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Coronavirus COVID-19 and climate change: a perspective on climate-induced pandemics.

Here, we will try to sum up some data of the current Covid-19 crisis analyzing the pandemic and especially the causes in all its breadth, from a social, economic, geopolitical to a sustainable and energetic aspect. Also, we are going to contribute a new more global and realistic vision of the origin of the problem, always bearing in mind that this type of pandemics are not a consequence of an isolated factor but a necessary result of a Life-destroying model.

By José Martínez Magdaleno

(Read the spanish version, click here …)

Coronavirus disease outbreak

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Coronaviriridae is a wide family of virus implied in several disorders from common cold to severe diseases like respiratory infections that can be lethal specially for risk groups like immunodeficient patients and elderly people. These viruses are zoonotic, animals carry an infectious agent that may be transmitted to humans like it happened with SARS-CoV (Coronavirus linked to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that caused more than 8 000 people infected and 774 deaths) in 2003. To be precise, coronaviruses are envelopped viruses (viral envelop is an outer layer composed by one or more proteins) with a nucleocapsid (protein shell of a virus composed by protomers, structural unit of an oligomeric protein) containing positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome.

Illustration of a coronavirus with its shape of a “corona”.

The main clinical characteristics of Covid-19 since its emergence in December 2019 in China (Wuhan city) are summarized here (Guan et al., 2020). Among 1099 patients from more than 500 hospitals in many different provinces of China, 67 were primary composite end point cases (admitted to an intense care unit, assisted of mechanical ventilation or death) with 1.4% of death. Major part of nonresident patient had contact with residents or had visited Wuhan. “Symptoms were fever (60%) and cough (67.8%)” and it’s important pointing that “Lymphocytopenia (lack of Lymphocytes, which are the main cells of the immune system, producers of antibodies and active adaptive responses against external or internal agents regarded as dangerous) was present in 83.2% of cases”.

Some conclusions were that “the clinical characteristics of Covid-19 mimic those of SARS-CoV”, the findings in China were similar to the national data “which showed a rate of death of 3.2% among 51,857 cases of Covid-19 as of February 16, 2020”. Some differences between SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) and SARS-CoV are “the median of incubation period in days, 4 versus 4.6” respectively; symptoms “since fever until deficiencies in some elements of the immune system (Leukopenia, Lymphopenia, etc) had less impact for SARS-CoV-2 cases than SARS-CoV once”; sex ratio is “58.1% for male in Covid-19 and was 43% in SARS-CoV-2”; among other differences.

Currently, after its spread around the world, the number of cases is: 125 048 confirmed cases and 4 613 confirmed deaths (globally) (Source: WHO, Data as reported by national authorities by 10 AM CET 12 March 2020).

“Countries, territories or areas with reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, 12 March 2020”

Climate-Induced Pandemics

On the other hand, climate change and more specifically global warming are a fact by the increase of global temperatures and its outcomes. As mentioned, the rising temperatures affect what are called “Climate-Induced Pandemics” that are also a fact today. It has been shown, that “Climate influences on specific diseases” like Dengue, Malaria, ST. Louis encephalitis, Influenza, Cholera, etc (Under the Weather: Climate, Ecosystems, and Infectious Disease, Committee on Climate, Ecosystems, Infectious Diseases and Human Health, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, National Research Council, 2001). The temperature is the key step of several virus like Dengue by enhancing “the potential spread of the virus through each stage in the life cycle of the mosquito” and beyond that “projected climate warming is generally expected to increase the intensity of transmission“. Also, an increase in the transmission rate is produced by moisture due to rainfall but we may say that biological pest control and vehicle mosquitos for virus have been demonstrated to be, at least, an efficient way of limiting this propagation by reducing the geographical area of infection.

Then, is crucial to mention the importance of the damaging of permafrost soils. In fact, it’s basically ground, rock or soil that remains at 0ºC or lower for at least two years. Wilst permafrost regions “occur at high latitudes” in vast areas of more than 20% of the global surface, “global warming will have a great impact on these soils” because ” they contain large amounts of organic carbon and act as carbon sinks, and a temperature increase will result in a release of carbon and gas methane into the atmosphere”. In addition to this, what have to be considered as a positive feedback loop for rising global temperatures, biologically, the alteration of permafrost soils, implies a worrying consequence “significant numbers of viable microorganisms, including bacteria, archaea, phototrophic cyanobacteria and green algae, fungi and protozoa, are present in permafrost, and the characteristics of these microorganisms reflect the unique and extreme conditions of the permafrost environment” (Rosa Margesin (Editor), 2009). It is also the case with viruses.

Thereby, the damaging of permafrost soils could lead to great amounts of new potential pathogens for humans that were retained for several thousands of years, so “long-dormant bacteria and viruses, trapped in ice and permafrost for centuries, are reviving as Earth’s climate warms” (Jasmin Fox-Skelly, 2017). The gradual melt of permafrost by global warmingcould potentially open a Pandora’s box of diseases“, as it happened with anthrax spores that “can survive for decades” with the infection of at least twenty people including and death of a 12-year-old boy in the Yamal Peninsula (Artic Circle) in 2016. Bacteria are able to live frozen for more than 32 000 years (Carnobacterium pleistocenium) what means that these bacteria “had been frozen since the Pleistocene period, when woolly mammoths still roamed the Earth”. Then, resistant biological forms like spores give strength to some types of bacteria like Clostridium or Anthrax (Jasmin Fox-Skelly, 2017).

“Permafrost melting in the arctic region of Svalbard, Norway” (Melissa Denchak, 2018).

As you may deduce, viruses have a long-lasting life if we consider them like alive agents. They were discovered new old viruses that infected Neanderthals from 30 000 to 40 000 years ago. Also, when melted, iced aged virus Pithovirus sibericum and Mollivirus sibericum, they revived and became “quickly infectious” but not for humans but for amoebas (single-celled organisms) which doesn’t mean that they aren’t virus infectious for us. Several traces of virus like smallpox and DNA sequences, encoding for virulence factors, are being found in permafrost layers. To sum up, “the idea that a virus could be ‘eradicated’ from the planet is wrong, and gives us a false sense of security” (Jasmin Fox-Skelly, 2017). Therefore, global warming, by the melting of iced layers in the artic area, allows the industrial resource exploitation of available zones by energy companies for fossil fuels especially gas and fuel. In addition to its contribution to the increase of the greenhouse effect, the industrial colonization of this areas facilitate the infection and spreading by those new/old viruses.

“We could even see viruses from long-extinct hominin species like Neanderthals and their remains from 30-40,000 years ago have been spotted in Russia” The Natural History Museum/Alamy (Jasmin Fox-Skelly, 2017).

Covid-19, a global Achilles’ heel of economy, society and geopolitics

Consequently, in relation to the aforementioned, “coronavirus response shows the world may not be ready for climate-induced pandemics” (Jennifer Zhang, 2020). The Covid-19 outbreak in China blocked the second largest economy at an important economic moment, for their new year. Apart from the social and economical crisis induced by this phenomenon, what lets see that we are not prepared for that kind of pandemics, “medical researchers and climate scientists note that viral outbreaks may become more common with the progression of the climate crisis, which is affecting the movement of humans, animals, and pathogens” what can make the situation worse. Also, natural disasters caused by climate change force people to migrate to colder regions , to higher areas due to the rise of the sea level, etc, especially with “world’s poorest populations” because they are “the most vulnerable and will likely be disproportionately affected by increased disease proliferation” (Jennifer Zhang, 2020).

Graffiti “All closed” in Rome, Italy, about the current health crisis with 2 978 deaths since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreaks (Redacción Internacional EFE, 2020).

On the economical level, the Covid-19 crisis in China may suppose a fall in the GDP Annual Growth Rate to “4 percent (down from 6 percent before the virus emerged)” and a temporary economic recession of Dow Jones and S&P 500. The close of borders in Russia, Japan, USA and other try to establish a rough control process with travelers from China, “evacuating and quarantining their citizens trapped in China by the outbreak”. As an example of a European country totally collapsed by the spread is Italy, currently in a state of health crisis where most public events are limited and tourism, displacement and economy are being affected in the national and EU scene. In other words, “public responses to viral outbreaks are not necessarily accurate depictions of the magnitude of risk” because Covid-19 is considered to be worst than other viral spreads but in fact, while flu has “a few hundredfold greater mortality impact than Covid-19”, doesn’t raise so much social alarm (Jennifer Zhang, 2020). In short, disease outbreaks are expected to become more usual so a normalization of that phenomena is primary because as far as we know, climate change progresses despite of the medical efforts and advances, “regardless of which prediction reigns true, experts acknowledge (John Podesta, 2019) that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of disease outbreaks” (Jennifer Zhang, 2020). Above all, global warming and in general, the climate change, is the main consequence of the economical and social current model, our well-known “way of life” supported by a consumer society is fed by industrial models that aren’t respectful with the environment and the sustainable development.

From Covid-19 to Biogeothermal through Sustainable Development

As shown above, Covid-19 is a new zoonotic virus of the Coronaviridae family responsible for the current global health crisis according to the WHO. It has caused almost hundred thousand infections and 3 500 deaths globally. Most importantly, as a consequence, global economy and social behavior have been hardly damaged with significant financial losses and millions of inhabitants from USA to China with a feeling of “global extinction”. Certainly we are facing a complex situation but it’s not so much a problem of administration and foresight by countries and the scientific community but mainly concerns an adaptation to a new ecological order where climate changing, massive pollution and destruction of the environment are the real problem.

Therefore, the situation should be considered in a different way. Limiting the progression of climate change will help to contain the amount of climate-induced pandemics directly and indirectly. First, by avoiding the Permafrost alteration and the liberation of new potential viral and bacterial pathogens and by preventing massive migratory movements from poor countries where the global warming leads to natural disasters and increase of diseases and poverty by pathogens and humans as a consequence of the looting of many companies, among which the energy companies, leading to a migration to the wealthy countries of the north. The drastic alteration of society and landscapes in the south and the health drama in the northern comfort countries, unaccustomed to the impact of global reality, all boosted by that climate change potential cause of disease, highlights the need for alternatives that go through healthcare, politics and economy, in particular the current energy industry.

Here, a summary in photographs:

Mass migration due to inequalities in countries where the real power is given to local and foreign companies whose goal is benefit regardless of any consequence it may have on the economy, development and life of local population. That model doesn’t consider any kind of sustainable development leading to an irreversible alteration of nature first by polluting directly the biosphere with greenhouse gases thanks to the non-renewable energetic companies and second, indirectly causing health and social crisis all around the world. “Migratory drama in the Mediterranean” (link to the source).
The “David against Goliath” fight in the sea by “Open Arms, a non-governmental, non-profit organization whose main mission is to protect, by having a presence at sea,  those people who try to reach Europe fleeing from war, persecution or poverty” (link to the source).
“Inequality is decreasing between countries—but climate change is slowing progress”, Robb Kendrick, Nat Geo Image Collection (link to the source).
Plastic pollution in oceans as a cause of the change of biodiversity and a pollution of the water leading to the presence of plastics in humans causing health problems as discussed in a previous publication (https://geotermia.ch/2019/06/27/modelo-sostenible-ya-de-la-salud-a-la-energia/) (link to the source).
One of the consequences of the current philosophy of industry, without conscience for the environment and therefore, our health, is the intense pollution in Pekin, “in 2015, 16% of deaths were related to pollution with a total number of 9 million”, Luo Xiaoguang, Xinhua Press, Corbis (link to the source).
New areas opened to the food industry, energy industry, to sum up, to the capital but also, to new life forms potentially pathogenous, “Aerial view of a deforested plot of the Amazon in Porto Velho, Brazil” (link to the source).

Therefore, from green energies and more specifically the Geothermal and Biogeothermal, we encourage the people who care about our future, in this deep health and economic crisis that we are going through, to consider the problem as a whole from the social to the environmental. Then, by enhancing our sustainable development conscience, considering that our planet is changing almost inevitably in a direction where the first affected organisms will be ourselves by the appearance of new plagues against which we are not prepared to fight, we would be able to limit the alteration of our Biosphere reducing to the minimum greenhouse gases for cause and consequence from an irresponsible fossil energetic sector. The development of the Geothermal engineering even with biological methods, by learning how to manipulate organisms biotechnologically and its natural ecology (Biogeothermal), should let us to stop this trend preventing the appearance of new/old pathogens with the destruction of Permafrost soils and keeping safe the weakest populations in a world where natural catastrophes would be less frequent, thus limiting many migratory crises and the spread of more pandemics.

Bibliography

– Guan W, Ni Z, Hu Y, Liang W, Ou C, He J, Liu L, Shan H, Lei C, Hui D, Du B, Li L, Zeng G, Yuen K, Chen R, Tang C, Wang T, Chen P, Xiang J, Li S, Wang J, Liang Z, Peng Y, Wei L, Liu Y, Hu Y, Peng P, Wang J, Liu J, Chen Z, Li G, Zheng Z, Qiu S, Luo J, Ye C, Zhu S and Zhong N (2020). Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China. New England Journal of Medicine.

– WHO: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

– Under the Weather: Climate, Ecosystems, and Infectious Disease (National Research Council (US) Committee on Climate, Ecosystems, Infectious Diseases, and Human Health): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK222258/

– Earth Institute, Columbia University: https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2020/02/24/coronavirus-climate-induced-pandemics/

– Rosa Margesin (Editor). Permafrost Soils (2009). Soil Biology.

– Jasmin Fox-Skelly, There are diseases hidden in ice, and they are waking up (BBC): http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170504-there-are-diseases-hidden-in-ice-and-they-are-waking-up

– Melissa Denchak (2018): https://www.nrdc.org/stories/permafrost-everything-you-need-know

– John Podesta. The climate crisis, migration, and refugees (2019): https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-climate-crisis-migration-and-refugees/

– Redacción Internacional EFE. La crisis del COVID-19 empeora en Italia con 16 millones de personas en cuarentena (2020): https://www.cronica.com.mx/notas-la_crisis_del_covid_19_empeora_en_italia_con_16_millones_de_personas_en_cuarentena-1147832-2020

José Martínez Magdaleno

2 thoughts on “Coronavirus COVID-19 and climate change: a perspective on climate-induced pandemics.

  1. Magnífica, sorprendente, espoleante y amedrentadora perspectiva de los reales problemas que el presente y el futuro nos depara. Supongo que cada lector hará su valoración. Pero, cuanto menos, estoy convencido que nuestras visión tendrá un filtro objetivo y documentado diferente… Gracias, José Martínez, por este nuevo y apasionante enfoque.

    1. Gracias por la apreciación! La intención principal de este enfoque es ver el problema desde otro punto de vista, más global, más biológico y por ende, más real. Así, suscitar discusión y una lluvia de argumentos es lo mejor que pudiese provocar pues la realidad siempre es compleja y no se resume a una vacuna. Gracias de nuevo Octavio.

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