Most of the discussion around climate change and the current pandemic focuses on how actions to combat climate change have been set back by the battle against the covid-19 pandemic or perhaps the opportunity to integrate climate policy into the global and local recovery plans. But research by Beyer, Manica, and Mora (2021) indicates that climate change likely played a role in exposure to the virus in the first place.
The researchers modelled how habitat in the southern Chinese Yunnan province has changed over the past 100 years due to climate change. Increases in temperature, sunlight, and atmospheric carbon dioxide have changed the plants in the area from tropical shrubland to tropical savannah and deciduous woodland, which increased habitat for bats. In total the researchers found that 40 additional bat species likely moved into the area in the last 100 years.
Bats are known to carry coronaviruses, but this typically isn’t a problem for humans. Viruses don’t often jump between species. But more opportunities means more times something can happen. And that’s what climate change has done, created more opportunities.
In addition, expansion of human areas, brings wildlife and humans into closer contact. And shrinking habitat increases interactions between different species. This is also a likely factor as the bats are living in closer contact with other species as well, including the pangolin which is thought to be an intermediary host for the current sars-cov2 virus.
The question is often asked of whether we can afford to act on climate change, but as we enter the second year of a pandemic that has killed millions, has crippled economies and made people choose between eating and shelter and staying healthy, that has revealed how deeply rooted systemic racism is in so many societies (an act that needed to happen, but we need to be able to respond), the question needs to be can we afford not to act?