February 5, 2024
What does climate change mean for epidemics and pandemics?

Unraveling the Web: The Complex Interplay Between Climate Change, Biodiversity Loss, and Emerging Infectious Diseases

Climate change has already favoured the spread of several infectious illnesses, including Lyme disease, waterborne infections like Vibrio parahaemolyticus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, and mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever. Future dangers are difficult to predict, but climate change has a significant impact on multiple fronts that affect when and where infections arise, including temperature and rainfall patterns. In order to reduce the danger of infectious illnesses, we should do everything we can to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees.

COVID-19 might just be the start of a worldwide pandemic, a scenario in which climate change potentially plays a part. We have officially entered the pandemic age.
However, the potential influence of climate change is complicated: We know that the virus lives longer in low temperature environments - so a warmer globe might delay the spread of the disease, according to Yale Climate Connections meteorologist Jeff Masters. Heat waves, on the other hand, he claims, induce individuals to spend more time indoors in air-conditioned settings, increasing the disease's spread.

Today, climate change is destroying our defense systems, resulting in a catastrophic loss of biodiversity, which, when combined with irresponsible deforestation and aggressive conversion of wildland for economic development, pushes farms and people closer to the wild and opens the door for disease spread. Climate has not been implicated as a direct cause of the present COVID-19 outbreak, according to scientists. Though the virus is thought to have originated with the horseshoe bat, a genus that has roamed the planet's woods for 40 million years and flourishes in the isolated jungles of south China, even this is dubious.

Climate impacts developing illnesses in three ways. Approximately 60% of new pathogens are derived from animals, including those under threat of extinction, and roughly one-third of these can be directly attributed to changes in human land use, which includes deforestation, the introduction of farming, development, or resource extraction in otherwise natural settings. Vector-borne illnesses, which are transmitted in the blood of affected individuals by insects such as mosquitoes and ticks, are also on the rise as rising temperatures and irregular precipitation significantly extend the geographic areas prone to infection. Climate change is even resurrecting long-dead viruses, thawing zombie contagions such as the anthrax discharged from a frozen reindeer in 2016, which may come down from the north and torment us from the past.

As a result, even as it emerges as an immediate catastrophe, the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching a wider lesson. It is displaying in real time nature's vast and obvious power over civilization and even its politics. That alone might make the pandemic a foreshadowing of far more far-reaching and disruptive developments to come. However, it also emphasizes that climate policy today is inextricably linked to attempts to avoid new disease outbreaks, and that the concept that climate, health, and environmental policy are unrelated is "a harmful fallacy."

As changing climatic patterns force species to move habitats, push them into new regions, or endanger their food and water sources, global warming is one of the primary drivers of the biggest and quickest loss of species variety in the planet's history. Biodiversity is important because the natural variety of plants and animals gives each species better resilience against harm and, as a whole, provides a finely balanced safety net for natural systems. As variety declines, the balance shifts, and remaining species become more vulnerable to human effects.

Civilization's constant drive into forests and wild regions in search of lumber, farmland, and other natural resources exacerbates the deaths. Epidemiologists studying the causes of disease in South Asia have shown that even little changes to local settings, such as the development of a cattle farm next to a stressed natural forest, can have far-reaching implications.

What can we do to avoid such breakouts in the future?

  • To avoid another outbreak, we may make a number of wise investments. We can offer additional funds for vital research, early response to outbreaks, and testing supplies if federal, state, and local agencies work together to promote public health leadership and science. We can also do a lot more to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
  • To prevent the next pandemic, we also must take climate action. Preventing deforestation, for example, can help reduce biodiversity loss and delay animal migrations, both of which can raise the risk of infectious disease transmission. The latest Ebola epidemic in West Africa was likely sparked in part by bats, which carry the illness, being forced to relocate after their natural habitats were cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.
  • Rethinking our agricultural methods, particularly those that rely on growing tens of millions of animals in close quarters, can help to avoid animal-to-animal transmissions and human-to-human transmissions.
  • Reducing air pollution generated by the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas also helps to keep our lungs healthy, which can protect us against respiratory diseases such as coronavirus.
  • To tackle climate change, we must significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity generated from low-carbon energy sources such as wind and solar reduces harmful air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide, which lead to an increase in heart attacks and strokes, as well as obesity, diabetes, and premature deaths, putting additional strain on our health-care systems.


Infectious diseases are frightening because they are personal and direct. They drastically alter how we live our lives, and they pose an urgent threat to our friends and family. 

Climate change appears to many to be a slow-motion Armageddon, with its risks feeling impersonal and its causes obscure. It's easy to believe that "I wasn't the cause of this" or that "it doesn't directly affect me." However, there is another way to look at it. If you're concerned about climate change, you can take action right now to enhance your health and the health of your friends and loved ones, just like COVID-19.

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