If we didn’t know last year, we now know all too well the stakes of preventing future pandemics. As it turns out, one way to do this is by conserving the world’s rainforests.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the coronavirus emerged, but scientists do know that it originated in wild animals (most likely bats) and eventually spread to humans. SARS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, and even the HIV/AIDS virus all began this way.
Habitat fragmentation and deforestation make human contact with wild animals much more frequent. As human activity encroaches upon the habitats of wild animals, these animals are forced into smaller areas that are often much closer to people. This makes it much more likely that humans will come into contact with these animals.
How does rainforest conservation lower the risk of another future zoonotic pandemic like COVID-19?
Humans have already converted almost 50% of the world’s landmass from natural habitats into agricultural land. Tropical rainforests have made up the majority of this converted land over the last several decades. In fact, the single biggest cause for deforestation in tropical rainforests is conversion to cropland and pastures. The largest cause of deforestation in the Amazon is cattle ranching. When the land is cleared for human use, much of the wildlife dies or is forced to relocate into degraded and crowded habitats.
By 2050, the world’s population will have grown to 9.1 billion people– a 34 % increase from today. To meet global food security needs for so many people, food production will need to increase dramatically by 2050. For humanity to succeed in this, we must transition to more sustainable food production and land management systems.
Not only are we causing great damage to the rainforest and its wildlife, but we are destroying one of the world’s largest carbon sinks and increasing the risk of unintended interaction with wildlife. And now we know that those interactions increase the risk of future pandemics like COVID-19.
So, how does effective rainforest conservation change the equation?
One of the lessons we are learning from living through COVID-19 is just how interconnected the world is. Our actions can affect people across the globe, and the health of the world’s rainforests can have serious implications for our futures, no matter where we are. Deforestation, then, has the potential to affect all of us, everywhere.
The good news is that this interconnectedness also works in the opposite direction; when we take action to conserve rainforests, there will be positive outcomes for people all over the world, including preventing future pandemics like COVID-19. And it’s time for the world to come together to ensure a better future for all of us all.
Rainforest Partnership works with partnered indigenous communities to build economically sustainable systems. By doing so, those communities are able to use the natural resources of the rainforest to become economically independent so that they are not pressured into selling their land to cattle ranchers, extractive industries, or other private interests.
Rainforest communities also provide important research that can help us learn more about climate change, biodiversity, natural medicine, and more. RP is committed to educating future generations of environmental activists. We believe that as a diverse yet committed coalition, we can work together to reduce the risk of zoonotic disease transmission, while conserving the rainforest– one community at a time. Our model creates paths towards a sustainable future for rainforests, for the people who call it home, and for people all around the world.