Did the Climate Crisis Enable the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Experts have described the coronavirus pandemic as the kind of crisis that will become even more likely as the planet warms. But now, researchers think that climate change may have actually played a role in the emergence of the viruses that caused both SARS and COVID-19.
A study published in Science of the Total Environment Friday found that climatic shifts in southern China and nearby areas of Myanmar and Laos increased the bat biodiversity in these regions, and the number of bat-borne coronaviruses by about 100.
"We estimate that, over the past century, climate change caused a significant increase in the number of bat species in the location where SARS-CoV-2 likely originated," study lead author and University of Cambridge researcher Dr. Robert Beyer told CBS News. "This increase suggests a possible mechanism for how climate change could have played a role in the origin of the pandemic."
Scientists think that the bat-borne viruses behind both SARS and COVID-19 emerged in China's southern Yunnan province as well as parts of countries immediately to the south. The researchers discovered that vegetation changes in this area over the last 100 years had led to the introduction of 40 new bat species and, with them, 100 new types of bat-borne coronaviruses, a University of Cambridge press release explained.
To reach this conclusion, the researchers used data on precipitation, temperature and cloud cover to make a map of the world's vegetation 100 years ago. They then used the vegetation needs of each bat species to determine where they would have been concentrated 100 years ago, and compared that to where more bat species thrive today. In addition to Yunnan and the surrounding area, they also calculated that bat biodiversity increased in parts of Central Africa and smaller areas in Central and South America. However, the area of Southeast Asia around Yunnan has more bat biodiversity, or species richness, than any other spot on Earth, CBS News reported.
"As climate change altered habitats, species left some areas and moved into others - taking their viruses with them. This not only altered the regions where viruses are present, but most likely allowed for new interactions between animals and viruses, causing more harmful viruses to be transmitted or evolve," Beyer explained in the press release.
The researchers argued that their findings were yet another reason to act immediately on climate change.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous social and economic damage. Governments must seize the opportunity to reduce health risks from infectious diseases by taking decisive action to mitigate climate change," Cambridge zoology professor and study coauthor Andrea Manica said in the press release.
Other scientists agreed with the broader point that climate change increases the risk of pandemics, and that climate change had altered vegetation and species distribution, but also cautioned about drawing too sweeping a conclusion about the origins of COVID-19.
"The link to emergence of coronaviruses is highly speculative and seems unlikely," Dr. Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecology expert from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York who was not involved in the research, told CBS News. "What the study apparently gets wrong is the assumption that the increased diversity of bats (which they postulate) leads to an increased risk of a bat-borne virus jumping to humans. This is simply not the case. The vast majority of bats are harmless to humans — they don't harbor viruses that can make us sick. So adding more of those species doesn't increase risk."
Instead, factors like human expansion into animal habitats and degradation of ecosystems can play a bigger role in exposing humans to wildlife viruses, Ostfeld and University of College London ecologist Kate Jones said.
Beyer agreed that these were important factors, but said climate change could also play a role.
"Climate change can drive where these animals occur; in other words, climate change can move pathogens closer to humans. It can also move a species that carries a virus into the habitat of another species that the virus can then jump to — a step that might not have occurred without climate change, and that might have major long-term consequences for where the virus can go next," Beyer told CBS News.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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