Scientists Warn That Climate Change Could Spark the Next Major Pandemic

Global Infectious Disease Pandemic

As the global climate continues to warm, scientists predict wild animals will be forced to relocate their habitats – likely to regions with large human populations. This will dramatically increase the risk of a viral jump to humans that could lead to the next major pandemic. 

Researchers anticipate that as the earth’s temperature continues to warm, wild animals will be compelled to migrate their habitats – most likely to areas with dense human populations – drastically raising the danger of a viral jump to humans, which might lead to the next pandemic.

This connection between climate change and viral transmission is described by an international research team led by scientists at Georgetown University in a paper entitled “Climate change increases cross-species viral transmission risk” which was published on April 28, 2022, in the journal Nature.

In their study, the researchers conducted the first comprehensive assessment of how climate change will restructure the global mammalian virome. The work focuses on geographic range shifts—the journeys that species will undertake as they follow their habitats into new areas. As they encounter other mammals for the first time, the study projects they will share thousands of viruses.

Climate Change Will Drive Novel Viral Sharing Among Mammal Species

In 2070, human population centers in equatorial Africa, south China, India, and Southeast Asia will overlap with projected hotspots of cross-species viral transmission in wildlife. Credit: Colin Carlson/Georgetown University

They argue that these shifts provide greater opportunity for viruses such as Ebola or coronaviruses to emerge in new places, making them more difficult to track, and into new types of animals, making it easier for viruses to jump across a “stepping stone” species into humans.

“The closest analogy is actually the risks we see in the wildlife trade,” says the study’s lead author Colin Carlson, PhD, an assistant research professor at the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center. “We worry about markets because bringing unhealthy animals together in unnatural combinations creates opportunities for this stepwise process of emergence – like how SARS jumped from bats to civets, then civets to people. But markets aren’t special anymore; in a changing climate, that kind of process will be the reality in nature just about everywhere.”

Of concern is that animal habitats will move disproportionately in the same places as human settlements, creating new hotspots of spillover risk. Much of this process may already be underway in today’s 1.2 degrees warmer world, and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may not stop these events from unfolding.

An additional important finding is the impact rising temperatures will have on bats, which account for the majority of novel viral sharing. Their ability to fly will allow them to travel long distances, and share the most viruses. Because of their central role in viral emergence, the greatest impacts are projected in southeast Asia, a global hotspot of bat diversity.

“At every step,” said Carlson, “our simulations have taken us by surprise. We’ve spent years double-checking those results, with different data and different assumptions, but the models always lead us to these conclusions. It’s a really stunning example of just how well we can, actually, predict the future if we try.”

As viruses start to jump between host species at unprecedented rates, the authors say that the impacts on conservation and human health could be stunning.

“This mechanism adds yet another layer to how climate change will threaten human and animal health,” says the study’s co-lead author Gregory Albery, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology in the Georgetown University College of Arts and Sciences.

“It’s unclear exactly how these new viruses might affect the species involved, but it’s likely that many of them will translate to new conservation risks and fuel the emergence of novel outbreaks in humans.”

Altogether, the study suggests that climate change will become the biggest upstream risk factor for disease emergence—exceeding higher-profile issues like deforestation, wildlife trade, and industrial agriculture. The authors say the solution is to pair wildlife disease surveillance with real-time studies of environmental change.

“When a Brazilian free-tailed bat makes it all the way to Appalachia, we should be invested in knowing what viruses are tagging along,” says Carlson. “Trying to spot these host jumps in real-time is the only way we’ll be able to prevent this process from leading to more spillovers and more pandemics.”

“We’re closer to predicting and preventing the next pandemic than ever,” says Carlson. “This is a big step towards prediction—now we have to start working on the harder half of the problem.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic, and the previous spread of SARS, Ebola, and Zika, show how a virus jumping from animals to humans can have massive effects. To predict their jump to humans, we need to know about their spread among other animals,” said Sam Scheiner, a program director with the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the research. “This research shows how animal movements and interactions due to a warming climate might increase the number of viruses jumping between species.”

Reference: “Climate change increases cross-species viral transmission risk” by Colin J. Carlson, Gregory F. Albery, Cory Merow, Christopher H. Trisos, Casey M. Zipfel, Evan A. Eskew, Kevin J. Olival, Noam Ross and Shweta Bansal, 28 April 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04788-w

Additional study authors also included collaborators from the University of Connecticut (Cory Merow), Pacific Lutheran University (Evan Eskew), the University of Cape Town (Christopher Trisos), and the EcoHealth Alliance (Noam Ross, Kevin Olival).

The research described is supported in part by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Biology Integration Institutes (BII) grant (BII 2021909), to the Viral Emergence Research Initiative (Verena). Verena, co-founded by Carlson and Albery, curates the largest ecosystem of open data in viral ecology, and builds tools to help predict which viruses could infect humans, which animals host them, and where they could someday emerge. NSF BII grants support diverse and collaborative teams of researchers investigating questions that span multiple disciplines within and beyond biology.

Addition funding was provided by the NSF grant DBI-1639145, the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program, the Institut de Valorisation des Données, the National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center, and the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

18 Comments on "Scientists Warn That Climate Change Could Spark the Next Major Pandemic"

  1. Another way of saying that it is because of the denialists that the pandemic is triggered and they contribute to climate change. The ways to induce the unique and sheepish thinking of the NWO

  2. RUSSELL HANEY | April 30, 2022 at 6:53 am | Reply

    Scientists? Like the ones that denied how this “pandemic” created in a chinese lab isn’t true?

    So if science says viruses are spread by close contact through liquid/aerosol from one person to another. Is climate change causing us to get closer to each other?

    Science says that viruses don’t last very long after being expelled from a contaminated person. Is climate change causing viruses to last longer? How? Science says no.

    Like opinions you can find a lot of scientists who want to make a name by espousing their personal thoughts and not facts.

    • “Like the ones that denied how this “pandemic” created in a chinese lab”

      LOL because you said it on a comment board it must be true? Where’s your evidence? Where’s you data?

  3. … it looks like the most threat one can face are those labs that develop bio weapons …

  4. If they think that rapid lowering of CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 will help this problem, they don’t understand that we can’t transport anything to deal with it, make a transition to a renewable all-electric world, without using those fossil fuels to get there. The damage to economies and human health would be far greater than the threat of new virus pandemics. We just saw what happened when the covid pandemic travel lockdowns took effect. All economies suffered. Continuing to lower emissions in the transportation sector will only make it worse.

  5. Normando Montfort | April 30, 2022 at 8:05 am | Reply

    Is this relocation of animalas is really from global warming or earth magnetic polls shifting.
    The ozone layer of the Earth is also getting very thin.
    The north poll is alrady shifted 36° that will ended up in Siberia this is my opinion of all this catastrophic climate change is happening at this moment every where.

  6. Melvin Schultz | April 30, 2022 at 8:48 am | Reply

    From the thousands of grant absorbing armagheddon predictions since 1960, shouldn’t we all have been cooked to death, both poles melted and half if all lands been under seawater by now? How long are we supposed to fund this egghead BS before someone in power wakes up and the fraud trials begin? I have friends in Yellowknife, NWT, CA. It was its usual Speedo weather of -41.5C this winter. It SHOULD, according to the AGW cult be like Miami by now. BS!

  7. How about stopping people from selling bats for food or selling exotic rare animals as food items or folklore medical (magical?) food?

  8. These scientists have grants from Pfizer!

  9. Just found out that PBS sponsors this web sight and that explains a lot of the bogus info posted here. Also, many postings are from pseudoscience wackos trying to get grant money. This post is a perfect example.

    • Colin Collins | April 30, 2022 at 4:23 pm | Reply

      Scitechdaily has no sponsors, especially not PBS. Although you call it “pseudoscience”, the posts are peer-reviewed science from credible journals and universities.

    • Patrick–Your mental similarity to M. Taylor Greene is awesome:She doesn’t know that martial/marshal mean two very different things; you don’t know that sight/site–[not to mention cite] are not the same. So much for USA’s so-called “education system.”

  10. “It’s a really stunning example of just how well we can, actually, predict the future if we try.” Really…? You have evidence that you have accurately predicted the future? Just because your models all agree with each other (when you input the same assumptions, I presume).

  11. And these are the people that our world leaders are listening to. It is scary when these BS peddlers get worldwide exposure that influences major worldwide decisions that effect honest people’s lives. Will someone please flush this toilet?

  12. There’s that wonderful word “could”. They can predict whatever they like, as long as “could” is used. The problem is that “could” is the same as “could not”.

  13. Hypochondria is a known mental illness. Mixing science, politics and mental illness is a bad idea. mmm-k?

  14. This is an example of how the multiple layers of reinforcing bias, from infancy all the way through grant-funded PhD and publishing scientists, to the media leading with bleeding, all combine to create a mass hysteria and destructive coercive policies. Those in Denial are those who accept this whole climate orthodoxy, despite all the obvious problems with the totally political climate science field. Politics and science don’t mix, ever. The COVID distortions and Climate Change distortions are very similar. Both lead to mass psychosis and justification of centralized coercion (ask fascism).

    • RE “mass psychosis”

      The official framing of this “phenomenon” is misleading and wrong. The false hope-addicted psychologists and their acolytes want you to believe this is “just some temporary occasional” madness by the masses that has been going on since only about the 20th century when it is but a spike of a CHRONIC madness going on for aeons with “civilized” people —

      One of these mainstream psychologists who have been spreading this whitewashed reality, Dr. Desmet, also fails to see that the Covid Psyop is a TOTALLY deliberate ploy because he doesn’t think it’s ALL intentionally sinister. This makes him witting or unwitting controlled opposition.

      Worst of all, perhaps, the mass formation/mass psychosis notion frames the problem as the public being a mere unaccountable non-culpable victim in this phenomenon. Nothing could be further from the truth (see referenced source above)…

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