A growing body of research suggests that the fights to prevent the next pandemic and to cool down our overheating planet may both come down to one united factor — our forests.
Health in Harmony, a non-profit with a mission focused on reversing tropical rainforest deforestation, believes that by addressing deforestation, we can address the health of humans, animals, and ecosystems worldwide.
This method, dubbed the One Health approach, posits that the health of all life on Earth is intrinsically connected and that to address one requires addressing the others.
What is deforestation?
Deforestation is the practice of clearing forest land for crops, grazing, development, and extraction of minerals, gas, and oil.
Beef cattle ranches and palm oil plantations are some of the biggest drivers of deforestation, creating millions of miles of forest edge just ripe for a spillover event.
On a policy level, ending our use of polluting gas, oil, and plastics would go a long way toward mitigating deforestation. So would reducing our meat consumption (just a little).
How might deforestation contribute to the spread of disease?
Humans often get sick through vectors, which are animals like mosquitos, ticks, and rats that contract disease-producing microorganisms and pass them on to new hosts.
These diseases mutate over time. Wildlife illness can rapidly become human illness with enough exposure, like at a meat market or poultry farm.
These are examples of interphases, areas where human and animal spaces collide. Interphases occur where humans have either destroyed habitat or otherwise forced animals into close proximity (pets, livestock, animal testing, etc.).
When humans and animals meet in an interphase, diseases may jump species to infect the new host. This is called a spillover event. When it transmits, the disease mutates and adapts to the new species. The more interactions between species, the more opportunities disease has to spill over.
One increasingly common interphase and spillover site is a forest edge. Less deforestation means fewer forest edges and fewer opportunities for spillover events to occur.
How do we stop deforestation?
On a grassroots level, stopping deforestation means working closely with local communities, since they are the ones experiencing the worst effects of deforestation and yet are often the ones contracted by extractive corporations to do the logging.
So Health in Harmony, a global non-governmental organization, built relationships with these communities and asked them what they would need to stop logging. They answered: health care, job alternatives, and help growing food. In turn, Health in Harmony meets those health and economic needs, and, low and behold, deforestation drops.
By addressing the root cause, Health in Harmony and these local communities helped address deforestation, the planet’s changing climate, and future pandemics.
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