Humans exist within a web of life. This web is a complex, interconnected system in which each part plays an important role. When one component is changed–or removed–the entire system is affected, and this can produce positive–or negative–consequences.
The solution is nature
Nature prevents and responds to some of the most pressing challenges faced by humans today. It purifies the air we breathe, cleans the water we drink, and produces the variety of foods we require to stay healthy and resist disease. It enables medical researchers to understand human physiology; and provides substance for developing medicines. It even helps mitigate the impact of climate change by absorbing carbon, reducing air pollution and helping to cool cities.
The challenge is human
Human action has reduced biodiversity and modified wildlife population structures and at an unprecedented rate. In the last 50 years, the human population has doubled; the global economy has almost quadrupled and global trade has increased by approximately ten times. Today, it would take 1.6 Earths to meet the demands that humans make on nature each year; and more species are at risk of extinction than ever before.
Biodiversity and coronaviruses
The emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the fact that when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life. The more biodiverse an ecosystem is, the more difficult it is for one pathogen to spread rapidly or dominate; whereas, biodiversity loss provides opportunity for pathogens to pass between animals and people.
Human actions, including deforestation, encroachment on wildlife habitats, intensified agriculture, and acceleration of climate change, have upset the delicate balance of nature. We have changed the system that would naturally protect us, and have created conditions that allow particular pathogens–including coronaviruses–to spread.
Today, it is estimated that, globally, about one billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year from diseases caused by coronaviruses; and about 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, meaning that they are transmitted to people by animals. Nature is sending us a message.
It’s time for Nature
COVID-19 provides us an opportunity to both revisit our relationship with nature and rebuild a more environmentally responsible world. Addressing zoonotic disease emergence requires addressing its root cause–primarily, the impact of human activities. As the global population approaches 10 billion, we need to better understand the web of life in which we live and appreciate that it functions as a whole system. It is time to reimagine our relationship with nature and put nature at the heart of our decision-making.