Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Saving Natural Places Can Help Reduce the Risk of Pandemics, CAP Analysis Says
Press Release

RELEASE: Saving Natural Places Can Help Reduce the Risk of Pandemics, CAP Analysis Says

Washington, D.C. — To reduce the risks of pandemics, the United States needs to act to combat wildlife trafficking, slow nature destruction, and protect the planet and the nation’s biodiversity, according to a new issue brief from the Center for American Progress.

“Protecting nature is our first, best and most cost-effective line of defense against future pandemics,” said Nicole Gentile, deputy director of Public Lands at CAP and co-author of the issue brief. “By integrating stronger nature protections into the foundation of how we approach disease prevention and response, we can safeguard human health and strengthen our nation’s economy.”

COVID-19 is a zoonose, or an infectious disease that spreads to humans from non-human animals. Almost two-thirds of all emerging diseases are zoonoses, and 71 percent of those originated in wildlife. These include some of the deadliest recent pandemics, including HIV-AIDS, Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and, now, COVID-19.

It’s no coincidence that the rise in wildlife-borne diseases has occurred alongside increasing human encroachment on nature and a rapidly changing climate. Three-quarters of the earth’s land area is now heavily altered by human use, and species extinctions is occurring at almost 1,000 times the natural rate.

In the U.S. alone, we lose a football field worth of open space every 30 seconds, and 1 in 5 native species is at risk of extinction. Habitat loss and overexploitation of wildlife, compounded by climate change, are driving factors in the disease boom.

The brief recommends three steps that the U.S. can take now to stem the tide:

  • Reduce dangerous human-wildlife interactions by fighting the illegal wildlife and timber trade
  • Protect nature’s benefits by conserving habitat and biodiversity and setting a national goal of protecting at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030
  • Create more close-to-home places to get outdoors

Read the issue brief: “To Save Ourselves, We Must Save Nature,” by Sahir Doshi and Nicole Gentile.

To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.

For more information, or to talk to an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at shananel@americanprogress.org, or 202-478-6327.