The Corona-virus has not just threatened human life but also hit the International Political Economy like a wrecking ball. The human response to this pandemic has lead to a particularly peculiar impact on climate. Suddenly swans are calling, flowers are blooming, and dolphins are jumping. Reports from across the world sing of decreasing air and water pollution levels owing to a sudden halt in the industrial activities and reduced tourism. This albeit temporary beneficial ‘happening’ lead world politicians like the Democrats in the US Congress to push for a progressive airline industry by pushing for a switch to renewables. This article traces the origin, impact and solution to this deadly corona-virus from a climate change perspective.
Surprisingly, COVID-19 as a virus is not new to human. It belongs to the same family as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). SARS and MERS are some of the many zoonotic diseases like Ebola which have been frequently appearing since the beginning of the 21st century. 3 months since the virus first infected humans, health organizations have failed to pinpoint the exact source of the virus. Based on the studies of the similar types of virus, bats are suspected as one of the species which might be responsible for the transmission of this virus. It is no coincidence that the source of COVID-19 traces back to the Huanan Market in the city of Wuhan in China. The closest of its family, SARS, also emerged in similar settings in the Foshan municipality of the Guangdong Province in Southern China.
Climate crisis plays a crucial role in increasing the frequency of such diseases. In colder regions like Russia, Iceland, Greenland, etc. there exists a layer of Earth which remains frozen all over the year, called permafrost. Decomposers like bacteria find it very hard to survive in such an extreme environment. Accordingly, when plants and animals die in this region, they don’t decompose but instead their carcasses stay in the ice for long. The climate crisis led to the melting of permafrost which exposes the carcasses of the animals to a comparatively warmer environment. This climatic change provides frozen viruses and bacterias with a medium of transmission. Recently, in a study released in bioRxiv, researchers found 33 new viruses frozen in a Tibetan glacier, of which 28 were completely new to them. As the ice melts, these viruses travel through air and water before affecting animals or humans. In Siberia, a sudden outbreak of Anthrax was reported in 2016, which was caused due to the exposure of the bacterial disease present in the carcass of a reindeer buried in the permafrost.
All these diseases which are being reported recently, are a result of the dystopian relationship between man and nature. Ever since the commercial age after globalization began, profit has become one of the most important agendas of the 21st century leading to the rampant consumption of resources. As we are building more cities to accommodate the massive migrant force from the rural areas, we keep expanding our boundaries. This leads to the destruction of the natural habitats and exposes many animals to the process of urbanization which is harmful both for the animals and humans. As the commercial world is expanding, many animals are being subjected to scientific tests to boost their productivity which results in a new hybrid species that are more prone to diseases, which is a gateway to pandemics like COVID-19.
The outbreak of corona virus is not just slowing down the economy but is also hampering the climate change mitigation strategies adopted by several nations. Oil companies which are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions are also one of the biggest investors in clean sources of energy. Since the sales and profits of the companies have gone down, the investments of these companies in the alternate sources of energy have also seen a downfall. Moreover, in countries which face the issue of water scarcity, COVID – 19 is presenting a new set of problems. As defined by the officials of many health organizations, washing hands with soap is one of the ‘few’ ways which can be useful in preventing COVID. But, if the virus continues to the months of May or June, the lower strata of the population might suffer due to the unavailability and supply of water.
COVID-19 was not a surprise to many in the scientific community as it is not a new virus. Most of the zoonotic diseases like Swine flu, avian influenza, and the above-mentioned viruses like SARS, MERS and COVID – 19 have emerged only after globalization has spread its roots to almost all the countries of the world. As much as COVID-19 is leading to the awareness of such kinds of diseases, it won’t benefit unless the people identify the link between the three factors, i.e., disease, climate crisis and globalization.
To prevent such an outbreak from happening again, three steps need to be implemented as soon as possible. First, commercial farming of both plants and animals needs to be discouraged, which can be done by limiting the consumption of such food materials provided by several food giants in the industry. Second, localization needs to be promoted and invested in heavily. Indigenous food materials and farming practices are much safer and resistant to diseases and also provide a dual benefit as they require less raw materials for their growth. Third, this pandemic has also shown that all around the world, countries are not equipped with the materials required in case of emergencies. Countries must assess their disaster management facilities and should invest in the same.
Several changes in the climate due to anthropogenic activities have disturbed the much-required balance in the world. This imbalance is challenging the world with diseases it is not equipped to fight. This is not the last time a pandemic has emerged in the world. It is no more a question of if, but of when.