Climate change has been a burning topic in recent years. Numerous United Nation reports highlight the dangers of climate change and how critical levels of warming are causing disruptions to food chains, ecosystems, and the stability of our planet as a whole. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that we are reaching a critical tipping point in the warming of the planet.
Many of the effects of humans on the climate became especially obvious at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As travel ceased to slow the spread of the virus, reports showed that there were drastic declines in the amount of CO2 pollution produced, a hopeful sign. However, this was a short lived reality. A brief period of lockdowns was not enough to change how much CO2 humans produce.
And yet, as we start to emerge from the grips of a two-year-and-counting pandemic, a new study published in Nature reminds us that the next pandemic may be much closer than we think.
Specifically, researchers at Georgetown University suggest there is a link between climate change and increases in viral transmission. The link has to do with the way climate change affects ecosystems, displacing animals from their habitat. This displacement, in turn, could increase the chances human and animal habitats overlapping and cause a virus to jump from animal to human, causing the next pandemic.
The study used simulations to explore how habitat changes affect where animals will move to next, tracing their journey towards new places to live. Alarmingly, as more and more habitats are destroyed, researchers note that it’s more and more likely that animal and human habitats will overlap significantly, creating the kinds of scenarios for viruses jumping between species. Changes to bat habitats, in particular, is troubling. Bats are responsible for a significant amount of viral sharing, and, given their ability to fly, pose the most risk for viral spreading.
What these simulations provide, ultimately, are details about where animals move, the kinds of viruses they may carry and, ultimately, the data to predict and prevent the next global pandemic.