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  • Writer's picturekarynstein

COVID-19 & the Environment

In terms of COVID-19, the pandemic represents a micro issue related to a macro problem. That is the effects of climate change and environmental degradation include the rise of pandemics and spread of disease. The dominant industrial model of development emphasizes vast monocultures, disposable plastics and an over dependence on fossil fuels. COVID-19 is a lesson in sustainable solutions. At the same time, COVID-19 has also been a lesson in the global workings of our planet. Never have we been so aware of our own inter-connectedness than when we have been cut off from each other due to disruptions in travel and border controls, as well as the fragility of the current system reliant on international trade and global supply chains. There has been a call to rebuild better after the pandemic, rather than revert to outdated ways of the industrial age. Concerns about future pandemics and the decline of the environment are an impetus for change.

As humans encroach on previously untouched areas, myriad of problems occur, including habitat loss and destruction. Zoonotic disease is on the rise due to the interface between wild and domestic animals and humans (UNEP, 2020). According to the United Nations Environmental Protection Agency (UNEP), 60% of infectious disease in humans and 75% of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic (2020). Just in the last century, there have been in increase in outbreaks of novel coronaviruses. The emergence of zoonotic diseases is driven by over-population, rapid urbanization, an increased demand for animal protein, an increase in the exploitation of wildlife, agricultural intensification, inadequate animal husbandry and poorly managed wildlife, fresh produce markets, as well as industrial meat processing plants (UNEP, 2020).

The environment and our health are closely interrelated and depending on our connection to the natural world, including our microbiome, the strength of our immunity is impacted. This connection between our immunity and exposure to the natural world is just being confirmed by modern science. A study by Blum et al. found that the soil microbiome and human gut microbiome are closely interlinked, with the health of one affecting the health of the other (2019). In fact, the author refers to the human intestinal microbiome and the soil microbiome as “superorganisms” that through “close contact, replenish each other with inoculants, genes and growth sustaining molecules” (Blum, Zechmeister-Boltenstern and Keiblinger, 2019, p. 287).

We are not separate from our environment, but rather we are interlinked and interrelated. We are our environment and our environment is us. We are made up of the natural elements. In the area of biophilia, the connection between humans and other living organisms is emphasized with nature showing a positive impact on happiness, which has been shaped by evolution (Guite et al., 2006; O’Campo et al., 2009; Annerstedt et al., 2012).

The Gallop World Poll, an international survey conducted in over 160 countries, respondents are asked about their views of the environment. Over half (62%) of respondents say they prioritize the environment over economic growth (Gallop World Poll, ). Only half of them were satisfied with what countries were doing to conserve the environment. People want to take actions to help preserve the environment, but in many cases, such as with recycling or composting, communities and states don’t do enough to facilitate sustainable waste removal. Often times people have to act on an individual level reducing consumption and composting their organic waste, supporting natural cycles and promoting biological systems.

A recent study found plastics in human blood for the first time in history (Leslie et al., 2022). The scientists analyzed the blood of 22 donors and found tiny particles of plastic in almost 80% of the people tested (Leslie et al., 2022). Just as with animals and fish, the nanoplastic particles can travel around the body and lodge in various organs, causing damage to the human cells. This is the first study to identify a method for “validating polymer mass concentrations in human whole blood” and the first time “polymers from plastics were detected and quantified in human blood” (Leslie et al., 2022). Such polymers are a form of nanoplastic, and can lodge in the organs with a variety of health implications. Detection of microplastics have also been found in human lung tissue for the first time (Jenner et al., 2022).

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed that governments and corporations are sticking to fossil fuels and thus exacerbating climate change (Masson et al., 2021). Such under action in finding alternative to fossil fuels, along with the clear cutting of forests for agriculture are undermining curbing emissions. The world is on the pathway for the 1.5 degree limit to double, which will have catastrophic consequences (Masson et al., 2021). This underscores the need to include environmental awareness and the promotion of sustainability in any field. Through raising awareness of our interconnection with nature and the importance of a healthy environment for health and healing, it is hoped that it will lead to more sustainable practices in daily life. One can argue that the health of the individual is interconnected and dependent on their environment, just as nature is often more respected when individuals are mindful of their effects on others and the world around them. As ahimsa or non-violence not just applies to other people, but also to nature, as well as within ourselves.

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