diseases like coronaviruses in the future. In addition to habitat destruction, pollution, increased wildlife disease and human-linked invasive species, have devastated the checks and balance of a biodiverse planet. There are over 1.7 million viruses in wildlife and a new effort announced last week is attempting to identify these viruses from nature to better manage future outbreaks.
Having a more concentrated human footprint, would allow more space for nature to recover, including an intelligent system of nature parks that link to one another to help migratory species. There has even been growing calls among scientists and a UN body to explore eventually setting aside half of Planet Earth as a Nature Reserve, which may now be taken more seriously.
4. Global supply chains can de-carbonize
The shut down due to coronavirus has led to growing calls to nearshore production. We’ve already seen this with critical Personal Protective Equipment. New technologies such as 3D printing are making a resurgence in supporting this transition back to domestic production around the world.
As globalization retrenches during and potentially coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, this could potentially lead to a lower carbon footprint for each item produced, which is critical if the world is to avoid the irreversible tipping points of runaway climate change.
5. Adoption of the Circular Economy needs to accelerate
The coronavirus crisis has shone the spotlight on the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment, and raised questions about the sustainability of the medical and pharmaceutical industry supply chain. Cloth gowns and decontaminated and reusable masks were replaced with single use plastics for surgical gowns, masks and gloves ever since the 1970s. There has already been significant sightings of discarded gloves littering public areas, and greater efforts will be needed in emerging markets to ensure this does not lead to a second wave of discarded single use plastic waste around the world.
There is also a need for new materials – ones that can be reused or more swiftly return to nature as biodegradable, non-toxic products. This also applies to the significant increase in cleaning products around the world in response to the coronavirus, that will no doubt soon end up in waterways and oceans around the world.
6. We are dependent on nature for novel medical treatments
The famous rapid COVID-19 tests that can be used to detect coronaviruses within 45 minutes or less is known as a ‘PCR’ Test. ‘PCR’ stands for polymerase chain reaction, a revolutionary technique in molecular biology to amplify a stretch of DNA.
This Nobel-Prize Winning technique was not possible without the discovery of an enzyme from the hot springs in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming in 1969. This enzyme known as Thermus Aquaticus, accelerates the growth of DNA at temperatures above body temperature (a critical technique not possible before then). This enzyme led to the creation of the PCR test in 1983, which won the Nobel Prize for Kary Mullis. Such rapid PCR tests would not be possible without the evolution of such enzymes in extreme environments.
There are also 40 enzymes that occur naturally, including from the Ocean Seafloor, that have been shown to have activity against various coronaviruses, and may hold promise for future treatments. Hence it is important to understand our natural environments before they are lost forever to activities like Seabed Mining.
7. Rapid improvement in air quality is possible
On March 13th, a team of scientists led by Tomas Aftalion, CTO at climate satellite monitoring company, Pachama, first noted how significantly air pollution had fallen using the latest satellite data from the European Space Agency.
Other outlets soon reported how much air quality has improved around the world, where reduced activity has meant over 70% fewer car journeys on the road – levels not seen since 1955 – and 20% less generation from power stations, including 72% lower particulate emissions, and 50% lower carbon monoxide, with declines in other harmful greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen.
This rapid fall in transportation demand shows that it is possible to rapidly reduce air pollution when the world comes together. The commensurate fall in the price of oil (combined with overproduction by Russia and Saudi Arabia in an already saturated market), has now prompted greater debate on how rapidly the world can transition to more sustainable energy sources before we hit irreversible planetary tipping points.
8. Pollution is linked to human disease and coronaviruses
The medium post by CTO of Pachama raised an interesting question about the linkage between the early peaks of COVID-19 outbreak in China, Italy and Iran with Nitrogen Dioxide pollution. Whilst there are many factors that impact the spread of the coronavirus (i.e., effectiveness of physical distancing, international travel, urban density, age of population), underlying health conditions also plays a role as seen by the heighted risks among certain communities.
Nitrogen Dioxide is an air pollutant caused by burning fuels in power stations and vehicles. It is a key component of acid rain, and is a source of nitrogen pollution in lakes and coastal waters. Nitrogen Dioxide has also been linked to both inflammation and viral infection (key vectors for COVID-19).
Healthy individuals exposed to Nitrogen Dioxide experience an inflammatory response in their lungs. Human nasal and bronchial cells treated with Nitrogen Dioxide show increased markers of inflammation, while those treated with Nitrogen Dioxide and subsequently infected with rhinovirus (a cause of the ‘common cold’) showed even higher and synergistic inflammation.
Significantly, exposure to Nitrogen Dioxide caused these cells to make more of a protein used by a rhinovirus as a point of entry into the cell. In addition, pathogen-fighting white blood cells become less efficient at killing influenza virus when exposed to Nitrogen Dioxide. This was borne out in animal studies where treatment of mice with Nitrogen Dioxide made it possible to infect them with 100-fold fewer copies of a virus than were required to infect untreated animals.
So could Nitrogen Dioxide exposure make it easier to contract COVID-19? Epidemiologists have noted strong associations between Nitrogen Dioxide exposure, morbidity from viral diseases, and virus-exacerbated asthma. Other recent studies have shown correlations between air pollution haze, hand foot and mouth disease and respiratory syncytial virus in children. We know that Nitrogen Dioxide exposure causes inflammation, and makes cells more susceptible to viral infections. We also know that COVID-19 invades cells by hitching a ride on certain cell surface proteins. Just as Nitrogen Dioxide causes cells to produce more of a protein that allows the common cold virus into cells, making humans more vulnerable. Hence it is plausible that Nitrogen Dioxide could play a similar role in COVID-19 infection, and a full scientific study may be needed to explore whether NO2 exposure is a risk factor for COVID-19 infection or exacerbation as the disease remains with us until a vaccine becomes widely available.
9. Human hyper-connectivity carries higher risks
Hyper-connectivity and rapid vertical urbanization has marked the last 30 years of development in many regions of the world. The growth of global trade has meant more people travelling by planes, and more cargo freight than any time in history. This has increased the risk of carrying invasive species by ship, or other illness by plane, as we saw with the spread of the Coronavirus – especially as carriers were largely asymptomatic for the first 10-14 days.
Emerging from the Coronavirus Crisis, there will need to be a radical rethinking of how cities, transportation and production is organized, to reduce risks for human and the planet in future.
10. The Environment movement needs to renew itself
Leaders around the world have highlighted the link between the Planetary Crisis and Coronavirus. This includes current and former UN Secretary Generals, Antonio Guterres and Ban Ki-moon, Pope Francis, TV Presenter David Attenborough, Head of the IMF Kristalina Georgieva, former Head of UN Climate Negotiations Christiana Figueres, 13 EU Climate and Environmental Ministers, among many other scientists, current and former world leaders, heads of environmental NGOs and celebrities.
However, in order to accommodate a population of 10 billion with a growing middle class, we need a radically new path. One that is not just centered around low carbon growth, but more effective sourcing of protein, fresh water and management of earth’s resources. This calls for new and stronger institutions for the environment – what worked for the past 40 years, may not be the sort of leadership needed for the next 40 years. As the World Bank and IMF meet this week – virtually for the first time – for their Spring Meetings, this is the sort of thinking that is required.
The environmental movement also has to look at itself, its leadership and its scorecard for the environment. Whilst there have been successes and an important role played to raise the profile of environmental issues, there may need to be a new model going forward, reflecting more diverse leadership and ways of thinking among the major environmental NGOs. This year, we are slowly starting to see this with more diverse leadership of Gina McCarthy and Jennifer Morris now respectively heading the NRDC and TNC – two major international environmental organizations.
Bigger, bolder actions
Over the subsequent weeks, there are likely to be more lessons and comparisons between our reaction to the coronavirus crisis and the upcoming planetary crisis. It is an opportunity to not just build back the same systems, but an opportunity to build back better.
Some have even questioned whether the coronavirus is in many ways a reaction of the planet to human activity, prompting various comparisons with James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis’ Gaia theory and various memes on the internet.
Either way, a radically new approach to governing and prioritizing our natural environment will be needed emerging from the novel coronavirus pandemic, in the same way that radical health and economic actions were taken.