The Corona Connection: Forest Loss Drives Viruses As Well As Climate Change

Mandy Gull, Deputy-Chief of the Waswanipi Cree First Nation stands in a clear cut area, to bring attention to the struggle they face to protect their last intact forest from industrial logging.

Here are two articles for classroom use on the connection between deforestation, climate change, and the coronavirus.

Think Exotic Animals Are to Blame for the Coronavirus? Think Again

By Sonia Shah

. . . Although stories illustrated with pictures of wild animals as “the source” of deadly outbreaks might suggest otherwise, wild animals are not especially infested with deadly pathogens, poised to infect us. In fact, most of these microbes live harmlessly in these animals’ bodies.

. . . The problem is the way that cutting down forests and expanding towns, cities, and industrial activities creates pathways for animal microbes to adapt to the human body.

Habitat destruction threatens vast numbers of wild species with extinction, including the medicinal plants and animals we’ve historically depended upon for our pharmacopeia. It also forces those wild species that hang on to cram into smaller fragments of remaining habitat, increasing the likelihood that they’ll come into repeated, intimate contact with the human settlements expanding into their newly fragmented habitats. It’s this kind of repeated, intimate contact that allows the microbes that live in their bodies to cross over into ours, transforming benign animal microbes into deadly human pathogens. Continue reading at The Nation.

Indigenous Peoples’ Leaders Speak Out

A news briefing hosted by Covering Climate Now in New York on March 13, 2020.

The same forest destruction that accelerates climate change can also encourage the emergence of diseases such as the coronavirus, Indigenous Peoples’ leaders said today in New York, as they criticized Cargill and other multinational companies for replacing forests with soy, palm and cattle plantations.

“The coronavirus is now telling the world what we have been saying for thousands of years — that if we do not help protect biodiversity and nature, then we will face this and worse future threats,” said Levi Sucre Romero, a BriBri indigenous person from Costa Rica who is the Coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests.

The loss of habitat has brought wild animals into closer contact with humans and domesticated animals, research has found, enabling diseases such as the coronavirus to jump the animal-human barrier and spread through human-to-human contact.

Mina Setra, of the Indigenous Dayak Pompakng. Deputy Secretary General of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago. (AMAN)

“It is likely that an animal [is responsible for a virus that] has infected tens of thousands of people worldwide with coronavirus and placed a strain on the global economy,” said Mina Setra, a Dayak Pompakng indigenous person from Indonesia who is the deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), which represents 17 million Indigenous Peoples across Indonesia. “If only the world [had] worked to strengthen the rights of Indigenous Peoples — who have learned to live in nature with biodiversity and protect animal and plant species — we would see fewer epidemics such as the one that we are currently facing.”

Brazil in particular has experienced a growing assault on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, at some of the highest levels of government, according to Dinamam Tuxá, the coordinator and legal advisor to the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, where “Our people are being criminalized and murdered.” . . .

Recent peer-reviewed science has concluded that protecting the land and human rights of Indigenous Peoples who occupy much of the earth’s forested areas is the best way to keep forests standing, which in turn reduces global warming and biodiversity loss. Continue reading at Covering Climate Now.

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