Curbing coronavirus, social distancing, flying hiatus: 3 stories you may have missed

© Charlie Shoemaker

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Why our shrinking natural world is increasing the pace of global pandemics 

Scientists agree that ending the global wildlife trade could help stem global disease outbreaks.

The Story: The global wildlife trade frequently exposes humans to unique viruses and bacteria from animals — known as zoonotic diseases — such as COVID-19, reported Adele Peters for Fast Company. The deadly coronavirus likely originated from a live animal and fish market in Wuhan, in central China, and has spread rapidly across the globe — infecting more than 180,000 people in just a few months. Similar to past outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, such as Ebola and Dengue Fever, the spread of COVID-19 has been accelerated by international trade and travel. 

The Big Picture: “When we start trading wildlife all around the planet and seeing declines in the health of nature, then you face the prospect of those diseases that used to die out in an isolated, lowly populated forest somewhere spreading all around the world,” said Lee Hannah, a senior climate change scientist at Conservation International. By ending this trade — and curbing the expansion of development projects into nature — governments could help stem future disease outbreaks.

Read more here.

Self-imposed isolation in response to coronavirus could help individuals cut their carbon emissions. 

The Story: People around the world are isolating themselves to curb the spread of COVID-19 — a practice known as “social distancing” — which may also help reduce their carbon footprint, reported John Schwartz for The New York Times. From avoiding air travel to bulk-buying groceries online, individuals can cut their carbon emissions — and help contain the coronavirus — simply by staying home, experts say. 

The Big Picture: Despite the recent decline in global emissions due in large part to suspensions of air travel in response to the COVID-19, the long-term impacts of the virus could upend actions to slow climate breakdown. As many major global climate conferences are canceled due to coronavirus, world leaders must find new methods to tackle climate change — and look locally for climate action: “The impacts of the coronavirus on climate action are forcing us to reevaluate what we have done right, what we are confronting moving forward and how we can localize our responses to the climate crisis,” said Shyla Raghav, Conservation International’s vice president, climate change. 

Read more here

The decrease in travel due to coronavirus offers individuals the opportunity to reassess how their decisions impact the planet, says one author. 

The Story: Air travel is temporarily dropping in response to coronavirus — and people should continue to limit how often they fly to cut global emissions, contended author Christopher Ketcham in an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times.  If international aviation were a country, it would be one of the top 10 emitters of carbon dioxide on Earth — and its emissions are projected to grow by 300 to 700 percent by 2050, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization. In the face of climate catastrophe, this travel hiatus could — and should — spur individuals to reflect on how their actions, especially air travel, impact the planet, argued Ketcham. 

The Big Picture: Recent studies suggest that airlines could lose up to US$ 113 billion in revenues this year due to coronavirus. As this sharp decline in air travel pushes several airlines to the brink of financial collapse, many companies are diverting funds away from their pledges to cut carbon emissions to account for the loss in sales. To maintain their sustainability pledges, companies can give passengers the opportunity to neutralize their air travel emissions by purchasing carbon offsets — a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through a conservation project to compensate for emissions made somewhere else, such as on a flight . 

Read more here


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: An airplane in Kenya (© Charlie Shoemaker)

Further reading: