If you take a look at the results of ‘Did deforestation cause Corona?’ in a search engine, you’ll see that there’s currently a lot of speculation on the subject.
This article will outline:
- How deforestation may have contributed to COVID-19
- Why humans are causing it and what we can do to stop it
How deforestation may have contributed to COVID-19
Mankind is routinely destroying areas of rainforest in order to use the land. We enter wildlife-full, previously-closed ecosystems, and destroy them. This exposes the wildlife to the outside world, stressing it and forcing it to go and find a new home. That wildlife has its own inherent diseases. By displacing it we expose the deforestation workers. They and the wildlife transport the diseases to new wildlife and people.
Scientists have said it likely that COVID-19 originated from bats.
An article published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information explains that it’s unlikely that deforestation-displaced bats would directly transmit a disease to humans. However, destroying their habitat and sending them looking for another one, brings them into contact with unfamiliar animals, who could then carry their disease to humans.
There is a precedent for this: SARS. The most probable cause identified for this early-2000s disease was civets (animals similar to mongeese) sold for meat in Chinese markets – these animals had been infected by horseshoe bats and carried the virus to humans.
Research points to our current coronavirus pandemic having horseshoe bats as its origin.
There are other potential reasons for our current crisis, but deforestation appears to be a solid root cause. If we left wildlife to flourish in its natural habitat, there would be far less opportunity for this species-jumping viral activity.
Why are humans are causing deforestation and what we can do to stop it
This EU report cites 3 causes:
Infrastructure means mining for energy sources (coal, oil, gas etc.) and road/railway building (partly for human/goods transportation but also partly to have a network to transport the things we’re mining).
What we can do to stop it:
The changes needed here are the same ones we need to combat climate change: travel less, switch to renewable energy, consume less, buy less, buy food locally.
- Palm oil
From The Guardian, UK newspaper: ‘Worldwide production of palm oil has been climbing steadily for five decades. Between 1995 and 2015, annual production quadrupled, from 15.2m tonnes to 62.6m tonnes. By 2050, it is expected to quadruple again, reaching 240m tonnes. The footprint of palm oil production is astounding: plantations to produce it account for 10% of permanent global cropland. Today, 3 billion people in 150 countries use products containing palm oil. Globally, we each consume an average of 8kg of palm oil a year.’
Palm oil is not just in food. It’s ‘hidden’ in many household products like toothpaste, shampoo and glue.
- Space to grow large monocultures for animal feed
We are growing soy and corn in vast quantites to feed animals that are generally reared in large factory farms.
- Space to graze animals, mainly cattle
What we can do to stop it:
We must inform ourselves on and raise awareness of palm oil’s diverse uses in our food and household products and consciously take the time to select and support products that do not use it.
We must use less resources for meat production.
If we choose to eat vegan, we must:
- Be active in choosing locally-available food and informed of the destructive repercussions of importing monocrops created to feed western ‘healthy’ food choices (for example avocadoes and almonds).
If we choose to eat meat, we must:
- Choose to eat meat raised locally, and fed on naturally-available or locally-sourced food. We must know where our meat was raised and what our meat was fed – animals raised on organically-grown soy or corn would be a cause of deforestation.
- Eat the whole animal, including cuts of meat that normally get thrown away. Right up until the last 50 years most of the world’s meat-eating included liver, heart, brains, spleen etc. This was because it takes a lot of energy, in food and effort, to rear an animal. It is simple economic sense to eat it all. It’s also because the organ meat has more nutrients by weight than the muscle-meat.
- Reduce overall meat consumption. Most of us eat more than we need. If we pay the true price of production (which we have to when we buy locally-reared, naturally-fed animals) then the cost will likely encourage us to value it more and eat it less.
Logging is the destruction of rainforest for construction, fuel, consumer products and paper. This destruction often creates a double-whammy because forests that have been damaged by logging are more susceptible to fires, which are in themselves a big cause of deforestation.
What we can do to stop it:
Use less paper, choose recycled materials, buy less stuff.
There is definitely a link between deforestation and disease transmission from animals to humans. It is very likely that it could have been the cause of our current pandemic. We must address deforestation, by changing our behaviour, to avoid another COVID-like disease.
At an individual level, lifestyle-change, particularly when it hits our pockets, can be tough. COVID-19 has highlighted to every one of us that we need to change and the work of scientists, activists and researchers is showing us what we must do.
There are many groups, charities and networks in the fields of environmental protection, animal rights and farming practises that can help inform, encourage and support us as we make different choices. Through us in turn supporting these groups, pressure can be put on governments, who need to change priorities and create legislation to protect society and our world.
We hope to highlight more of these organisations going forward. In the meantime, feel free to share thoughts, ideas and knowledge wherever you can find a convenient opportunity to do so – on the blog here or the twitter channel at present.