This week, I continued to work on my final paper by adding more information. I added information about Beuys' Acorns by Ackroyd and Harvey and Recycling Yantra by Raphael Perret, and how they each discuss climate change in different ways. Also, I added a conclusion and transition paragraphs in order to demonstrate fluidity throughout the paper. Lastly, I included information about how air pollution can also harm people's immune system, therefore inhibiting their ability to fight disease.
As a group, we have been working on putting together our abstracts and determining which order the topics will go in. We want to divide our book into two sections: how the environment helps us and how we can help the environment. We want to demonstrate the reciprocal relationship we have with the environment, in both a small and large scale, and demonstrate how different aspects of sustainability relate to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent years, we have seen not only the global temperature increase, but also the effects of climate change. In conjunction, we have seen a rise in the emergence of infectious diseases. In this study, we explore how the effects of climate changes such as the warming temperature, loss of habitats and ecosystems, and air and dust pollution, influence the rate of infectious disease transmission. With the warming climate, we find that mosquitos that carry respiratory diseases migrate to new areas, spreading to populations that previously lacked exposure. Additionally, the loss of habitat has forced animals to adapt to new ecosystems, interacting with different species than before and therefore spreading bacteria and viruses to unexposed organisms. Lastly, the rise in temperature and lack of vegetation has enabled soil to be susceptible to wind erosion, traveling in dust storms and carrying viruses and fungi that instigate disease in humans. The results show evidence that the effects of climate change are associated with an increase in infectious disease transmission, ultimately harming the human population as seen in this current pandemic. Because much of this climate activity is a result of increased human activity, ironically by helping the environment, we can actually help ourselves.
In the past few years, there has been increased advocation for climate change, as our time to reverse the impact of depleting the earth of its natural resources is becoming limited. Synonymously, there have been an influx of infectious diseases that have arisen in recent times, leading me to question if climate change has had influence on the spread of these infectious diseases. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has arisen so suddenly, there is limited information about the source of the transmission, however other diseases such as malaria, Ebola, Avian Flu, and Zika have been studied with evidence of connections to climate change.
The earth has been warming at an unprecedented rate, and scientists strongly concur it is due to increased human activity since the mid 20th century. The planet’s surface temperature has risen 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit, and scientists have found it is largely a result of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from harmful emissions. Consequently, ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic have decreased tremendously in size, losing 286 billion tons and 127 of ice per year respectively. This is just a glimpse into the effects of the warming climate, which includes warming oceans, glacial retreat, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification (“Climate Change Evidence …”). In addition to the warming climate, humans have also contributed to habitat loss and deforestation, altering ecosystems and affect the lives of thousands of species. Human activities such as agriculture expansion, timber and oil extraction, mining, and development of infrastructure for human residence have all contributed to habitat loss for animals (“The causes of deforestation”). All of these activities contribute to a shift in ecosystems for animals, altering their way of life and how they survive. In conjunction with the types of animals that spread disease, the climate has greatly affected these organisms lives and how they interact in their environment.
Synonymously, the rate of infectious diseases has been steadily increasing across the globe (Ness-Edelstein). The WHO reported that 30 new diseases have emerged in the past 20 years, as the CDC has found a three-fold increase in the number of diseases spread by mosquitos, fleas, and ticks. Consequently, the WHO predicts that infectious diseases will be the new largest cause of death by 2050 (“Infectious Diseases are on the Rise”). Infectious diseases that arise from parasites, bacteria, or viruses are called zoonoses, and they make up two-thirds of all human infectious diseases (Gabbatiss). These have been often transmitted from animals and then to humans, causing epidemics within widely dense populations (Hirneise). Some infectious diseases, such as Malaria and Zika, are spread through mosquitos, while others such as Avian Flu (AIV) are spread by birds. The movement of the organism that is source of the disease can strongly affect how it is transmitted to humans and can contribute to the spread of diseases.
How are the effects of climate change and the rise of infectious diseases related? After much investigation, the two trends are associated in a variety of ways, particularly in how the warming climate, habitat loss, and air and dust pollution can heighten the spread of infectious diseases. By overusing the natural resources, humans ironically harm themselves, and by giving back to the planet, humanity will in turn thrive.
One factor that has increased the spread of infectious diseases is the increasing global temperature. A common transmitter of disease, mosquitos, thrives in hot environments. They spread vector-borne diseases such as Malaria and Zika to people in warm areas such as Africa and South America. However due to the warming global temperature, mosquitos are more inclined to enter new areas and therefore infect groups of people with little to no exposure. Thus, they can potentially harm more people, particularly because these viruses would enter human bodies with no information about it and therefore likely cause the immune system difficulty in fighting it. The phenomena of a body fighting an unknown virus is very similar to what the people are experiencing across the world in the COVID-19 pandemic (Jordan).
In addition, warmer temperatures increase the transmission of vector-borne diseases, thus enabling the transmission from mosquito to human to increase (Jordan). Furthermore, not only is transmission increased, but also, mosquitos and viruses multiply faster in warmer weather (Irfan). Therefore, the warmer weather can further lead to an increase of transmission, enabling the disease to affect more and more people. Thus, since climate change has increased global temperatures, it has contributed to the ability of vector-borne diseases such as Malaria and Zika to spread more vastly in humans. However, the warming temperature changes the planet in a variety of ways and leads to other contributing factors such as air and dust pollution.
Another factor that has contributed to the spread of infectious diseases is habitat loss and deforestation. Because humans use previously known forests and ecosystems around the world for various activities, many animals have been forced to move into different environments and therefore interact with new species. As a result of their migration, these animals carry new bacteria and viruses to new animals, providing opportunity for the bacteria and viruses to adapt to their change in ecosystem (Ness-Edelstein). Thus, these bacteria and viruses learn to spread to new hosts, and eventually transmit to humans.
In the case of the Avian Flu, the migration patterns and overlap of species was altered as a result of the increased temperatures in the Pacific Flyway to and from Beringia. The increased temperature altered the flight patterns of these migratory birds, causing them to migrate at different times and thus lead to more contact with humans or other avian species, increasing transmission of AIV. Migratory birds would integrate with domestic birds in China, travel to Alaska and interact with different avian species, and then migrate to the United States where they transmitted the virus to poultry to be eaten by humans (Hirneise). The altered migratory patterns shifted their niche in their ecosystem, enabling the virus to be transmitted to different birds and ultimately affect the human population.
Additionally, the change in ecosystem also leads to the rise in endangered and extinct species, and thus a reduction in biodiversity. Due to the pressure of increased food production and in turn the increase in agriculture, 85% of species have become threatened or endangered (“Losing their homes …”). These animals’ natural niche has been seized from them, and thus struggle to survive and reproduce effectively in their new environments. As a result, biodiversity is reduced, and may decrease the “dilution effect.” The “dilution effect” is the idea that a more diverse ecosystem decreases the rate of infection of a particular disease (“Does biodiversity loss leads to an increased disease risk?”). In a study, researchers analyzed 12 diseases, and in each case the disease became more prevalent as biodiversity decreased. They also found that half of the new diseases that emerged were a result of land use for agriculture and food production. However, it is important to note that biodiversity can protect the spread of infection once a disease emerges but may not necessarily prevent the emergence of the disease (Gilbert). Overall, because of the destruction of habitats, there is a reduction in biodiversity that may increase the infection rate of diseases, enabling them to affect more populations.
Air and Dust Pollution
Finally, the increase in air and dust pollution contributes to the spread of infectious disease. Because of the increase in global temperature and agriculture, there is less vegetation, therefore enabling the soil to become uncapped and exposed to wind erosion. Thus, the soil or dust can spread in the wind across the world, which in turn can spread respiratory diseases. For example, Saharan storms have been found to spread spores on dust that can enter the blood and can mobilize lethal meningitis. In another example, the association between dust storms and infection rate has become increasingly apparent as the number of cases of Valley fever has quadrupled leading up to 2006 (Vidal). As a result of the changing patterns of drought and rain, fungi that resides in the soil, becomes uprooted and spread on dust, spreading Valley fever at increasing rates (Robbins).
Not only has dust pollution contributed to the spread of infectious diseases, but also, it has contributed to how well humans are able to combat disease. With the increase in greenhouse emissions, air pollution has consequently increased. When polluted, the air has an increased level of toxins that induce DNA mutations, potentially enabling them to mutate enough to be transmittable between humans. Toxins have been shown to damage neurons, and thus the communication between the brain and immune system may falter, leading to a higher mortality rate as the brain cannot function optimally (Chau & Wang). In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, people living in areas of high air pollution or are smokers have a weaker respiratory system. Therefore, they have a more difficult time fighting off the infection, increasing their mortality rate (“Coronavirus, Climate Change, and the Environment”). After many recent studies, COVID-19 appears to attack the respiratory system, and as a non-human virus harshly attacks the immune system. While we do not know enough about the origins of COVID-19 to fully understand how climate change affects its transmission, it is likely that air pollution has contributed to the human response in some way.
In order to combat these harmful effects, there has been growing grassroot support to prioritize the protection of the environment. However, climate change has developed into a political issue that currently has one of the largest gaps in terms of priority between Democratic and Republican voters. In recent years, 78% of Democratic voters view climate change as a top issue, while only 21% of Republican voters agree (Dellinger). The discrepancy in viewpoint has thwarted environmentalists in achieving their goals of preserving the earth’s natural resources and wildlife. However, it is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic is just what was necessary to trigger fundamental change in the way society perceives climate change. Many advocates and artists around the world demonstrate their support of environmentalism through artistic pieces, triggering a conversation about taking action for the cause.
Artists Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey advocate for the environment – the importance of forests and trees specifically – through their living exhibit, Beuys’ Acorns. In 2007, they gathered acorns from Joseph Beuy’s 1982 artwork, 7000 Oaks, and began growing them. Over time, 200 of the oak samplings survived, and the duo put them in a piece for display to advocate for the significance of trees. They connected the water source with an irrigation system and illuminated the trees with low-energy LED lights. These lights turned into photosynthetic wavelengths to optimize its sustainability. The exhibit was held at the Bloomberg Arcade for two months and was a part of London’s first National Party City Festival, demonstrating the cultural and biological significance of trees to the public. At the exhibit, they invited guests from diverse backgrounds to speak about the significance of trees in light of recent gentrification and urbanization. It is important to highlight the impact that trees have on the earth and on humans, for example, a Bloomberg study found that trees in London remove 2.4 million tons of air pollution each year (Ackroyd & Harvey). The contributions from the artists truly places the environment at the forefront of our minds, pushing for climate change as a priority that needs action.
Another artist advocating for less waste in order to protect the natural world is Raphael Perret in his work, Recycling Yantra. He created an art piece made up of e-waste such as old cell phones, computer chips and keys, and wires. The piece is shaped like a square with rectangles connected on each side. Inside the square, there is a circle made up of old cell phones, and inside the circle there is a triangle with old computer or electronic chips. In the center of the triangle, there is a stack of other electronic chips in a triangular shape, elevated on the second layer and held together by wires (“Exhibition at Helmhaus Zurich”).
The design was inspired by the Indian Mandala, which is a symbol that can represent the universe from a particular perspective, typically as a circle or patterned shape. They wanted to combine the Mandalas with the recycling cycle symbol to demonstrate how the actions of individuals in a society are connected and affect each other. Because we typically live in a way where our actions can go unnoticed, Perret wanted to highlight the visibility of our actions in his piece (“India Trip 2012”). On their trip to India, Perret and his group observed areas of e-waste in New Delhi, where they learned how wires are converted into furnaces for brick ovens and 2nd hand computers are reassembled for a lower price to make them accessible for more people (“Recycling Part 1”). This trip inspired the patterns and materials used for Recycling Yantra, which was presented as a part of the “Nie Jetzt” exhibit at Helmhaus Zurich in 2014. Although targeting a different area of sustainability, Perret brings calls attention to not only our focus and connectivity through technology during a time of innovation, but also to our wastefulness in consumerism. He introduces another aspect of sustainability to the conversation, highlighting a more individual-focused way that people can help the earth, by being resourceful and reusing old materials.
These are just a couple of examples of the many artistic pieces demonstrating the importance of protecting the natural world. Through artistic expression, conversations about igniting change in old habits arise, pushing environmentalism to the top of the agenda and hopefully fighting harder to stop climate change.
In conclusion, climate change has altered the way our natural world functions and the ecosystems it supports. The changes in the ecosystems have associations to the rise in infectious disease transmission and outbreaks, and because climate change has been widely instigated by human activity, humans have the possibility to change its course. After years of industrialization and overuse of the land, humans have pushed earth’s resources to its limit and it’s time to revert back. We need to work harder to protect the natural world, and by doing so, we in turn can help ourselves by reducing the rate of transmission and emergence of infectious diseases.
“The Scientific Basis for Anthropogenic Climate Change.” 18 March 2008, https://chriscolose.wordpress.com/2007/12/18/the-scientific-basis-for-anthropogenic-climate-change/. Accessed 3 May 2020.
“CKD and Infectious Diseases in Asia Pacific: Challenges and Opportunities - Scientific Figure on ResearchGate.” Research Gate, https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Increase-in-total-outbreaks-and-total-number-of-infectious-diseases-causing-outbreaks_fig3_296686580. Accessed 3 May 2020.