The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of our dysfunctional relationship with nature.
Many people are wondering when life will get back to normal after the COVID-19 crisis. We should be asking: Can we use this opportunity to learn from our mistakes and build something better? A focus on nature can help us understand where pandemics come from and how the socioeconomic fallout from the crisis could be mitigated.
This pandemic is a stark reminder of our dysfunctional relationship with nature. The current economic system has put great pressure on the natural environment, and the unfolding pandemic has shone a light on the domino effect that is triggered when one element in this interconnected system is destabilized. Intact nature provides a buffer between humans and disease, and emerging diseases are often the results of encroachment into natural ecosystems and changes in human activity. In the Amazon, for example, deforestation increases the rates of malaria, since deforested land is the ideal habitat for mosquitoes. Deforested land has also been linked to outbreaks of Ebola and Lyme disease, as humans come into contact with previously untouched wildlife. Altering nature too much or in the wrong way can have devastating human implications. Natural habitats are being reduced, causing species to live in closer quarters than ever to one another and to humans. As some people opt to invade forests and wild landscapes due to business interests, and others at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum are forced to search for resources for survival, we damage the ecosystems, risking that viruses from animals find new hosts; human hosts. Humans should endeavor to respect and preserve nature after the COVID-19. This is an important step to preventing such a pandemic from occurring again.
While the origin of the COVID-19 virus is yet to be established, 60% of infectious diseases originate from animals, and 70% of emerging infectious diseases originate from wildlife. AIDS, for example, came from chimpanzees, and SARS is thought to have been transmitted from an animal still unknown to this day. We have lost 60% of all wildlife in the last 50 years, while the number of new infectious diseases has quadrupled in the last 60 years. It is no coincidence that the destruction of ecosystems has coincided with a sharp increase in such diseases. We should be careful with wildlife animals because the origin of the COVID-19 is wildlife animals rather than nature itself.