Rise in disease is linked to loss of our forests


Up until now, the weather has been the quintessential small-talk topic. These days you cannot avoid a conversation without mentioning COVID-19. “Can you believe this pandemic?” Actually, yes we can. Zoonotic diseases — illnesses that spread from animals to people — are becoming more common. Six out of 10 infectious diseases found in people can be spread from animals and three out of four new diseases come from animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As zoonotic diseases are on the rise, they also spread further faster. Take for instance COVID-19, which managed to reach nearly every region of the world in only four months with the help of air travel, which has made the world smaller, for some.

As countries and individuals blame each other for the spread of COVID-19, we overlook how climate change and deforestation have created the perfect environment for diseases like COVID-19 and others to flourish. For instance, as global temperatures warm they push vectors such as mosquitos and ticks and the diseases they carry — malaria, Zika and Lyme — into new habitats. In areas like Maine, winters may become more mild, lengthening the seasonal patterns of disease transmission from vectors that remain active in warmer temperatures. For example, the winter of 2019 was warmer than average in Maine, which may have been one factor driving the state’s highest record of new Lyme disease cases last year.

In combating climate change and subsequently infectious disease, forests hold the secret. Like the oceans, forests act as a major carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide emitted from human activities. But between 1990 and 2016, the world has lost total forest coverage the size of South Africa due to climate change and deforestation.

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