Friday, December 9, 2022
Cameron Hood, Newsletter EditorJonathan Lambert
Public Health Reporter
Welcome to a special issue of Grid Health, bringing you stories on the intersections of health and politics, technology, climate change, misinformation and more. In today’s email:  
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The next week and a half will be enormously consequential for the future of biodiversity on Earth — humans included. 

Officials from around the world are gathered in Montreal for the United Nations’ big biodiversity meeting, COP15,
which kicked off Wednesday. After two years of covid delays and setbacks, they’ll (hopefully) hash out a plan to slow the extinction crisis that threatens to wipe out a million species over the next several decades.  

Saving biodiversity is good in and of itself. But, as
I’ve written before in this newsletter, it’s also crucial for public health in ways that may surprise you. The outcome of COP15 will have profound consequences for the health and well-being of everyone on Earth, both now and in the future. Here are my two big questions going into the meeting: 

🌏 Will countries agree to conserve 30 percent of their territory by 2030? 

The topline debate is how much of their lands and seas countries will agree to conserve. Biodiversity needs space to thrive, and protecting natural habitats from human development and deforestation is the best way to save species. It’s also crucial for our health.  

As humans cut down forests, we come into more contact with viruses lurking in other species. Deforestation has been linked to outbreaks of Ebola and malaria. Scientists estimate that about half of the over 1 million undescribed viruses out there have the potential to jump into humans and cause disease, or even the next pandemic.  
These events, called spillovers, are low-probability events individually. But the more forests we clear, the more we roll the dice. A
study out last month found that cutting down forests in Australia drove bats carrying the Hendra virus — a deadly horse pathogen that sometimes causes respiratory and neurological illness in humans — to farms and cities, where they were more likely to spark outbreaks. 

Scientists and policymakers have put forward the goal of
protecting 30 percent of the globe by 2030. That may not be enough in some places, but it’s an ambitious target that would nearly double the amount of currently protected land on Earth.  

If countries can agree on that 30 percent number and ensure those protections go in places with lots of biodiversity, it will go a long way to bolstering public health. Spillover events would be reduced, potentially sparing the globe of avoidable pandemics. Yet-to-be-discovered medications may be preserved in forests that would’ve otherwise been cleared. And healthy, intact ecosystems will help clean the air, filter water and store carbon — all of which impact our health. 

💰 Who’s going to pay for it all? 

Setting targets is the first step, but putting protections in place requires money that many biodiversity-rich nations don’t have. If COP15 stands a chance at succeeding, low- and middle-income countries will need financial assistance from wealthy nations, whose consumption is one of the main drivers of deforestation. 

An earlier draft framework proposed that developed nations transfer $10 billion a year to lower-income countries to help pay for biodiversity protections. Some experts are calling for an annual fund six times larger. Fights over funding have stalled meetings leading up to Montreal, and I’ll be paying close attention to what countries decide over the next two weeks. $60 billion a year may seem like a lot of money, but it could pay for itself many times over in future benefits to public health. 



💠 Inside China’s covid tipping-point: Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first known covid cases emerged three years ago, was also the site of one of many recent protests nationwide against China’s zero-covid policy. The Chinese government this week took a sharp turn away from zero-covid. China Reporter Lili Pike gathered testimonials from Wuhan that described life under lockdowns and the sea change in public attitudes toward the zero-covid policy

Sick days, pensions and the threat of a rail strike: The standoff between the railroad unions, their members, the White House and the railroads over sick days has brought new attention to the unique legal structure around railroad employment, Domestic Economics Reporter Matthew Zeitlin writes. The relatively generous retirement and pension system — although one that has its own strictures, like having to wait until a retirement age even after completing 30 years of service — has been cited by some railroad workers as a reason to continue working in the industry even as its operations have become more hostile to employees
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👋 Thanks for reading. Until next week, take care. –Jon

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Marc Lajoie, Alex Leeds Matthews, Cameron Hood and Lillian Barkley also contributed to this edition of Grid Health.
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