By- Aaquib Javed
There is so much information on the web and youtube that tells us enough about how we’re going to end our species and this world if we do not step forward to slow down the pace of this unsustainable development and carbon burning. While rising sea levels and temperatures alongside weird weather patterns are some famous consequences, the most ignored implication of climate change (what can be) is an epidemic risk which can sweep out our entire race in a matter of months if not weeks depending upon its contagiousness, considering how connected the whole world is today.
It is 5th April 2020 today and it is for sure a historic day today. Almost 1/3rd of the human population is under lockdown for the last 2 weeks and as the time progresses more and more people are going under lockdown. It is not any political unrest that made this lockdown possible but a pandemic has made this possible. Schools are shut, offices are shut and GDP is almost down to 1 or 2 percent around the whole world. It is a Coronavirus outbreak that happened in China and thanks to the globalized world it has become a pandemic worldwide.
No one is really sure about where it started and where this new virus named Coronavirus came from but it is almost certain that it had its roots back to a WET MARKET in a Chinese town named WUHAN and was most probably transmitted in humans via a bat.
Now bats have a very fierce immune response against viruses, whenever a bat is exposed to a virus its immune system quickly releases interferon upon infection and other cells quickly wall themselves. It increases the virulence of the virus and wreaks havoc when these viruses are transmitted to an animal with a tamer immune system like humans. But how does a pandemic outbreak connect to climate change?
To answer this let’s move to Siberia, Russia which is one of the coldest places on earth and which has layers of ancient ice on and beneath their lands. In 2016 they had this mysterious anthrax outbreak and the reason for this outbreak was unknown until one day they started to look for the reasons underground.
In the coldest regions of the world, there is a layer of the earth that stays frozen throughout the year, every summer the soil above it thaws. The deeper layer stays harder as it was in the winter. This layer is called PERMAFROST. Whereas the layer above it is called the ACTIVE LAYER and it thaws in the summer.
Most of the permafrost is present in the northern hemisphere around the arctic as depicted in the map below :
Since the permafrost never thaws, not even in summer, it acts like the freezer. Plants and animals that die here do not decompose in time they would decompose in other regions around the world they instead get preserved in the permafrost for a longer period of time until they reach the TALIK LAYER which has temperature enough to sustain lives of microbes who would do the decomposition.
But arctic animals like reindeers and plants are stuck in the permafrost for thousands of years before they reach talk. This is the natural procedure that nature has been following since the time immemorial.
But due to human intervention, this ancient order is being disturbed.
We all know how humans are burning fossil fuels and raising the temperature of the globe. It was melting glaciers already but now this warming has started to thaw the permafrost and shrink it alongside thawing the active layer.
As permafrost thaws it brings a number of problems to deal with :
- Landslides→ As this permafrost layer thaw in summers, it makes the upper layer of the active layer soil above it unstable. This leads to the slippage of land and soil above the permafrost which ultimately leads to landslides in summers.
- Man-made structures fall apart → Thawing of the permafrost layer directly implies that the lower hard and rock-like region of soil below the topsoil is vanishing which means the man-made structures now have no proper platform to stand upon and they tend to fall apart.
- The unearthing of the old/ancient diseases → Due to the thawing permafrost, it has been seen that more recently dead plants and animals thaw out so they are now exposed to more and more air. Bacteria from air decompose them and release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
But it is not the end of it. Alongside greenhouse gases, it exposes those diseases that are thought to be tackled by us in the past. The community living nearby can be affected by that disease in just a week depending upon the Ro value of the spread of the disease.
Investigations later on in the regions revealed that the Anthrax outbreak was attributed to a dead reindeer carcass that died 75 years back and potentially exposed anthrax to a reindeer grazing nearby. Through that reindeer, disease spread into its fellow reindeers and then onto humans with greater damage.
Later on after founding the source of anthrax, authorities burnt around 2000 reindeer carcasses found in the region to contain the outbreak.
It was just one case that is being seen in the starting years of climate change but once climate change reaches later stages and earth’s average temperature rises by around 2 degrees, researchers believe that it can expose diseases like Spanish flu, smallpox, and other diseases that are thought to be conquered by humans. Moreover, the carbon and methane released as permafrost melts will accelerate this rate of rising of the temperature.
Warming climate also means a larger breeding ground for parasites such as mosquitoes that may strike an outbreak like zika, malaria, dengue etc.
For example, the mosquitoes that used to breed and live in the tropical and subtropical regions have now started to breed in the regions more distant to the equator due to the rising temperatures.
Amongst all the reasons humanity needs to fear climate change, the risk of an epidemic is the quickest that can end our species. No one exactly knows how nov-Coronavirus which has killed 65,841 humans at this timestamp came into humans or bats in the first place. What we know for sure is that a big epidemic can yet again hit us if we do not learn from our experiences of pandemic and climate change this time. Today we stay inside, we become heroes but in the upcoming years, the only way of becoming a hero is raising voice or doing something for the environment yourself 🙂