Climate change is increasing the danger of new infectious diseases

A new study highlights two coinciding global crises — climate change and the rise of new infectious diseases that can spread rapidly— as the world grapples with what to do about both.

Over the next 50 years, climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump from one species of mammal to another, a shuffling of viruses among animals will increase the risk that one will jump into humans and cause a new deadly pandemic.

Climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spreading among animal species by 2070 — and that’s likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, according to a new study.

This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hot spots for deadly diseases spread from humans to animals or vice versa over the last several decades, including the flu, HIV, Ebola, and the coronavirus.

Researchers, who published their findings Thursday in the journal Nature, used a model to examine how over 3,000 mammal species might migrate and share viruses over the next 50 years if the world warms by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which recent research shows is likely.

Dr. Colin Carlson is a global change biologist studying the relationship between global climate change, biodiversity loss, and emerging infectious diseases including anthrax, Zika virus, and helminthiases.

Carlson found that cross-species virus spread will happen over 4,000 times among mammals alone. Birds and marine animals weren’t included in the study.

Researchers said not all viruses will spread to humans or become pandemics the scale of the coronavirus but the number of cross-species viruses increases the risk of spread to humans.

The study highlights two global crises — climate change and infectious disease spread — as the world grapples with what to do about both.

“The future is a different place than the past,” said Lisa McCormick, who has been sounding the alarm since 2018 on existential threats that are being ignored by political leaders. “Climate change, deforestation, urbanization, wildlife trade, a population explosion, and dozens of other factors will reshape ecosystems and mutate the pathogens they harbor.”

“Fortunately scientists are using massive databases and incredible new methods to test big ideas about the human influence on the global environment, and they may be able to predict where the next pandemic might start,” said McCormick. “Sadly, we still need to pay attention and take precautions where we can but our species won’t stop killing with wars or transition to clean power in order to halt the burning of fossil fuels. At some point, we must decide to survive, or we simply won’t.”

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