Climate Change and Pandemics

Climate change may be putting people at risk for more pandemics like COVID-19. Habitat loss due to climate is bringing animals that can transmit disease in contact with humans more often.

Dr. Aaron Bernstein is a pediatrician and the interim director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University. He says while we don’t know exactly what caused the first case of the novel coronavirus, we do know a lot of other serious outbreaks have started through closer contact with animals.

For example, take the Ebola epidemic in West Africa which coincided with cutting down forests for agriculture.

“Likely part of the reason why that happened is because bats that carry Ebola had lost their homes. And so we may be pushing bats into new places by destroying their habitat,” Bernstein says.

Bernstein says SARS, COVID-19’s sister virus, is suspected to have been transmitted from bats to civet cats to humans.

He says confined animal feeding operations can also put people at risk for diseases like swine flu — putting many animals close together can help create new virus strains that are harder to kill.

Bernstein says this crisis is an opportunity for people to recognize that we can make positive changes to prevent climate impacts — including disease.

“We’re transforming the climate and we can’t pretend that these radical changes to how the Earth works and life on Earth are not going to affect our health,” Bernstein says.


By Rebecca Thiele, Indianapolis PBS site

Contact Rebecca at or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.