Climate Denial Coming Back To Bite Us

It’s all connected.

Not just climate change and the incidence of pandemics–which, it turns out, is a connection we need to understand and take seriously–but science denial and destructive public policies, among many other relationships.

As Talking Points Memo and Pro Publica have reported, scientists and medical researchers are just beginning to unravel the ways in which climate change affects the emergence of new diseases. It isn’t as though the relationship between the two was unknown; for many years now, experts in the field have been warning about the likelihood that a warming planet would accelerate the rate at which new diseases appear. But the mechanisms are just beginning to be understood.

The numbers are jaw-dropping: A new emerging disease surfaces five times a year. One study estimates that more than 3,200 strains of coronaviruses already exist among bats, just waiting for an opportunity to jump to people.

Those strains have always been there–but the planet previously had “natural defenses” that fought them off.

Today, climate warming is demolishing those defense systems, driving a catastrophic loss in biodiversity that, when coupled with reckless deforestation and aggressive conversion of wildland for economic development, pushes farms and people closer to the wild and opens the gates for the spread of disease.

The effect of climate change on the way diseases are transmitted from bats and other animals or insects to humans is anything but intuitive, which is why it would be helpful to elect legislators and other policymakers who have a modicum of scientific literacy. (Actually, it would be nice if at least a few GOP lawmakers knew the difference between science and religion…)

The article explains how it works.

There are three ways climate influences emerging diseases. Roughly 60% of new pathogens come from animals — including those pressured by diversity loss — and roughly one-third of those can be directly attributed to changes in human land use, meaning deforestation, the introduction of farming, development or resource extraction in otherwise natural settings. Vector-borne diseases — those carried by insects like mosquitoes and ticks and transferred in the blood of infected people — are also on the rise as warming weather and erratic precipitation vastly expand the geographic regions vulnerable to contagion. Climate is even bringing old viruses back from the dead, thawing zombie contagions like the anthrax released from a frozen reindeer in 2016, which can come down from the arctic and haunt us from the past.

Not only does climate change facilitate contagion, but once new diseases are introduced into the human environment, changing temperatures and precipitation change how–and how fast– those diseases spread. Harsh swings from hot to cold, or sudden storms — exactly the kinds of climate-change-induced patterns we’re already experiencing— make people more likely to get sick.

The bottom line: climate policy is inseparable from efforts to prevent new pandemics. The relationship of the two cannot be ignored.

What’s known as biodiversity is critical because the natural variety of plants and animals lends each species greater resiliency against threat and together offers a delicately balanced safety net for natural systems. As diversity wanes, the balance is upset, and remaining species are both more vulnerable to human influences and, according to a landmark 2010 study in the journal Nature, more likely to pass along powerful pathogens.

Losses of biodiversity have accelerated. Only 15% of the planet’s forests remain intact–the others have been so degraded that the natural ecosystems that depend on them have been disrupted. When forests die, and grasslands and wetlands are destroyed, biodiversity decreases further.

The United Nations has warned that the planet has already lost 20% of all species– and that more than a million more animal and plant species currently face extinction.

Speaking of interrelationships–politics is intimately and unavoidably involved with our efforts to avoid planetary-wide extinctions. Losses of biodiversity and the increasing prevalence of pandemics cannot be addressed by MAGA-believing xenophobes who fear globalization and dark people, and think border walls will repel viruses and brown people, and return America to the 1950s.

We are facing life-and-death issues, and they can only be resolved by global collaborations led by people who respect science and trust scientists–and aren’t afraid of people who look or pray differently.


  1. Thanks Prof
    Now, in the midst of all this , the party of Trump is insisting that the government focus on Hunter Biden, who is NOT a government official. SQUIRREL !

  2. I believe that a couple of members of Congress are physicians (at least one of whom is a Creationist, believing that the Earth is only a few thousand years old), but I don’t think any of them have any background in the other branches of the biological sciences. So we have elected a government consisting of scientific illiterates. And to add insult to injury, some of them end up on Congressional committees that pertain to science. So, funding for agencies such as the CDC is overseen by people who think that taking an axe to scientific budgets is sound policy.

  3. Per Rolf Schmidt, Paleontologist at the Melbourne Museum: “Cosmos, The Science of Everything”
    “There have been five major extinctions on earth, biologists suspect we are living through the sixth. Seen when species go missing. Most had something to do with rapid climate change.”

    “Not only does climate change facilitate contagion, but once new diseases are introduced into the human environment, changing temperatures and precipitation change how–and how fast– those diseases spread. Harsh swings from hot to cold, or sudden storms — exactly the kinds of climate-change-induced patterns we’re already experiencing— make people more likely to get sick.”

    Mass pollution of the environment by hazardous dumping to save money and increase profits for major corporations has been going on for decades as we watch, not only epidemics, but increasing numbers of cancer victims with numerous forms of cancers appearing at a rate impossible for medical researchers to study or understand. The Johnson County Childhood Cancer Cluster is a local example. Covid-19 Pandemic has brought this to our attention as no other disease has since AIDS or Ebola. Did it begin with the Chinese “wet markets” selling consumable meat products from exotic – or nasty – sources? If so; what caused the sudden and rapid spread of this new form of contagion from animals to the current global level in only a matter of months?

    We can’t say we were not warned; remove the Bible thumping creationists from seats of power and replace them with intelligent scientific, indisputable fact finding and accept the changes we must make to survive and a different picture emerges. Climate Change and Global Warming are inseparable but not interchangeable systems or terms. The courtroom scene in the movie “Inherit The Wind” is a primary example of the refusal to face facts and keep creationism in its place in this world and out of our education systems.

    “We are facing life-and-death issues, and they can only be resolved by global collaborations led by people who respect science and trust scientists–and aren’t afraid of people who look or pray differently.”

    It is May 21, 2020, and here in Indianapolis meteorologists recommend leaving home wearing a coat this morning…again. The acres and acres of farmland on South Franklin Road are still unplowed due to mud from another too wet spring. They went unplowed all last year due to being underwater into summer months. All tied to decades of “Climate Denial Coming Back To Bite Us”.

  4. It’s not necessary to be a scientist to understand that we need to take the advice of scientists in scientific matters. In fact, many people who have degrees in science don’t understand much of what they see in their own fields of specialization. That’s how we get abominations like “Plandemic.”

    Currently, the Republicans in both the House and the Senate are taking the advice of the Lunatic in Charge, rather than give credence to anyone who might have actual knowledge. In most cases this isn’t due to their lack of understanding, but to their love of power and lack of willingness to defend the Constitution in the face of their torch carrying base.

  5. When I taught science in public schools, I could see science denial coming through the children who had been brainwashed by parents, and especially their churches. Try having a 9th grader come up to you and tell you that his minister has told the kids that science teachers are the spawns of Satan and shouldn’t be listed to AT ALL. I’m not making that up.

    “(Actually, it would be nice if at least a few GOP lawmakers knew the difference between science and religion…)” Nice? How about imperative? But the GOP is totally corrupted by corporate/banking America. Todd likes to think that the Democrats are just as corrupt. They aren’t. What corrupts everything to not only our detriment in America, but the world, is UNREGULATED, FREE-MARKET CAPITALISM.

    Among those five major extinctions, are those minor ones involving human societies. Most of the failed societies went away soon after they cut down all their trees. Again, too many humans chasing too few resources without restraint.

    It’s kind of a perfect irony that the species that was supposed to be and is touted to be God’s most perfect creation is working ever so diligently to make itself extinct. And this after only existing for about 200,000 years…. Oh. Dinosaurs roamed the Earth for over 150 MILLION years. No humans around to destroy their ecosystems, you see. It took another “act of God” to begin that particular extinction.

    Unrestrained human reproduction and behavior is just a slow-motion asteroid hit.

  6. It would be easy to blame Trump and the GOP but we must look beyond the party itself to see who and what are pulling the strings.

    Capitalism is driving deforestation along with the ever increasing demand for profits and growth.

    What’s interesting is Trump’s policies on using nationalism to stir up his base of supporters is contrary to the goal of the capitalists funding his party.

    Speaking of, there is a great story about the CIA and Sheldon Adelson using the Ecuadorian spies hired by their government to protect Julian Assange in the London embassy. As the court documents in Spain reveal, the Ecuadorian spy company began working for Adelson and the CIA to spy on Assange. When I get to my computer later, I’ll post the link.

    As people have commented, there are lots of distractions to keep the “media” busy which confuses their 5th grade viewers who need data and info shared with sound bytes or memes.

  7. NPR reported this morning on the podcast “Up First” that there was a study made using epidemiological modeling of how many lives here could have been saved if we had started social distancing a week earlier in the beginning of March and the answer came back, using what we know now is our ability to social distance, that one week earlier would save over half of those lost. Then of course there was discussion about if we would have been smart enough to do it if told to with that small a disease signal.

    That same principle applies to climate change. When climate scientists first raised the warning flags and talked about a degree celcius or two of warming being a profound change they were roundly dismissed by many people who didn’t know what they were talking about. Literally.

    That mistake like the COVID error had permanent consequences for many and economically costly consequences for almost everyone.

    The problem is that specialization makes us collectively dumber (unless we accept that fact). Until we collectively learn to accept and deal with the nature of knowledge in today’s world we will continue to make really stupid, preventable mistakes.

  8. Actually, maybe the best thing that could happen for the survival of this planet was if we, as in humans, went extinct….

  9. And now the orange shit stain is going to allow Russian aircraft to fly over our country’s skies. He’s going to get us all killed.

  10. Mankind is not a good steward of the earth! Mankind has never been a good steward of the earth!

    You can go back as long as history has been recorded, and tell that man has ruined the only home he has to live on/in. When the Romans sacked Carthage after generations of conflict, what did they do? They salted the earth, they spread a layer of salt over the entire area of Carthage so nothing would ever grow there again! And to this day, there is nothing growing in the old boundaries of Carthage.

    Imported species have devastated island nations, like rats killing all of the native flora and fauna in many of the South Sea Islands, the plagues of giant Cane toads in Australia, also, they have a serious European rabbit issue, because they didn’t have rabbits in Australia. The rabbits eat all of the food that the native wildlife would consume. Look at the African bees! Look at the murder Hornets! Look at the tiger mosquitoes! Look at the Asian carp decimating America’s rivers! All invasive species with no natural predators.

    So instead of trying to get a handle on this problem, the answer is to bury your head in the sand like an ostrich! Kind of like a child walking through a room of adults when they’re supposed to be in bed, LOL, with their eyes closed or their hands covering their eyes thereby believing they are invisible! Except, they are not invisible, and we all know what happens next.

    Closing your eyes or plugging your ears doesn’t make anything any better or solve any problem. When you warm-up the climate, you release every pathogen that’s been frozen in the ice caps on the polls and in glaciers. At the bottom of the ocean, it’s been discovered, large hydrogen reserves that are being released from ridges in the center of the ocean. There are tons of organisms that do not need sunlight, bacteria that feed off of chemicals toxic to us. There still is a debate on what could happen if these bacteria and up infecting oxygen breathing life!

    New corona viruses, nothing that they’ve ever seen before have been found surfacing in Brazil, many different diseases that have never been seen before, bacteria’s and viruses emerging from the melting permafrost in the Arctic shelves. The wealthy will not be saved from this burgeoning disaster, and the stupid will continue to believe the wealthy and the powerful, because, well, they are stupid!

    Absolutely there have been extinction events over the millennia, through Epoque’s of time, and, no one really knows what caused these mass extinctions, just a bunch of theories! The fact remains, a lot of these bacteria is and viruses that existed during different Epoque’s on earth, are starting to be released by the warming of the planet’s climate.

    So, we should expect, as the United Nations warning stated a few weeks back, there will be severe famines, that will kill millions, there also will be the reemergence of plagues from the past, bubonic plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, resurgence of malaria, cholera, putrid throat, typhoid, many of these diseases killed hundreds of millions of people in the past century i.e. the 20th century.

    Many of these plagues will be brought back by some of mankind’s extreme ignorance concerning vaccines, the anti-Vaxer’s have already accelerated the resurgence of these long thought dead infectious plagues! And of course selfish behavior of unsafe sexual practices and drug use concerning the AIDS virus which adds to the virulent nature of these drug-resistant infections that use the afflicted’s immune system as a cauldron or Petri dish of death.

    Yes, the Pale Horse is sprinting out of the barn, there is no closing that door, everyone is still sleeping!

  11. We do know what caused the Permian – Triassic Extinction Event, approximately 252 million years ago. It is the Earth’s most severe known extinction event, with up to 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. It was the largest known mass extinction of insects. Some 57% of all biological families and 83% of all genera became extinct.

    The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event, also known as the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) extinction, was a sudden mass extinction of three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth approximately 66 million years ago.

    Today it is very clear humans are the cause of mass extinctions. It seems that wherever early humans traveled to the Mega-Fauna disappeared. The Passenger Pigeon was hunted to extinction and the buffalo of our old Wild West were nearly wiped out.

    So many variables act to keep the environment in some balance at least before humans began to harness various technologies.

  12. Perhaps the planet was not created (if created) to accommodate the immense increase in human population (as Vern often notes). Perhaps having fewer progeny due to birth control though offset by the advent of antibiotics which make us live longer came along at about the right time to save the planet, though such mechanisms have arrived unevenly, an anomaly which has given rise to my view that with all that has been said and written about future refugee movements of Syrians and others, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I refer to Africa, a newcomer to the idea of birth control. Thus if you think a few million Mexicans and Central Americans are a wave, just wait until 50 million Africans show up on Ellis Island with a steady stream of more to come. What to do? Remove our offshore factories from China and restart them in Africa so that Africans will have a reason to stay home? Pass racist laws in re immigration (as we did with Orientals once upon a time? Reinstate slavery a la GWTW? What?

    More people seems to equal less rainforests and wildlife and more agriculture and gaseous atmosphere. What to do? Legislation will help but (and this may sound anti-democratic and even Hitlerish) it seems to me that we must somehow find a democratic way (if any exists) to
    reduce the globe’s human population so as to take the pressure off what’s left of the earth’s resources, thus, hopefully, allowing the rainforests to regrow and the atmosphere to improve. How to make that happen in a democratic setting? I haven’t the foggiest, so I’ll leave that to the sociologists (and science fiction writers). Nostradamus I am not.

  13. Charleston’s Post and Courier does a competent job of covering climate change. One in five days last year bore witness to urban flooding (5 times the rate of the 20th century), so they really don’t have a choice. Among the least helpful solutions is a federal privacy law that forbids home owners who have been flooded from disclosing that fact to would-be purchasers (even if would-be sellers wanted to do so).

    But today’s edition sounded like both a scream for help and a commitment to deepen the paper’s engagement. Impossibly high walls to keep the ocean at bay and abandoning the city were the leading existential options discussed. If these kinds of alarms don’t attract the attention of state legislators, nothing will. Since there are a lot of liberals in Charleston (even a Democratic Congressman), such headlines will likely bring smiles to the faces of many conservative inland politicians.

    Up and down the coast flora are disappearing as ocean salinity intrudes on estuaries and dooms trees and marshes that have flourished for millions of years.

    Our state motto is: All for one and that one is me.

  14. Todd; I have been asking since Trump was announced as the nominee why the Republican party dumped 16 viable candidates and forced Trump on us. Someone here, possibly you, said he received 20% of the delegate votes which was the highest; to me, that left 80% who didn’t want him. Obviously there is no Plan B to naming presidential nominees which also brings up the question of the election decision being up to the appointed few to the Electoral College to decide for the entire nation and all territorial possessions.

  15. Michigan has received deluge of rain. We read about dams failing and downstream flooding. The interesting back story is the dams were privately owned.

    From CNN:
    Federal regulators have warned for more than 20 years of inadequate spillways at a Michigan dam that was breached Tuesday, sending floodwaters raging into a city of more than 40,000.
    Documents available on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission website show federal regulators warned multiple companies that the Edenville Dam was not ready to handle a massive flood.

    The federal government threatened large fines against one private company that operated the dam until eventually revoking its license in 2018.

    Although federal regulators repeatedly warned about the dam’s inability to handle a large flood, it took years for federal authorities to crack down on the dam’s operator after more than 13 years of cajoling them to abide by the terms of their license.

    FERC no longer has oversight of the Edenville Dam, which was transferred to state of Michigan oversight in 2018.
    I suppose those in positions of responsibility are already lawyered up trying to find some loopholes in the laws.

    You would think after the Johnstown, PA. 1889 flood killed more than 2,200 people, there would be strict rules and regulations to follow, with no “wiggle room”. Not so, it seems the Feds look like they shuffled their collective feet for years, then handed the problem off.

    Michigan if you recollect had the Flint water issue where once again foot dragging, inadequate or unenforced regulations caused mass poisoning.

  16. Monotonous; thanks so much for the information. And “simple majority” certainly fits in this case.

  17. ML,

    Remember, before Whitman became governor of Michigan, the state was operated by the egregious Rick Snyder…of Flint water poisoning fame. This infrastructure disaster is just the first of many more coming down the road as the ripples from Snyder’s incompetent administration sweep across the state. Look for this same scenario to repeat in every other state that has/is controlled by Republicans for any length of time. I expect Texas and Florida to the next states that throw up on themselves.

    Thanks for the extinction time lines. Part of the “modern” problem are the primitive instincts that drive us toward our own destruction. Ironic, huh? But in our abject arrogance, we think we will always pull through and survive. COVID-19 is showing us, again, ironically, that the smallest and most basic form of biochemistry can wipe us out. Technically, viruses are not living beings. Then, neither is Donald Trump, so there we have it.

  18. Todd,

    I’d watch out using the descriptive “Orientals” it’s considered an insult to a lot of Asians now. Probably because of the way it was used by certain non-Asian factions United States especially. Just mentioning, we had a huge debate on this a while back, and I didn’t agree with thinking “Orientals” was bad, because all it means is, “From The East” and I believe it, the phrase itself, was Roman. Most of the Bible was written in the East, as a matter of fact, all of the Bible was written in the East, it is not a Western book at all.

    Another issue, it is known, children are a poor man’s hobby! The thought process is, either one of those children will make it to success and be able to care for their parents, or that there will be enough children to bury the parents when they die. So, there’s that! Religion has hijacked their parishioners to keep them stupid. Just like, many Christian sects claim ONAN was killed for practicing birth control, thereby there should be no birth control because it is against Scripture. This is not true, ONAN was killed because he withdrew after intercourse with his sister-in-law after his brother died without an heir apparent.

    Onan was told by Judah to perform brother-in-law marriage with Er’s widow Tamar. If a son was produced, he would not be the founder of Onan’s family, and the firstborn’s inheritance would belong to him as an heir to Er; whereas if no heir came, Onan would get the inheritance for himself. When Onan had relations with Tamar, he “wasted his semen on the earth” instead of giving it to her. This was not an act of masturbation on the part of Onan, for the account says “when he did have relations with his brother’s wife” he spilled his semen. Apparently it was a case of “coitus interruptus,” in which Onan purposely prevented ejaculation of his semen into Tamar’s genital tract. For his disobedience to his father, his covetousness, and his sin against the divine arrangement of marriage, not for self-abuse, Onan, himself also childless, was put to death by Jehovah. (Genesis 38:6-10; 46:12; Numbers 26:19.)

    So this had nothing to do it birth control, but it had everything to do with greed!

    All of these things together make ignorant people procreate like a plague of rabbits or cane toads!

    Stupidity is not a new issue, it’s as old as man himself!

  19. There is no doubt that the Earth has warmed during the last century plus. (Though atmospheric temperatures have warmed much, much less than surface temperatures.) Anyone who denies the planet has warmed isn’t being honest. (FYI, I don’t use the phrase “climate change” because the climate has been changing nonstop for 4.5 billion years. And, no, the facts do no show we are having more tornadoes, hurricanes and other extreme weather. In fact, this past century we’ve had a marked decrease in tornadoes and hurricanes.)

    The trouble though with the man is causing dangerous global warming analysis is two part: First problem is the assumption that today’s (or should I say yesterday’s?) climate is the ideal and a warmer climate would be bad for the human race. The history of the Earth’s climate shows just the opposite. Mankind has flourished during periods when the climate is warmer, including the Medieval Warming period when the Earth was warmer than it is today. In contrast, the worst pandemic in world history, the black plague, which killed as much as 60% of Europe’s population during the 1300s, happened during the Little Ice Age.

    When Hoosiers retire, they move to Florida, not Minnesota. There just isn’t much in the way of evidence that a cooler climate would be better for mankind than a warmer climate. The historical evidence is pretty overwhelming in the opposite direction.

    The second problem is even if you accept the assumption that a warmer climate is a bad thing, they have not been able to isolate HOW MUCH man’s activities’ have led to a warmer climate and how much is attributable to other causes. There is no certain way of isolating out the human factor in increasing warming from other factors. They don’t know if mankind is responsible for 5% of the warming or 95%. Clearly mankind is responsible for some of the warming. How much? Scientists simply don’t know.

    The fact is the Earth has been warmer than it is today. The CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been higher than it is today. (By the way atmospheric CO2 levels appear to trail temperature changes not precede them.)

    Sorry, I thought of a third problem. We don’t have any proof that drastic changes to how we consume energy (which hit the poorest people the hardest because those changes inevitably lead to hire prices for that energy) would at all make even a dent on stopping or even slowing the warming. And then you have the problem that alarmists refuse to consider the benefits of a warmer climate such as a longer growing season in many areas and crops being grown places where now the climate is too cold. Alarmists want us to assume EVERYTHING about global warming is bad.

    We need to stop politicizing climate science. Scientists should be about giving us the facts, not promoting a political agenda. And we should not be doing science by “consensus” either. People should be able to challenge scientific consensus. After all, that is exactly what Einstein did when he challenged Newton’s Theory of Universal Gravitation. With his General Theory of Relativity, Einstein proved the consensus about gravity was wrong. In today’s climate, Einstein would have been browbeat into dropping his quest to challenge Newton’s theory lest Einstein face professional ridicule and having his work defunded.

  20. Paul, everyone who has learned the thermodynamics of solar planets with atmospheres knows the certain connection between the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, like water vapor which is not changing, and carbon dioxide and methane which are growing in proportion to the accumulation of waste from burning fossil fuels. That’s just the way that IR radiation due to the temperatures on earth reacts with bi-polar molecules (which are easily measured) and creates a growingly different energy balance on earth that affects all weather and sea level.

    Additional consequences of the fact of that warming net out as positive feedbacks (like ice melt and tundra thaw) that warm even more but at difficult to predict rates.

    Bottom line is that there’s absolutely no question about the changing weather and sea level consequences of our burn rate of fossil fuels and it is accumulative from the time we started until the time that we stop and then for several decades after.

  21. Thank you, Pete. I have been having a discussion with Paul about this for a long time.

    Pascal – I will point out that most medical doctors in this country are not trained as scientists. They spend their time (after learning biological basics) learning to diagnose and treat disease. I have known many physicians who are, and were, great scientists, but I have also seen medical students and medical residents struggle to do the kinds of analysis that is at the heart of good PhD and post-doctoral training programs.

  22. Len, the nature of energy and it’s behavior relative to matter and spacetime is fundamental to physics which is fundamental to mechanical engineering which is my field.

    One problem which our culture is faced with is the reality of specialization. Most every one of us has a field which we know more completely than the average “other” person but that always comes at the expense of knowledge in other fields which we have to depend on others for support.

    It is what it is but seems to have spawned a cultural defensive reaction from authoritarians who feel entitled to know beyond their experience to avoid the notion of having to depend on others.

  23. The folks who don’t respect the difference between science and religion don’t respect religion very well either. The Bible expects us to be good stewards of God’s earth and teaches us NOT to worship money. Unfortunately, too many self-identified “Christians” forgot those two parts of the Bible.

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