Sustainability is at the Heart of Infectious Disease Prevention

by Faiza Maqbool

Faiza Maqbool

Why is sustainability so important to me? It is because everything we need for the survival of our present and future generations, and their well being depends –  either directly or indirectly – on our current ecosystem and natural environment. 

As a mother, it has never been more important to consider sustainability as the most pressing issue of our age. According to current estimates, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to cause global temperature increases of 2.6C-4.8C by 2100. The thought that my children and their children will be inhabitants of that warmer earth worries me. 

It is evident that the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions are China and the United States. So the international dimension, inevitably,  creates a free-rider problem between countries, but it is also undeniably true that it is in each country’s best interest to bear some of the costs of climate change. 

If we continue the current rates of CO2 emissions, there will major humanitarian damage, including more severe weather, food crises, and the spread of infectious diseases which would disproportionately affect the world’s most vulnerable populations. 

A critical, but  less talked about, aspect of climate change is the strong correlation of climate change and the spread of deadly infectious diseases. Recent evidence indicates that “nearly 75 percent of all new, emerging, or re-emerging diseases affecting humans at the beginning of the 21st century are zoonotic.”  Some of these zoonotic (emerging in animals) diseases include Ebola, malaria, dengue, AIDS, SARS, H5N1 avian flu and the H1N1 flu. Due to deforestation and food shortages, increasing numbers of infected wild animals are coming into contact with humans.

I believe It has never been more critical to protect and ensure the balance of ecosystems. As a result, we will ensure our survival from a range of natural disasters, most importantly disease.

The inter-generational aspect is even more troublesome. The worst outcomes of climate change are remote, decades or centuries out, resulting in little motivation for us to act now to prevent these distant effects.

We have an obligation to people who do not yet exist to ensure the survival of the human race. We must take significant steps towards keeping this intricate balance of nature today ensuring the continuity human civilization tomorrow.


Earth Institute | Columbia University, How Climate Change Is Exacerbating the Spread of Disease, 4 Sep 2014