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Thu Mar 25, 2021, 02:06 PM

Diseases Rise Where Forests Fall: Zoonotic diseases, deforestation and palm oil plantations.

The title of this post, in part, comes from the Nature News Feed, which links to a newspaper article (The Guardian) which links to a scientific paper, this one: Outbreaks of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases Are Associated With Changes in Forest Cover and Oil Palm Expansion at Global Scale (Serge Morand, Claire Lajaunie, Front. Vet. Sci., 24 March 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2021.661063)

I believe this journal is open, so there is little need to talk at length about what's in it, one can form one's own opinion by opening it and reading it. (It's not overly technical.)

A few excerpts are in order however. From the introduction:

The COVID-19 pandemic has called to investigate the consequences of biodiversity loss for the emergence of zoonotic diseases (14). Deforestation is a major cause of biodiversity loss (5) and the latest report on forests by United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has emphasized the negative impact of deforestation on human health (6). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations (UN) specifically refers to the importance of forests. More precisely, the SDG 15 has two indicators with the first one that measures the proportion of the global forest area and the second one that assesses progress toward Sustainable Forest Management. The Aichi target 5 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) calls for a sharp decrease of the rate of loss of forests which should be to zero by 2020 (7). The Aichi targets 14 and 15, respectively, highlight the role of ecosystems in contributing to essential services and contributing to health as well as biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation (7).

According to Curtis et al. (8) a quarter of global forest loss is due to the conversion of forest to produce commodities (beef, soy, palm oil, and wood fiber). The overall rate of this commodity-driven deforestation has not declined since 2001 (9). Forest conversion to commodities such as oil palm may affect several ecosystem functions such as carbon sequestration and soil regeneration (10). However, the loss of disease regulation during forest conversion has not been well-investigated. In Southeast Asia, a recent meta-analysis showed that increasing prevalence of vector-borne diseases such as dengue or chikungunya was associated with land conversion, including forests, to commercial plantations such as teak, rubber and oil palm (11). Nonetheless, it remains difficult to disentangle the respective influences of forest loss and conversion, other land use changes, demography, increased human and agricultural encroachments or the pressures of hunting on the rise of infectious diseases. Several studies have as exemplified that multiple factors are responsible of the outbreaks of Ebola in Africa (12, 13), Nipah (14) or Plasmodium knowlesi in Southeast Asia (15). Not only the emergence of new diseases, but also epidemics of infectious diseases appear to be linked to deforestation as recently evidenced for malaria epidemics in Brazil (16)...


An image from the paper:



The caption:

Figure 1. (A) Number of outbreaks of zoonotic diseases worldwide from 1990 to 2016 (data obtained from GIDEON). (B) Number of outbreaks of vector-borne diseases worldwide from 1990 to 2016 (data obtained from GIDEON). (C) Global change in forest cover (in share of global land) from 1990 to 2016 (data obtained from World Bank). (D) Relationship between the number of outbreaks of zoonotic diseases worldwide and the change in forest cover from 1990 to 2016. (E) Relationship between the number of outbreaks of vector-borne diseases worldwide and the change in forest cover from 1990 to 2016. Fitted smooth regressions (in blue) with confidence intervals (in light blue) are shown.


I will comment - given my consistent views on the topic of so called "renewable energy" - that the rise in the number of palm oil plantations, which are generally planted in clear cut land in former rain forest, is very much connected with demand connected with the setting of "renewable energy portfolio standards" in Europe, under the assumption that biofuels are carbon neutral. This of course, ignores the fact that tankers traversing, say, the Suez Canal, loaded with palm oil are powered by bunker oil obtained from dangerous fossil fuels. This is explicitly discussed in the brief conclusion to this paper which I will excerpt below.

One sees a lot of webinars, seminars and papers talking about "climate justice," these days. I note that the only people left on the planet who have always survived, for generations, on so called "renewable energy" are poor people. There are reasons that rich people abandoned biofuels and other forms of so called "renewable energy" in the 19th and early 20th century. Only one of those reasons involved deforestation of Europe. Justice, such as it is, calls into question whether the rise of zoonotic diseases among the inhabitants of South East Asia, the overwhelming majority of whom could never even dream of owning a BMW X5 X540D running on "up to" B7 diesel fuel, so that Europeans can feel "green" is an issue in climate justice, as they will bear the disease burden, and not the Europeans demanding the fuel. (That BMW X5 X540D a "green car.") Just as it is the case that enslaved children in the "Democratic Republic of the Congo" dig cobalt for "green" electric cars, it is not the Europeans who suffer so Europeans, and certainly Americans, can all feel "green."

Life can be obscene, and then you die.

(It's not all fuel of course; food processing is also involved in palm oil plantations.)

The comments on palm oil plantations and biofuels from the paper:

Oil Palm and Epidemics
Vijay et al. (47) have emphasized the negative impact of oil palm expansion on biodiversity, especially in Southeast Asia and South America in comparison to Africa. Our results clearly show an association between the increasing number of outbreaks of vector-borne diseases and the increase of oil palm plantations. Interestingly, among them there were countries that were not affected by deforestation, such as Thailand, or that actively promoted reforestation, such as China and Vietnam.

A meta-analysis quantified the exposure to infectious diseases in relation to land uses in Southeast Asia showing a strong effect for oil palm monoculture on the risks of infectious diseases, either zoonotic or vector-borne (46). Strong effects of oil palm monoculture were also observed for rickettsial diseases (scrub typhus, spotted fever group) and malaria. Studies have also documented increase of mosquito-borne viruses, such as Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti, in oil palm and rubber plantations (48, 49) favoring the spread of dengue, zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever...

...Recommendations for Science and Policy

Based on the results of our study, two main outputs should be stated. First, emerging zoonotic and vector-borne diseases are important threats, but it is also crucial to acknowledge the high burdens of neglected zoonotic and vector borne diseases in tropical countries. Second, while our study gives new support for a link between global deforestation and outbreaks of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases, our study also evidences that reforestation and plantations may also contribute to epidemics of infectious diseases.

In 2015, representatives of civil society from across Asia, Africa, and Latin America called on the European Parliament to halt the demand for biofuels in Europe and refrain from using biofuels derived from oil palm plantations considering that industrial oil palm plantations are one of the world's largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. While the European Union proposes to phase out palm oil-based biofuels by 2030, Malaysia follows Indonesia and prepares dispute settlement proceedings before the World Trade Organization against the European Union's proposal which constitutes a damage to the oil palm industry. Our result shows that oil palm plantations may also constitute a threat to global health by favoring zoonotic and vector-borne diseases.

Then, what is needed is a better way to stop both the loss of biodiverse native forests and a better management of afforestation to increase their contribution not only to biodiversity, or carbon sequestration, but to local livelihood and health.


By way of full disclosure, I will concede that I once gave serious thought to entering the biodiesel business, about 20 years ago.

I didn't do it, but I thought about it.

One should be able to change one's ideas as one accumulates information.

The idea that so called "renewable energy" will save the world is widely held and wildly popular. The persistence of this idea is one of the reasons that we see figures like this:

Recent Daily Average Mauna Loa CO2


March 24: Unavailable
March 23: 418.74 ppm
March 22: 417.19 ppm
March 21: 417.85 ppm
March 20: 418.46 ppm
Last Updated: March 25, 2021




That is a very, very, very scary graphic.

It is a good idea, I believe, for humanity, if we all do our best to learn before we die, for as long as we are learning, we are alive, and as long as we can leave our former ideas behind when better ideas are obviated, as old as we may be physically, we are young. It is our responsibility to the future to think of, for, and like the young.

Have a nice evening.

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Reply Diseases Rise Where Forests Fall: Zoonotic diseases, deforestation and palm oil plantations. (Original post)
NNadir Mar 25 OP
Warpy Mar 25 #1
Faux pas Mar 25 #2

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Thu Mar 25, 2021, 02:17 PM

1. We're seeing the end of a medical golden age

in which antibiotics and vaccinations increased lifespans worldwide,mostly by decreasing infant and child mortality rates. That era is ending thanks to a combination of multidrug bacterial resistance and quickly mutating and emerging viruses.

Covid 19 was a warning shot. The next one might emerge in a time of global climatic pressure and food shortage and that has been the recipe for the worst pandemics in history. As bad as Covid has been, its mortality rate has been low, even when you use the "excess death" figures instead of the PCR confirmed cases. The mortality from smallpox was 30%. The mortality from the fourteenth century Y pestis strain was as high as 90% in some villages. Whatever comes next--and it might be a well known bug with a vicious mutation--might very well be that bad. Microbes are definitely on the move, and that's if we stop cutting down forests to make suburbs.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Thu Mar 25, 2021, 02:20 PM

2. So

glad I live in the middle of a forest by a river in Washington state.

Interesting post, thank you!

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