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Climate change and the effects of globalization are accelerating the threat of known and unknown viruses. 

The existential crisis of 2020 has turned on a lightbulb of awareness that there is much, much more coming down the pipeline if significant changes are not made. Elise Amel, a psychologist at the University of St. Thomas describes it as the “invisible becoming visible” — the impact of our collective behaviors are evident. Worldwide lockdowns and closings promoted sustainable habits like less commuting, energy usage, and plastic consumption coupled with more time spent outside, resulting in positive environmental benefits like cleaner air.

While we may be enjoying the temporary side effects of significantly reduced carbon emission-causing activities, the reality is that humans are hardwired to fall back into old patterns that are not so Earth-conscious. And the risk of regressing could trigger a domino effect that makes viruses an even greater threat in the future.

Globalization Accelerate Opportunities for Viruses to Spread

Ebola, HIV/AIDS, MERS, H5N1, SARS, Zika, and Covid-19. These are all examples of zoonotic diseases (zoonoses) that have crossed the interspecies boundaries jumping from animals to people either directly, indirectly, vector-borne (e.g., an infected mosquito or tick), or through food and water. The novel coronavirus has hit humanity harder than most viruses because of its highly infectious rate; however, the threat of viruses is always present.

Ancient viruses lie buried in dense habitats like deep under the permafrost in Siberia. When habitats become destabilized because of human activities, it makes the threat of virus awakening occur. “The Amazon is a huge reservoir of viruses,” global change ecologist from the University of Campinas, David Lapola, told Agence France-Presse. “That’s one more reason not to use the Amazon irrationally like we’re doing now. We’d better not try our luck.”

Globalization and booming populations inevitably catalyze an increase in industrial farming and deforestation — making way for larger mosquito-breeding grounds which in turn promotes the rise of Zika, malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever. People are moving faster too. It used to be that people traveled simply by foot within smaller communities but now people can board planes and fly across borders to much larger populations and city centers.

Protecting People’s Health Requires a Broader Consideration of Climate Change Consequences and the Microbiome

As the climate warms and habitats are decimated, pathogen-carrying species are traveling and multiplying outside of their usual zones. In addition, climate change-refugees and victims of natural disasters are more vulnerable to encountering these pathogens and may frequently be grouped into areas that are prime conditions for viral infection and spread.

There is an inevitability of human exploitation, says Jean-Michel Claverie, a professor of genomics and bioinformatics at the Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine in France. Population expansion requires more and more space and resources. Furthermore, it’s hard to predict future viruses – even with more knowledge and data – because of the sheer scale of the submicroscopic viral universe. 

The microverse may hold the answers as to how scientists can help protect people’s health. Microbiomes in animals – the microorganisms that exist in and on the host that break down food and protect against pathogens – are an important factor in understanding the role of health prophylaxis. 

Researchers have identified a new model for disease dynamics as a “pyramid” that consists of the host, the pathogen, the environment, and the microbiome. “Human activities are changing the environment in profound ways that will impact wildlife and people. Protecting the health of both requires a broad research approach that takes account of a range of influences, including the microbiome,” says Medical News Today.

The temperature has a significant impact on the microbiome, which scientists say may be affecting the rate at which disease spreads. The next step for controlling the spread of viruses is very much connected to the action taken now as we feel the “spillover effect.”

The “Spillover Effect,” Its Meanings, and How They Affect Change

Spillover is a term for the opportunity for viruses to spread from nature and infect humans because of human activity-catalysts like population growth, deforestation, industrial farming, globalization, and climate change.

This elevates the objective of achieving a net-zero carbon target by 2050 and making fundamental changes propelled by governments and industry. The Paris Agreement and its tenements must be front and center for future solutions, and the UN has added further Covid-19 response that calls for profound change by accelerating decarbonization of all aspects of the economy, building collaborative solutions between countries, and promoting a green economy.

Spillover has come to signify the ways in which we are experiencing the cause and effect of an Earth’s existence in 2020. Time spent in nature has the power to change our attitude toward the environment and encourage more sustainable behaviors. By recognizing the essential disease dynamics in-play and how they are affected by climate change consequences, leaders can make more informed decisions that keep populations healthier and on-track to achieving environmental goals