New WWF Report Calls for Protecting Nature to Prevent Future Pandemics
By Jessica Corbett
"Humanity's broken relationship with nature comes at a cost."
That cost is new zoonotic diseases, which are passed from animals to humans and "are emerging at an alarming rate." That is according to a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report released Wednesday as the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate communities and economies across the globe.
The report, entitled Covid-19: Urgent Call to Protect People and Nature, issues a call for global action "to reduce the risk of future pandemics and heal our broken relationship with nature," detailing specific moves that governments, companies and industries, civil society organizations, and the public should take to help create a healthier world.
"The increased emergence of zoonotic diseases," the report explains, "is linked to two widespread environmental risks."
- Driven by unsustainable food systems, the large-scale conversion of land for agriculture is increasing interactions between wildlife, livestock, and humans. Land conversion is destroying and fragmenting forests and other natural habitats around the world, resulting in higher levels of contact between wildlife, livestock, and humans. This problem is only set to worsen as the challenge of feeding a growing population increases and diets shift.
- Poor food safety standards, including permitting the trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife species, are increasing human exposure to animal pathogens. Globally, demand for wild meat is growing, as either a delicacy or a necessity, driving increased sale and consumption, and increasing the potential for exposure to diseases during high-risk sourcing, handling, and preparation practices.
Given the increased emergence of such diseases and the threats pandemics pose to health, economies, and global security, the report treats the current Covid-19 crisis as a signal to the international community that rapid "systemic changes must be made to address the environmental drivers of pandemics."
#COVID19 is the greatest health, economic and social crisis in a century. How we respond to it will shape the futur… https://t.co/aXOKL2N0Vb— WWF (@WWF)1592400450.0
As WWF International director general Marco Lambertini put it in a statement Wednesday: "We must urgently recognize the links between the destruction of nature and human health, or we will soon see the next pandemic."
"We must curb the high risk trade and consumption of wildlife, halt deforestation and land conversion, as well as manage food production sustainably," said Lambertini. "All these actions will help prevent the spillover of pathogens to humans, and also address other global risks to our society like biodiversity loss and climate change."
"There is no debate, and the science is clear; we must work with nature, not against it," he said. "Unsustainable exploitation of nature has become an enormous risk to us all."
Along with commenting on his group's new report, Lambertini on Wednesday co-authored a related op-ed in the Guardian with Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and Maria Neira, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) department of environment, climate change, and health.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were more than 8.2 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 444,000 deaths worldwide. The trio put the pandemic into a broader context:
We have seen many diseases emerge over the years—such as Zika, Aids, Sars, and Ebola—and although they are quite different at first glance, they all originated from animal populations under conditions of severe environmental pressures. And they all illustrate that our destructive behavior towards nature is endangering our own health—a stark reality we've been collectively ignoring for decades. Research indicates that most emerging infectious diseases are driven by human activities.
The op-ed's authors echoed WWF's calls to reform global food systems and stop destroying natural habitats, and endorsed demands that governments and international bodies have faced throughout the pandemic, writing that "we must embrace a just, healthy, and green recovery, and kickstart a wider transformation towards a model that values nature as the foundation for a healthy society, and a well-resourced and equitable economy."
"This means shifting to more sustainable practices, such as regenerative and diversified agriculture and diets, sustainable animal farming, green urban spaces, and clean forms of energy," they continued. "Not doing so, and instead attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, health systems, and social safety nets, has already proven to be a false economy. The bill will be paid many times over."
Nature provides food & water, powers our economies & underpins our health. Yet we are pushing it to the brink.… https://t.co/8A2wAvIKwN— WWF (@WWF)1592383408.0
Lambertini, Mrema, and Neira expressed hope that the U.N. biodiversity summit currently scheduled for late September will serve as an opportunity for world leaders to "signal their support for a new relationship with our natural world" and "accelerate action through to next year when they are scheduled to take critical decisions on the environment, climate, and development."
The WWF report and op-ed follow a series of similar demands to reform humanity's relationship with nature on and leading up to World Environment Day earlier this month. Activists, scientists, policymakers, and other global figures declared that "the emergence of Covid-19 has underscored the fact that, when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life."
In a webinar about pandemics, wildlife, and intensive animal farming a few days before World Environment Day, primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall warned of the dire consequences of failing to overhaul unsustainable global food systems and end the destruction of nature. "If we do not do things differently, we are finished," she said. "We can't go on very much longer like this."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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