Tropical forests are being destroyed at alarming rates around the world, driving climate change and biodiversity loss, and intensifying poverty. The habitat loss from tropical deforestation is also leading to increased contact between humans and wildlife. This exposure increases incidence of zoonotic diseases, infectious diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. As the loss of tropical forests accelerates, the public health danger from deforestation is growing worse.
➙ Tropical deforestation and the destruction of wildlife habitat create the conditions for the emergence of new diseases to which humans
have little resistance, and which can become the basis for pandemics.
➙ Human encroachment into tropical forests—driven by land conversion for agriculture and demand for commodities like beef, soy, and palm oil—is leading to animal-human interactions that did not exist previously, enabling pathogens once found only in animals to jump to human hosts.
➙ COVID-19, like Ebola, SARS, Avian flu and other recent epidemics, is an infectious disease that originated from animals.
➙ The COVID-19 pandemic and the potential for future pandemics are closely tied to tropical deforestation, habitat loss and ecosystem decline, and the many ways that humanity is mismanaging nature.
But COVID-19 has also presented us with an unprecedented opportunity to change course and work toward a new vision of planetary health that includes protection and restoration of tropical forests. Halting and reversing tropical deforestation is a critical part of any strategy to reduce the likelihood of future pandemics, and to redefining our relationship with nature.
As spiritual communities, we understand the moral imperative to act in support of this new vision. Just as with the challenge of climate change, we are faced with the necessity to act now both to protect ourselves, and to bequeath a world to future generations that is not pandemic prone—a world that retains the natural ability to regulate disease. Such a world is not only necessary for our physical health but for our spiritual health as well. Acting to save tropical forests is not just a matter of sound environmental stewardship, but a spiritual act of courage, grace, and maturity.
This new resource for religious leaders and faith communities outlines how the COVID-19 pandemic is closely tied to destruction of the planet’s rainforests and associated habitat loss, and the many ways that humanity is mismanaging nature.
The primer explains how stopping tropical deforestation and conserving biodiversity are necessary steps to reduce disease risk and future pandemics, and outlines how religious communities can get involved to make rainforest protection and its connection to global health a moral concern.