Many people around the world, rightfully, are focused on the coronavirus (also referred to as COVID-19), its spread and impact. This past week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic. WHO defines a pandemic as a disease for which people do not have an immunity and has spread across the globe.
Pandemics don’t occur often, but when they do, the results can be truly catastrophic. One of the most devastating pandemics occurred during the 14th century and was known at the Black Death. That pandemic killed an estimated 75-200 million people, which at the time represented 20 percent or more of the world’s population. Another major pandemic, occurring during World War I, came to be known as the Spanish flu, because it was first reported in Spain. That pandemic was estimated to have killed at least 50 million people, more than were killed as a direct result of the war.
One of the reasons why those two pandemics were so destructive was that the science of medicine was still in its infancy compared to today. Even in 1918, at the height of the Spanish flu, there were no laboratory tests to identify the disease and there were no antiviral or antibiotic drugs available to fight it. Today, because of major advances in science and medicine, we are much better prepared to deal with a pandemic.
But what about religion and its role? With the world facing a new major health crisis, with the coronavirus continuing to spread at an accelerated rate as of this writing, what does religion have to offer to counter its devastating effects? Apparently, very little. In fact, most major religious figures around the world are pointing to science, not faith, to combat the disease. More and more, leaders of the major religious faiths are telling their members to stay away from their churches, mosques, temples and synagogues and practice social distancing, as medical experts advise.
The same dependency on science can be said about the crisis we’re facing with climate change. Again, any solutions to the problem will have to be based on science and reason, not religious superstition and dogma.
When the world needs to come together and unite to solve these major problems, religion stands more as a division between people than as a unifying force needed to bring them together. So, with religion having so little to offer during a time of major crisis, why have religion? Good question!
The Relation of Coronavirus to Climate Change
With the world’s focus on the coronavirus, it is important to note the relationship between such diseases and climate change. Scientists have been predicting for some time that climate change would increase the spread of dangerous diseases and raise the risk of a global pandemic. Why?
As areas warm from climate change and humans continue to encroach on the living spaces of other species, habitats for disease carrying insects such as mosquitos expand farther and farther away from the Equator, exposing more and more humans to the dangers of disease. The risk is also heightened when animal habitats are destroyed and animals are forced to hunt for food closer to human populations.
We can’t say (at this time) that the coronavirus is directly linked to climate change. We can say, however, based on the evidence to date from our experiences with Ebola, the Zika virus and other diseases that, as climate change worsens, the threat from dangerous diseases is likely to increase.