Habitat destruction, Desertification and Pandemics

Habitat destruction, Desertification and Pandemics

The Coronavirus affair – COVID 19, obviously could not fail to shake the scientific world, the environments linked to the ecological movements and, of course, the whole of humanity.
In recent times various theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon of global proportions, so much so that the hypotheses already for some time formulated by various scientists and experts in the field, are finding a progressive convergence to explain the scenarios that are being prefigured and the factors triggers.
In this contribution, I also report some ideas from an interesting article published in Scientific American magazine, one of the oldest and most followed in the United States, on an analysis carried out by Anxiety.
The Ensia – Institute on the Environment, is a multidisciplinary institute based in the University of Minnesota, which supports interdisciplinary research, develops leaders and builds cross-sector partnerships aimed at shaping solutions to challenges in the interference between society and the environment.
In this way, a series of reports and data from various researchers were collected, to understand if there are links between pandemics, which by now with ever shorter intervals occur worldwide, and the alterations brought by humanity to the environment.
In the presentation of this scenario, of course, we report some facts that significantly help us to understand the possible solutions.
We start from the territories around the Ivindo river, deep in the great Minkebe forest, in northern Gabon, where local populations are accustomed to occasional attacks of diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, sleep sickness and others and which they normally overcome with little damage.
Suddenly, however, in January 1996, Ebola, a deadly virus barely known to humans, unexpectedly spilled out of the forest in a wave of small epidemics. The disease killed 21 of the 37 villagers who would have been infected, including a number that had transported, skinned or eaten a chimpanzee from the nearby forest.
We have to start here to understand why new deadly diseases for humans were emerging from “hot spots” of biodiversity, such as tropical rain forests or markets where there is trade in meat from wild animals, in African cities. and Asian.
In a nutshell, after some researchers questioned the villagers, they reported how the children had gone to the forest with dogs that killed a chimpanzee. They said that anyone who had cooked or ate had had a terrible fever within hours. Some died immediately, while others were taken to the hospital along the river. Someone else recovered.
But the most shocking testimony, which makes us understand how the ancient traditions have also been distorted, came from the elderly who affirmed that “We loved the forest, now we fear it”. Something had changed.
Like many populations or tribes of the most remote corners of our planet, who were used to a “peaceful” coexistence with their habitats, they could no longer sustain the same thing.
The belief that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic fauna threatened humans by hosting viruses and pathogens, which lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and Dengue, belonged to the western opinion.
Today, however, a number of researchers think that reality is different.
It is now certain, for what will be demonstrated even further in this contribution, that it is instead the destruction of biodiversity (with its habitats) by humanity to create the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as COVID-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019.
The studies of the researchers, who must however put virologists, mathematicians, ecologists and so on, tend to show that there is a need for a new discipline, “planetary health”, which focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the well-being of human beings, other living beings and entire ecosystems.
The territory where Ebola appeared had in fact been tampered with for some time by human activities with the construction of roads, habitat interruptions, and so on.
David Quammen himself, author of Spillover: Animal Infects and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill animals or put them in cages and send them to the markets. We destroy ecosystems and free viruses from their natural hosts. When this happens, they need a new host. Often this is man. ”
In addition, various researches worldwide, with their statistical data, suggest that other infectious diseases such as Ebola, SARS, avian influenza and now COVID-19, are on the rise. Pathogens are moving from animals to humans and many are now able to spread rapidly to new places.
So among these infections the recent COVID-19, which emerged in 2019 in Wuhan, China, are new to humans and are spreading globally.
It is then the data of other infectious diseases that have appeared since the second half of the last century to confirm this trend.
In 2008, Katherine Elizabeth Jones of University College London and the Zoological Society of London, together with a team of researchers, identified 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, of which at least about 60% have transited animals savages.
Jones herself, following her tests, was able to ascertain how these zoonotic diseases are linked to environmental changes and human behavior. The disruption of pristine forests led by deforestation, mining, road construction through remote places, rapid urbanization and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species that could never have been close before.
According to Jones, in addition to the price we are paying for the “human economic development”, for the “disturbance” of entire habitats, which have remained unchanged for millennia, it has emerged that “The simplest systems obtain an amplification effect. Destroy the landscapes and the species that are left to you are those from which humans get diseases. ” So a decrease in biodiversity and an increase in pandemics is a directly proportional combination.
To this must be added the considerations of the epidemiologist Fevre E.M. on the criterion that dense urbanization has created new habitats, where species that previously lived in their environments are forcibly adapting (such as bats, rodents, birds, etc.), becoming a new source of vehiculation.
Evaluation enhanced by the disease ecologist DH Gillespie, associate professor at the Department of Environmental Sciences of Emory University in the city of Atlanta in Georgia, who says that the shrinking of natural habitats and the change of behavior add to the risks of diseases that they pour from animals to humans.
To all this it would also be superfluous to add what was stated in the book “Spillover. The evolution of pandemics “where these mechanisms are explained in detail and in which it is evident how the tampering of ecosystems will lead to ever greater imbalances and therefore costs, especially social.
In fact, the cases of proliferation of new pathogen transmissions are closely related to the areas close to the destruction of habitats and the new stress condition not only of plant species but especially of wildlife.
Human interference with ecosystems is generating, according to the virologist D. H. Gillespie, the conditions for the spread of diseases by reducing the natural barriers between the host animals of the virus – in which the virus circulates naturally – and humans.
We are facing the horizon of a new discipline that, play force, must put every data system together, with action and reaction, in order to have to reconvert the world towards the goal of “planetary health”.
Thesis supported with the force of data and research by Prof. Richard Ostfeld, illustrious senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. According to the scientist “Research on human health rarely considers the surrounding natural ecosystems”. For this reason, together with other researchers, it is developing the emerging discipline of planetary health, which examines the links between human health and that of the ecosystem.

To all this we must obviously add how the proliferation of markets without sanitary rules, where the contact between wild and exotic species occurs, such as the case of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, probably started around the end of December 2019 in the city of Wuhan, in China, is further confirmation. In these markets the animals are slaughtered, cut and sold on the spot.
Similarly, urban markets in western and central Africa sell monkeys, bats, rats and dozens of species of birds, mammals, insects and rodents slaughtered and sold near open and drainless landfills.
However, let’s remember that these markets are essential sources of food for hundreds of millions of people around the world and the prohibitions often force traders to underground activities that are far more hygienically deficient.
To this we must then add the thriving wild animal market which is obviously done away with every Precautionary Principle.
All this brings us back to the principle now supported by many researchers: namely that the achievement of Planetary Health should be conducted with the coordination of disciplines apparently unrelated to each other.
Above all, of course, there is a need for a level of government of the economy that does not move on the concept of individual income but on its profitability within planetary health.
For example, we cannot produce food by altering entire ecosystems and once these and biocoenoses are altered, we can think of solving the problem with the worst of solutions: the use of pesticides.
We cannot think of increasing agricultural production yields by going beyond the energy performance of the delicate balance between soil (with its microbiological biodiversity) and the topsoil. All this requires the escape from the thermodynamic model of the natural ecosystem (which is substantially closed) towards an open model which is known to have much lower energy yields.
Agriculture, industry, commerce, trade and so on have moved on the basis of financial indices and not on the basis of indices related to the dissipative energy of all ecological systems.
All this obviously requires the need for a new cultural approach that must move in unison with a new epistemological model, as I stated in the scientific publication: “Plan of Experiences and levels of well-being”, without which concepts such as the fight against desertification , energy efficiency, sustainable development or other “effect” definitions become empty and non-productive for indefinite times.
What to do then?
The starting point is also, but not only, from Agenda 2030, that demanding United Nations program for sustainable development (Sustainable Development Goals or, in abbreviated form, SDG) consisting of 17 objectives.
In this program, the general objectives, although they aim to achieve each of the specific targets, are closely linked. The total number includes 169 targets. As we know they aim to solve a wide range of issues concerning economic and social development, such as poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation. -healthcare, energy, urbanization, the environment and social equality.
Obviously we must proceed step by step, starting from a new Vision of Reality which today assumes strategic and leading importance.
It must be explained to politicians, bureaucrats, economists and so on that much of the scaffolding on which the so-called “Modern Civilization” was built is in contrast with what I love to call “Codes of Nature”.
Not only that, once explained this question with schemes and graphs understandable and digestible by everyone (otherwise we do academy), we must make it clear that there is no Future History outside the Codes.
To this popularizing and informative action must be added the amplifications coming from the feedback of this priority activity.
In parallel, scenarios and hypotheses must be elaborated, which obviously must also be followed by political monitoring.

Guido Bissanti

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