Coronavirus: UK believes disease behind pandemic was passed from animals naturally
The possibility that SARS-CoV-2 leaked accidentally from a Chinese laboratory is considered unlikely, Whitehall sources say.
The UK believes it is highly likely the strain of coronavirus behind the global pandemic first passed from animals to humans naturally unconnected to a laboratory, Sky News understands.
The possibility that SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19 – might have leaked accidentally from a Chinese laboratory cannot be disproved, but it is considered unlikely, according to informed Whitehall sources.
The UK position contrasts with a claim by US President Donald Trump, who said he had seen evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source of the pandemic.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went further, alleging there was a significant amount of evidence to support this theory.
The US administration has heaped blame on China for the pandemic in a standoff that has made the question about the origin of the virus increasingly political.
A statement released by US spy agencies last week was more balanced when considering whether the virus first infected humans naturally from an interaction with an animal or whether transmission happened by accident in a laboratory.
However, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all US intelligence and security agencies, did not place weight on either theory, in contrast with the UK.
The whole world has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic – we all fear for our own health, that of our loved ones and also those who are most vulnerable. In the span of just a few weeks, Covid-19 suddenly become more urgent than the crises of ongoing climate change or the dangerous decline in biodiversity. Catastrophic events that once monopolised world attention, such as the forest fires in Australia , suddenly seemed less serious than a pandemic that could touch all of us, immediately, in our own homes.
However, like other major epidemics (AIDS, Ebola, SARS, etc.), the emergence of the coronavirus is not unrelated to the climate and biodiversity crises we are experiencing. What do these pandemics tell us about the state of biodiversity?
Humankind is destroying natural environments at an accelerating rate. Between 1980 and 2000, more than 100 million hectares of tropical forest were felled, and more than 85% of wetlands have been destroyed since the start of the industrial era. In so doing, we put human populations, often in precarious health, in contact with new pathogens. The disease reservoirs are wild animals usually restricted to environments in which humans are almost entirely absent or who live in small, isolated populations.
Due to the destruction of the forests, the villagers settled on the edge of deforested zones hunt wild animals and send infected meat to cities – this is how Ebola found its way to major human centres. So-called bushmeat is even exported to other countries to meet the demand of expatriates and thus spreads the health risk far from remote areas.
We shamelessly hunt exotic and wild species for purely recreational reasons – the appeal of rare species , exotic meals, naive pharmacopeia, etc. The trade in rare animals feeds the markets and in turn leads to the contamination of urban centres by new maladies. The epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) rose out of the proximity between bats, carnivores and gullible human consumers. In 2007, a major scientific article stated:
This time bomb seems to have exploded in November 2019 with the Covid-19.
The danger of zoonoses
The consumption and import/export of exotic animals have two major consequences. First, they increase the risk of an epidemic by putting us in contact with rare infectious agents. While they’re often specialized by species and thus cannot defeat our immune system or even penetrate and use our cells, trafficking and confinement of diverse wild animals together allows infectious agents to recombine and cross the barrier between species. This was the case for SARS and may have been the case for Covid-19 . Beyond the current crisis, this risk is not marginal: It should be remembered that more than two-thirds of emerging diseases are zoonoses , infectious agents that can pass between animals and humans. Of these, the majority comes from wild animals.
Second, capturing and selling exotic animals puts enormous pressure on wild populations. This is the case with the pangolin , recently brought to light by the Covid-19 pandemic. The eight species of this mammal, which is found in Africa and Asia, are poached for their meat and scales despite their protected status. More than 20 tonnes of meat are seized each year by customs, leading to an estimate of around 200,000 individuals killed each year for this traffic.
Humanity is thus doubly endangering itself: We are enabling the creation of emerging diseases and also destroying the fragile biodiversity that provides natural services from which we benefit.
The circumstances of the emergence of these new diseases can be even more complex. This is how Zika and dengue viruses are transmitted by exotic mosquitoes transported by humans through international trade. The trade in used tires in which water collects and allows aquatic mosquito larvae to develop and be transported is particularly criticized. Here the disease does not spread by a first direct contact between the human species and reservoir animals followed by intra-human transmission, but it is transmitted to the human species by vector mosquitoes, the latter moving efficiently with our help.
Managing human and environmental health
The World Health Organization’s ‘One Health’ initiative advocates managing the issue of human health in relation to the environment and biodiversity. It has three main objectives: combating zoonoses, ensuring food safety and fighting antibiotic resistance.
The ‘One Health’ initiative seeks to promote optimal health for people, animals and the environment. Wikipedia
This initiative reminds us that we cannot live in an artificial cocoon, never be in contact with biodiversity whether it be wild, raised or grown. Two of the initiative’s three targets – food security and zoonoses – are directly related to the current Covid-19 crisis. We should not create dangerously unsustainable food circuits, whether it be importing exotic species or feeding unnatural products to farm animals – this was what led to mad cow disease , after all.
The causes of the biodiversity crisis are well known and so are the remedies. First and foremost is stopping the destruction of the environment – deforestation, the world trade in any commodity or living species, the transport of exotic animals – for short-term gain, often just a few percentage points of profitability compared to local production.
The world after Covid-19
Voices are starting to be heard that that the ‘world will not be the same after Covid-19’ . So let’s integrate into this ‘next world’ a greater respect for biodiversity. It’s our greatest immediate benefit!
The world that we will leave to our children and grandchildren will experience deadly new pandemics , that is unfortunately certain. How many will there be depends on our efforts to preserve biodiversity and natural balances, everywhere on the planet. Beyond the current human tragedies, one can at least hope that Covid-19 has had the positive effect of raising this awareness.
The impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems are already evident. Poleward shifts in the geographic distributions of species, catastrophic forest fires and mass bleaching of coral reefs all bear the fingerprints of climate change.
But what will the world’s biodiversity look like in the future?
Projections indicate that unless emissions are rapidly reduced the climate crisis will get substantially worse. Up to 50% of species are forecast to lose most of their suitable climate conditions by 2100 under the highest greenhouse gas emissions scenario.
But we still lack answers to some basic questions. When will species be exposed to potentially dangerous climate conditions? Will this occur in the next decade or only later in the century? Will the exposure of species accumulate gradually, one species at a time? Or should we expect abrupt jumps as the climate limits of multiple species are exceeded?
Our understanding of when and how abruptly climate driven disruptions of biodiversity will occur is limited because biodiversity forecasts typically focus on individual snapshots of the future. We took a different route. We used annual projections of temperature and precipitation from 1850 to 2100 across more than 30,000 marine and terrestrial species to estimate the timing of species exposure to potentially dangerous climate conditions.
Based on these projections, we estimate that climate change could cause sudden biodiversity losses. These could occur much sooner this century than had been expected. This new analysis indicates that a high percentage of species in local ecosystems could be exposed to potentially dangerous climate conditions simultaneously.
Rather than slowly sliding down a climate change slope, many ecosystems face a cliff edge.
Risk of abrupt biodiversity loss early this century
Abrupt biodiversity loss due to marine heatwaves that bleach coral reefs is already under way in tropical oceans. The risk of climate change causing sudden collapses of ocean ecosystems is projected to escalate further in the 2030s and 2040s. Under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario the risk of abrupt biodiversity loss is projected to spread onto land, affecting tropical forests and more temperate ecosystems by the 2050s.
These dire projections use historical temperature models to find the upper limit that each species can survive under, as far as we know. Once temperatures rise to levels a species has never experienced, scientists have very limited evidence of their ability to survive.
It’s possible some species, such as those with very short generation times, may be able to adapt. For species with longer generation times – such as most birds and mammals – it may be only a few generations before unprecedented temperatures occur. When this happens the species’ ability to evolve out of this problem may be limited.
Why it matters
Abrupt losses of biodiversity from climate change represent a significant threat to human well-being. In many countries a large percentage of people rely on their immediate natural environment for their food security and income. Sudden disruption of local ecosystems would negatively affect their ability to earn an income and feed themselves, potentially pushing them into poverty.
For instance, marine ecosystems in the Indo-Pacific, Caribbean and the west coast of Africa are at high risk of sudden disruption as early as the 2030s. Hundreds of millions of people across these regions rely on wild-caught fish as an essential source of food. Eco-tourism revenues from coral reefs are also a major source of income.
In Latin America, Asia and Africa, large parts of the Andes, Amazon, Indonesian and Congo forests are projected to be at risk from 2050 under a high emissions scenario.
Sudden loss of animal communities could negatively affect the food security of people in these regions. It could also reduce the long-term ability of tropical forests to lock up carbon if the birds and mammals that are important for dispersing seeds are lost.
Urgent next steps
These findings highlight the urgent need for climate change mitigation. Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions this decade will help save thousands of species from extinction, and protect the life-giving benefits they provide to humans.
Keeping global warming below 2°C flattens the curve of climate change risk to biodiversity. It does this by massively reducing the number of species at risk and buys more time for species and ecosystems to adapt to the changing climate – whether that’s by finding new habitats, changing their behaviour, or with the help of human-led conservation efforts.
There’s also an urgent need to ramp up efforts to help people in high risk regions adapt their livelihoods as climate change alters local ecosystems.
Projecting where and when species will be exposed to dangerous climate change throughout the century could provide an early warning system, identifying those areas most at risk of abrupt ecological disruption. In addition to highlighting the urgent need for reducing fossil fuel usage, these results could help guide conservation efforts, such as designating new protected areas in climate refugia.
They could also inform resilient ecosystem-based approaches for helping people adapt to changing climates. An example would be planting mangroves to protect coastal communities against increasing flooding. The potential to continuously update and validate these near-term projections as ecological responses to climate change unfold should further refine projections of future climate risks to biodiversity that are so central to managing the climate crisis.
Our planet is still teeming with life. And with the right political leadership and daily actions that we take as citizens, we still have the power to keep it that way.
The Noah’s Ark Foundation, the non-profit organization set up to manage the ark will work to support global projects which prevent deforestation, pollution, hunting and the poaching of wild animals.
We must pressure our leaders to take the long view in any coronavirus economic recovery package, even if this feels like a short-term emergency.
In the past few weeks, we have seen changes in society that would have been unthinkable just last year. The coronavirus pandemic has trapped us indoors, deprived us of our normal routines, and unleashed a global economic catastrophe not seen since the second world war. This crisis has reshaped how we think about ourselves, rapidly transformed our values, and caused a surreal shift in time and space. Suddenly, we are under siege from the stark reality of our immediate survival.
Even though our instincts and political leaders might be saying otherwise, it is more important than ever in this emergency to take the long view. If there was ever a moment to think about the future, it’s now.
The coronavirus has plunged the world headfirst into an era of unity, solidarity, and rapid societal change that looks like a compressed version of what climate scientists have been warning us about for decades. We are part of a living ecosystem, and if we push it too far, it will break.
Looking around us, we can clearly see some of the cracks in society. We now know the status quo has failed. These sudden transformations are a collective trauma, Read about the overlap between climate grief and the coronavirus, by Mary Annaïse Heglar.argues climate justice writer Mary Annaïse Heglar. We are in mourning for a familiar world that has suddenly vanished. The old world is not coming back. There is a tangible sense of grief and loss. It’s a moment of triage for the entire planet.
Our twofold task There are striking parallels between this short-term fight against Covid-19 and the long-term fight for a stable climate. Most importantly: we know what the solutions are, we know that the solutions will work, and we know they must take place on an enormous scale. Our actions from this point will require a more compassionate, caring, equal, and just global society – if for any other reason than sheer survival.
Our task in this moment is twofold: we have to urgently prevent social and economic collapse and build a new world at the same time. If we trust scientists, on climate and coronavirus, both of those are equally important.
What we do now will not only alter the course of this pandemic; it will also shape large parts of our collective futures. Restoring the status quo shouldn’t be our goal. Decarbonising the economy and strengthening social safety nets is the best way to ensure a more stable and prosperous society going forward.
The Jurassic Park problem
The hardest truth is realising that this crisis is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Among friends, I’m referring to this as the Jurassic Park problem. In the movie, one of the main characters tries to switch off the power to an amusement park filled with dinosaurs, Watch a clip of the scene from Jurassic Park (1993).a system that was never meant to be powered down. When they switch it back on, chaos ensues, the dinosaurs escape, and we realise that when fragile systems break, they can break quickly.
With a quarter of the world under lockdown, we are foolish to think we can bring our entire economy back online as it was with no problems. We have to create a new system.
Governments have already pledged trillions of dollars in emergency funding to battle the coronavirus pandemic, and those plans are quickly becoming reality. In India, currently home to the largest and strictest lockdown in the world, leaders have announced a $22bn rescue plan, which amounts to less than $20 for each of its 1.3 billion citizens. In the US, a $2tn stimulus package has been approved, including billions for companies like Boeing, one of the world’s largest defence contractors, which has spent years funnelling taxpayer money to prop up its own share price. Almost immediately afterwards, US lawmakers have gotten to work on plans to free up an additional $2tn of infrastructure spending.
In the EU, Germany has declared emergency powers to lift its national debt limit to fund a bailout for corporations. The tourism-dependent Caribbean has spent decades cultivating an economy catering to the whims of rich travelers. The cruise line industry is asking for bailout money, but how much of that will make its way to workers in the Bahamas or Jamaica? Italy and Spain have so far seen the worst of the pandemic and are also highly dependent on tourism revenue. With global air travel all but shut down, it’s an open question how their economies will fare. If either country collapses, it could send a cascade of financial pain throughout the world.
For the most part, all this money isn’t just a stimulus or a bailout – it’s life support for the status quo.
Three steps to recover from this crisis Ending the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t just about saving lives and getting back to normal. It’s about rebuilding our social safety nets. Ending the climate emergency is not just about reducing emissions. It’s about treating each other better.
What would that collective response look like?
In the US, the pandemic has refocused the conversation on what kind of social safety nets our current system has been missing, and what kind of system we might be able to build to replace the (failed) privatised-capitalist one that treats workers as machines. Thinking of healthcare, housing, jobs, and a stable environment as universal rights – and the main organising principles of society, instead of profit-making – is a much more stable way of building an economy.
We cannot be satisfied with coronavirus recovery plans that only allow us to survive. We must also demand plans that will help us thrive. We must be forward-thinking, not reactionary.
Here are three important steps we could take to inject long-term thinking into our short-term crisis recovery:
Nationalise the fossil fuel and airline industry.
The collapse in oil prices has created a remarkable opportunity to end the climate emergency. The fossil fuel industry has spent decades sabotaging the planet’s life support system and building a fragile global economic system that’s now at risk of collapse. Governments should purchase majority shares in the largest-polluting industries, Read climate journalist Kate Aronoff’s proposal for nationalising the fossil fuel industry.such as oil companies, airlines, and cruise lines, and repurpose them for a zero-carbon future. As a majority shareholder, we – the taxpayers who would own these companies – could force them to become non-profit entities and rapidly advance their progress investing in renewable energy, electric airplanes, passenger rail, and other forms of low-carbon travel.
Even while fending off coronavirus, Italy has already nationalised their major airline, Alitalia. With oil prices plunging, a controlling stake in the world’s five largest oil companies – Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Total – could be purchased for about $400bn right now, compared to about twice that at the start of 2020. If that happened, we could wind down their operations in line with science-based climate targets and justice for their workers.
Public works projects on an enormous scope and scale
Dollar-for-dollar, investment in large building projects is one of the best stimulus payoffs, but we need to cast a wide net and make sure everyone has a chance to participate in the new economy. With long-term interest rates less than 1% right now (or even negative in some countries), there’s virtually an unlimited amount of money available for public works projects that could help create the carbon-free economy we all need.
A group of academics has outlined dozens of ideas for how this money could be spent, including retrofitting every building, no-interest loans for cities to build new sewer systems, and funding farmers to practise regenerative agriculture. The ideas have already been endorsed by hundreds of experts and have broad public support in the US. The main idea in their proposals is that this new infrastructure money absolutely must not be spent on building roads and airports that will reinforce the failed fossil fuel economy, but instead on building the kind of infrastructure that will power the world for the rest of the century.
And with unemployment rates surging, this is a perfect time to put people to work in large-scale infrastructure projects. Investing in a green stimulus plan would be a source of millions of new jobs over the next decade, for less than half of the cost of this week’s US bailout plan.
Strengthen social safety nets
Last year, it was unthinkable that the US would institute a universal basic income anytime soon. Now, it’s on the verge of becoming a reality.
After Andrew Yang, a presidential contender, brought the idea into the mainstream in the US, many politicians, including Donald Trump, have been considering the idea.
The next step will be declaring other necessities such as healthcare, housing, and jobs as a human right. These are core parts of the Green New Deal framework for climate policy, and the coronavirus crisis has proven they’re not out of reach in the near term.
The establishment of a society that cares about supporting life instead of economic growth Read Jason Hickel’s essay, ‘Outgrowing growth’.will be the key to solving this crisis the right way. The Great Depression led to the New Deal. If we do this right, we’ll create a world that’s more resilient to future disasters because we have distributed and decentralised our power supply and tackled the climate emergency. Read my speculative preview of the 2020s.
Reluctance to these ideas only exists because they threaten the power of the status quo. But in the past few days, we’ve shut down a huge portion of society out of solidarity for each other to save each other’s lives. What more good are we capable of?
Fossil traces of an ancient rainforest were just unearthed in West Antarctica.
About 90 million years ago, WestAntarcticawas home to a thriving temperate rainforest, according to fossil roots, pollen and spores recently discovered there, a new study finds.
The world was a different place back then. During the middle of the Cretaceous period (145 million to 65 million years ago), dinosaurs roamed Earth and sea levels were 558 feet (170 meters) higher than they are today. Sea-surface temperatures in the tropics were as hot as 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius).
This scorching climate allowed a rainforest — similar to those seen in New Zealand today — to take root in Antarctica, the researchers said.
The rainforest’s remains were discovered under the ice in a sediment core that a team of international researchers collected from a seabed near Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica in 2017.
As soon as the team saw the core, they knew they had something unusual. The layer that had formed about 90 million years ago was a different color. “It clearly differed from the layers above it,” study lead researcher Johann Klages, a geologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, said in a statement.
Back at the lab, the team put the core into a CT (computed tomography) scanner. The resulting digital image showed a dense network of roots throughout the entire soil layer. The dirt also revealed ancient pollen, spores and the remnants of flowering plants from the Cretaceous period.
By analyzing the pollen and spores, study co-researcher Ulrich Salzmann, a paleoecologist at Northumbria University in England, was able to reconstruct West Antarctica’s 90 million-year-old vegetation and climate. “The numerous plant remains indicate that the coast of West Antarctica was, back then, a dense temperate, swampy forest, similar to the forests found in New Zealand today,” Salzmann said in the statement.
The sediment core revealed that during the mid-Cretaceous, West Antarctica had a mild climate, with an annual mean air temperature of about 54 F (12 C), similar to that of Seattle. Summer temperatures were warmer, with an average of 66 F (19 C). In rivers and swamps, the water would have reached up to 68 F (20 C).
In addition, the rainfall back then was comparable to the rainfall of Wales, England, today, the researchers found.
These temperatures are impressively warm, given that Antarctica had a four-month polar night, meaning that a third of every year had no life-giving sunlight. However, the world was warmer back then, in part, because the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was high — even higher than previously thought, according to the analysis of the sediment core, the researchers said.
“Before our study, the general assumption was that the global carbon dioxide concentration in the Cretaceous was roughly 1,000 ppm [parts per million],” study co-researcher Gerrit Lohmann, a climate modeler at Alfred Wegener Institute, said in the statement. “But in our model-based experiments, it took concentration levels of 1,120 to 1,680 ppm to reach the average temperatures back then in the Antarctic.”
These findings show how potent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide can cause temperatures to skyrocket, so much so that today’s freezing West Antarctica once hosted a rainforest. Moreover, it shows how important the cooling effects of today’s ice sheets are, the researchers said.
It is never too late. Everyone can make a contribution to climate protection! We must take responsibility for our own ecological footprints, i.e. for our CO₂ emissions. The most common everyday causes of harmful emissions are travel with cars or aeroplanes, heating and electricity usage and our consumption behaviour.
Below you will find a few simple tips on how to reduce your own ecological footprint and CO₂ emissions and thus make a contribution towards climate protection:
Use public transport such as trains or buses. For instance, in Switzerland it is 25 times better to travel by train than by car. In France, it is 12.4 times better; in Germany, 3 times better; in Belgium 5.2 times better. The differences here are based on the original energy production methods used in these countries. Based on the resulting energy mix, train journeys produce more or fewer emissions, which are damaging to the environment.
Always avoid flying if possible. The greenhouse gas balance of flights has the highest level of emissions when compared to other forms of transport.
Full cars have lower energy consumption per person and thus cause fewer CO₂ emissions than a car with just one passenger.
Offset the carbon emissions of unavoidable flights and car journeys with a high quality climate protection project.
Tips for saving energy in the household
Use energy-saving bulbs and LEDs. Due to much improved energy efficiency and longer lifespans, financial savings of around €135 and CO₂ savings of 250 kg per year and bulb can be achieved.
Switch the lights off when you leave a room. This saves electricity, money and helps to protect the environment.
The provision and heating of water requires a lot of energy. For this reason, taking short showers is more environmentally friendly than filling the bathtub. Setting the water heating system to 60°C also reduces energy consumption.
Switch off any devices completely that are in standby mode .
Refrigerators and other devices in the category A+ or A++ are much more energy efficient than devices without an energy efficiency label.
Not every electrical device available in the specialists stores is really needed. Electronic air humidifiers, for example, can easily be replaced with a damp cloth on the radiator.
Windows that are left open when the heating is on significantly increase energy consumption. Airing rooms for 5 to 10 minutes gets the air circulating with fresh air, without cooling the walls, which means the energy requirements remain low after airing the rooms.
If you reduce the room temperature by 1 °C, energy consumption can be reduced by at least 4 percent. Furthermore your heating costs will hence also be lower.
Lower washing temperatures reduce energy consumption. With modern detergents, your clothes will be clean even at low water temperatures.
Dry your clothes in the sun, a free and emission-free alternative.
Cook with the lid on and save energy.
Check the energy consumption of your electrical appliances regularly to find hidden weak points early on. Older sealing rings on refrigerators that are damaged and no longer working correctly can, for example, increase energy consumption significantly.
Calculate and compensate for the CO₂ emissions that you cause in your household despite energy-saving measures through electricity consumption and heating.
Reconsider consumer behaviour
Become aware of your own consumer behaviour and actively decide what you really need. Modern marketing strategies quickly lead to ill-considered purchasing decisions.
Use rental services, especially for rarely used products, or shared use systems such as car sharing.
Remember that every product, not just electronic equipment, causes greenhouse gas emissions in manufacturing and production as well as sales. The average German buys about 60 new items of clothing a year, a simple white cotton T-shirt (220 g) with a lifespan of about 55 washes causes around 11 kg of CO₂ emissions, i.e. about 50 times its own weight.
Question your diet and the system behind it. The large selection of different fruits and vegetables in winter highlights the imports of exotic foods to Germany. It is not only the production that is responsible for their greenhouse gas balance, but also the long transport distances. You should therefore buy regional produce that is in season. As a rule, this not only provides ecological advantages, but generally also improves the quality of the products. The CO₂ e-emissions of animal products exceed those of vegetable products significantly. One kilogramme of fruit or vegetables produces around 1 kg of CO₂-e, the greenhouse gas balance of beef on the other hand is around 20 kg CO₂-e per kilogramme. Pork with ca. 8 kg and poultry with 4.2 kg of CO₂-e are a lot more climate friendly, but still exceed the emissions of vegetable products. By reducing the amount of animal products in your diet you can save a lot of money and use it for higher quality animal products, which not only makes a big contribution towards climate protection, but also supports companies that use sustainable production methods.
There are various solutions to reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions and thus do something against global warming. Pay attention to your lifestyle and try to reduce your resource consumption and your impact on the environment and climate.