Climate change and coronavirus

Climate change has not caused the COVID-19 pandemic. But in many of the poorer countries and emerging economies, the intensifying destruction caused by the climate crisis will prolong the pandemic and massively increase its death toll.  

The images from the ‘wet markets’ of Thailand are horrific.  Small frightened animals kept in tiny cages until they are chosen by shoppers for their dinner.  They are then hauled out and slaughtered on the spot by a man with a huge knife. This is how the virus is thought to have spread to humans. COVID-19 did not originate in Thailand.  But these wet markets flourish throughout Asia and all carry the risk of zoonosis: the transfer of disease from wild animals to humans.   The global trafficking of live animals is an appalling depravity. It’s illegal, but the law is not enforced.

Roast bear ready

On the other side of the world, a man in Nova Scotia surveys his kitchen table and checks off the food he will take to a Wild Game Evening:  10 lbs. of bear jerky, four lbs. of baked beans ’n’ bear and 210 servings of barbecue bear ribs. Eight lbs. of meatballs made with ground pork, deer and bear, and four baked porcupines. He still has to wrap up several bear roasts he’s smoked for hours.  Prepping a dead bear is a lot of work but it is one of his favourite meats to prepare. The bear was big: a whopping 330-pounder. But the cook was happy: “It took me a day to remove the 100-pound hide and scrape off 100 pounds of fat. That bear was ready for winter!”

This is the Canadian version of bushmeat. In Africa, bushmeat or viande de brousse has always been prized.  Urban carnivores don’t need to hunt anymore. The meat is widely available in the local markets.  In Nigeria, researchers found 45 different animals for sale in a local market including primates, bats, lions, leopards, and cane rats. 

A substantial amount of bushmeat makes its way illegally to New York City, home to tens of thousands of Africans most of them in the Bronx. In 2012, bushmeat confiscated by authorities at New York airport  included baboon, chimpanzee, mangabey, guenon, green monkey and cane rat.  Although smoked to preserve the meat, bacteria and viruses are not eliminated.

Bush meat in Abidjan market 2006

Bushmeat is a dangerous predilection. It is a potential vector of diseases such as Monkeypox, Ebola virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and now of course: COVID -19.

The cause of Ebola is thought to have been bats–-since fruit bats are believed to be a natural reservoir of the virus. The bats pass the virus to wild animals that share their habitat, and when the animals are killed by hunters or slaughtered in markets, the virus passes to humans.  About 50% of Ebola outbreaks are thought to have been due to handling of primate carcasses.

The cause of COVID-19 is still uncertain but is likely to have originated in a similar way to Ebola: by people handling and killing live animals that probably have been in contact with bats. In many countries, bats are caught and eaten directly. I was served up meat from a large fruit bat when I lived in Marovoay, Madagascar, several years ago. Even the wings are eaten.

All of which suggests that SARS-type virus epidemics are likely to continue to emerge around the world as homo sapiens continues to kill and eat pretty much anything that fits in a pot.

China appears to have reduced the spread of the disease by enforcing physical distancing and locking down large cities and regions—draconian measures that only an authoritarian government can swiftly impose.  In Europe and North America, where lock-downs and physical distancing are more difficult to enforce, the disease is still rampant and the death toll continues to climb.

The virus has now spread across Africa and Asia, and has emerged in the islands of the Caribbean.  The disease will be almost impossible to control in the poorest most congested urban areas of these countries. In the favelas, bidonvilles and shanty towns, families are crowded together. Almost every day, women and girls go to the local market to buy food. The idea of maintaining a physical distance in a crowded market or simply staying at home is a fantasy.

The wealthiest families will have access to the best medical facilities. The super rich and government ministers will jet off to Europe.  The poor, as always, will be left behind to manage as best they can.

The fierce storms and extreme weather generated by the changing climate will make it almost impossible to manage the spread of COVID-19.  Moreover, hurricanes and cyclones often destroy the very infrastructure and medical facilities that offer any hope of survival for people that are already infected.  In 2017, hurricane Maria resulted in the death of almost 3000 people in Puerto Rico.  Imagine how many would have died if COVID-19 had been widespread on the island at that time.

The prediction for the number of Atlantic hurricanes this year suggests an above-average number of major storms. The peak of the hurricane season tends to be late summer, but it is extremely unlikely that the COVID-19 virus will have disappeared from North America or the Caribbean islands by that time.   

Globally, the full impact of COVID-19 is only now starting to emerge as the number of cases in Latin America, Africa, south-east Asia, and across the small island countries in the Caribbean and the Pacific start to climb.

As the body count has risen, many governments have taken unprecendented measures to protect the public health. Scientists have led the way; policy-makers have followed. This level of focus, resolve and action now needs to be applied to attacking the climate crisis. Business as usual is no longer an option. Surely the COVID-19 pandemic has driven this lesson home?  

=============================

There is a lot more information about the climate crisis and how to solve it in this new book: Climate Change and Renewable Energy: How to End the Climate Crisis. It is the first book that explains in detail how solar energy, wind power, and the other renewable sources of energy are the key to ending the climate crisis. You can check it out here : //www.palgrave.com/us/book/9783030154233

Also check out the video here: https://vimeo.com/ontario/martinbush

Everybody, please stay safe

Martin Bush

Martin Bush graduated from the University of Sheffield with a PhD in chemical engineering and fuel technology. He has spent the last 30 years leading natural resources management, renewable energy, and climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in Africa and the Caribbean. He lives in Markham, Ontario, Canada. He can be contacted at climatezone.central@gmail.com. He is the author of a new book: Climate change and renewable energy--How to end the climate crisis. Published by Palgrave-Macmillan in October 2019.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *