Planet’s life support systems must be careful to prevent ‘The Next Wuhan’

London – As the climate impact and the COVID-19 pandemic take their toll, people and nature must become resilient, Johan Rockstrom must be reconsidered.

When the coronavirus pandemic started earlier this year and countries began competing for a limited global supply of medical masks and other protective equipment, Finland did not participate in the hunt.

Instead, it looked to its national stock of medical equipment and food, which it developed during the Cold War era and maintained on an annual budget, even as Scandinavian neighbors like Sweden demolished their stores to save costs.

“Finland could only open its cupboard and supply all the hospitals, and Sweden rushed (equipment) to market,” said Johan Rockstrom, Swedish co-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany.

As the world experiences increasing and severe shocks – from the COVID-19 pandemic to the extreme weather linked to climate change – he will have to reevaluate his priorities, from the focus on efficiency to the value of mutual commitment, he said.

This could go as far as fundamentally rethinking how important planetary life support systems – such as the rapidly disappearing Amazon rainforest – are managed as a global resource, said Rockstrom, a geoscientist and leading thinker on resilience.

“If the Amazon rainforest collapses, we will lose jobs in Germany,” he said.

“It will create so much havoc in the climate system” as temperature rises accelerate and rainfall shifts, he warned.

“If something unacceptable happens in one corner of the planet, it sends bills all over the world,” he added.

“We can not allow wet markets that lead to zoonotic mutations, and in the same way, not cause the ice sheet of West Antarctica to collapse”, raising the sea level worldwide by an estimated 3.3 meters (10 feet) .

The use of a growing ability to digitally monitor minute-by-minute what is happening worldwide – using everything from satellite data to cell phone tracking systems – can provide earlier warnings and greater protection for endangered systems.

“The next Wuhan” – the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic originated – must be traced much earlier, he said, pointing out that the global damage caused by the virus “is exactly what could happen” if the Amazon disappears, causing a catastrophic climate. alter.


To address a growing range of threats, human systems need to become more like healthy natural systems – diverse and with a lot of duplication, he said in a telephone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In nature, if a fire, drought or disease strikes, or one plant or pollinator is temporarily or permanently extinct, others can usually take its place, Rockstrom said.

“Ecological diversity is a way to reduce risks,” he said. “If you want to recover to COVID-19 in a resilient way, you probably want to invest in diversity”.

This could mean, for example, cultivating a wider variety of food crops, rather than the current few rice strains, maize, wheat and soybeans, to ensure that a crop pandemic affecting one variety does not wipe out too much of the global food supply. .

The same principle can also be applied to ways in which people can make a living – especially where there are currently scarce options – and how they obtain reliable information, he said.

Building stronger resilience could also mean expanding the range of countries that manufacture key products such as computer chips, a lesson learned after Thailand’s largest supplier shut down flooding in 2011, disrupting supply chains worldwide .

“If you have more such shocks, you want to invest in a certain amount of redundancy – a degree of slack in the system,” Rockstrom said, although it “contradicts the usual logic” of running a business for maximum efficiency and at low cost.

Similarly, the value of increasing connectivity may need to be reconsidered in a world where a deadly pandemic can travel the world quickly with few obstacles.

Global connections mean, for example, that food surpluses can be used in one place to make up for shortages elsewhere, but an excessive dependence on trade can lead to conflict and hunger if exporting countries decide to keep scarce food at home in an emergency.

“This balance between connectivity is fundamental to resilience,” Rockstrom said.


The surest way to increase resilience and reduce human risks is to protect the planet’s endangered natural systems, he said.

Half of the nature on land has already been destroyed to make way for agriculture, cities and other human needs, he said.

Resources that previously felt unlimited have become scarce and the pressure is mounting on what is left.

“We seem to have reached a saturation point about what the planet can handle,” Rockstrom said. It is being shown in warmer temperatures, melting ice, turbulent weather, more forest fires and shifting disease threats, he noted.

To change this, scientists are urging governments to protect 30% of land and oceans by 2030 to halt climate change and halt the loss of biodiversity.

Doing so would save $ 5 for every $ 1 spent in terms of boosting farm and forest yields, improving freshwater supplies, conserving wildlife and combating planetary warming, economists said. an article by Julie said.

“The smartest investment we can make is to keep nature intact,” Rockstrom said, calling for a “nature loss” goal along with emerging net release targets.

He said he was reconsidering how to manage the planet’s natural systems – from climate heating of methane trapped in the melting Siberian permafrost to Greenland’s thin ice sheets – but that it was crucial for the future of humanity.

“The definition of resilience worldwide is to keep the living systems that regulate the state of the planet intact,” he added.

(Posted by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; Edited by Megan Rowling. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charity arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit


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