MAY 5, 2020 While the exact origin of the coronavirus outbreak remains debated, scientists know we’ll face more pandemics in the future without decisive action.
Infectious diseases have been rising since the 1950s, with an estimated three out of every four disease coming from animals. We’ve seen many of these zoonotic diseases in the last 20 years, including SARS, Ebola, West Nile and now COVID-19.
Scientists believe that almost half of the new zoonotic diseases since 1940 stem from changes in land use, like deforestation. A recent Stanford University study found that forest fragmentation in western Uganda increased the likelihood of viruses jumping from wild animals to humans.
The key point here is that people are intruding on animal habitat, not vice versa.
It has been over 50 years since the first Earth Day in 1970, when millions demanded better treatment of the environment, and great strides have been made. But our work is not done: We must restore our Earth.
Mounting evidence suggests that biodiversity loss also contributes to the spread of disease. In fact, one study found that more diverse bird populations help buffer humans against infection from West Nile Virus in the U.S.
And, if COVID-19 has taught us anything about infectious diseases, it’s that anyone can be affected by these viruses. As of Tuesday morning, over 3.6 million people have caught the virus worldwide.
Currently, we aren’t doing enough to slow deforestation or biodiversity loss.
Since the start of human civilization, we’ve managed to clear 46% of trees globally — and we still lose 15 billion a year. Biodiversity loss in the last few decades is unprecedented, too, with around one million plant and animal species at risk of extinction. Native species populations in land-based habitats have fallen 20%.
Early this year, the World Economic Forum launched the One Trillion Tree Initiative which aims to unite governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and individuals behind “mass-scale nature restoration.” As of February 2020, the program planted 13 billion trees.
But it’s not as simple as planting a bunch of trees. Planting the wrong species or planting them in the wrong areas may cause more harm to ecosystems and wildlife than good. Tree-planting programs can also distract us from simply protecting the habitat we already have.
In response to the biodiversity crisis, the U.N. called for the protection of at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans. Governments also planned to meet later this year in China to adopt a new set of biodiversity goals, but the meeting has been postponed due to COVID-19.
Similarly, the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) set for November has also been postponed, stalling further coordinated action on climate change.
Our Earth cannot wait for meetings. This year there are two Earth Days — one on April 22 and the other on Election Day in November. You can take action to help restore the Earth. Register to vote, commit to vote, vote early and Vote Earth.