Experts warn that the warming of the planet will bring the appearance of diseases trapped in the ice for thousands of years.
MADRID Spain (El Mundo) – The list of natural catastrophes that will arrive soon if climate change continues to advance, seems endless because global warming would also release numerous viruses, some of them deadly, that have been trapped in the ice since thousands of years ago and for which the human being is not prepared. A fact that takes on special relevance in times of pandemic.
Many of these viruses hibernate in permafrost, a layer of the ground that is permanently frozen, although not always covered with ice, extending mainly throughout the Arctic: Siberia, Alaska, and Canada.
“Beneath the permafrost, there is a whole biological diversity that thousands of years ago were trapped by ice. Some viruses can endure in this state of hibernation for about 30 thousand years. The threat is twofold. First, we do not know what we are dealing with, although there is evidence that there are thousands of frozen viruses. And secondly, we are not prepared at the level of immunity to face this type of virus, because our genetic registry does not have proof of them, and we could be very vulnerable”, points out to EL UNIVERSAL Maxime Renaudin, founder of the environmental organization Tree-Nation.
Known viruses and unknown viruses sleep under the icy layer of permafrost; the latter percentage could be 99%. “The vast majority of these viruses would probably not be harmful. But it only takes a small percentage of lethal viruses to pose a major problem to humanity. Those pathogens would keep their contagion potential intact from the moment they hibernate. When they reactivate again, they would be as in the first day”, warns the expert.
The melting of permafrost, which occupies approximately between 20% and 25% of the earth’s surface, would not only generate unprecedented global health crises. It would also accelerate climate change since, in those frozen layers, there are greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide (CO2), which have been imprisoned for thousands of years and could emerge due to the decomposition of huge amounts of debris. Animals and plants trapped since the Pleistocene. Permafrost thickness can reach 1.5 kilometers. Specialist reports indicate that between 30% and 70% of permafrost can melt before the year 2100, depending on how effectively the international community responds to climate change.
“It is estimated that permafrost contains the largest methane reserves in the world, and its release would mean a five-fold increase in the emissions of this gas currently produced. At that point, even if we stopped all human activities, we could do nothing to prevent the catastrophe. We know that the permafrost is thawing; what we do not know is the speed with which it does it, and if we have enough time to react,” says the head of the environmental organization that promotes reforestation to fight climate change.
The expert emphasizes that the urgency to stop climate change is because there is a point of no return from which any response will be insufficient, even if all polluting human activity stops. By then, nature will have taken over.
“It could be that the breaking point happened 25 years ago or happened in the next quarter of a century. We are playing Russian roulette. The only thing we know for sure is that the risk is total and that the catastrophe may have biblical proportions.
Suppose we do not manage to make a more sustainable planet and control climate change and the thawing of permafrost. In that case, we enter an unknown world, with the extinction of 80% or 90% of all species, with flooded countries, famine, massive displacements, and a long list of calamities”, he assures. “We need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to practically zero and, secondly, we have to trap some of those emissions by planting trees, for example, to recapture gases such as CO2, which are already in the atmosphere. Those will continue to overheat the planet if we don’t intervene”, he adds.
For the founder of Tree-Nation, the arrival of Covid-19 alerted humanity that it radically changed its behavior, adopting customs such as wearing a mask or maintaining a healthy distance. However, when nature manages the crisis and makes its polluting emissions, as would happen with permafrost’s thawing, the result is unpredictable. “The modern age and the global way we move today change everything. It took decades for the AIDS virus to travel 100 to 200 kilometers, from village to village, and infect other people. Currently, any virus-like Covid-19 can move at extreme speed and quickly cause a pandemic. Although we are better prepared at a scientific level to fight against the appearance of new viruses”, he concludes.
In this context, experts warn of the increase in the transmission of diseases of animal origin (zoonoses) due to deforestation and the invasion by humans of ecosystems that do not correspond to them.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) indicates in a report on Loss of nature and pandemics that wild animals have transmitted more than 70% of human pathologies in the last four decades. The last of them, the Covid-19.