Let’s face it: Global warming is happening, and it affects all of us. And unfortunately, we now have more disastrous effects to worry about other than extreme temperatures, a decreased polar bear population, rising sea levels, and melting ice caps. The melting ice and permafrost (a frozen layer of soil, rock, or sediment) is causing some old bacteria and diseases like anthrax to be released back into the environment, which could infect insects and animals and can spread to humans.
In an article for the BBC, evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie at Aix-Marseille University in France, says, “Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark. Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past.”
This isn’t the case with all bacteria that has been buried, but anthrax is unique in that it has spores which can survive the freezing temperatures.
You may have heard of the case of the 12-year-old boy who died in August 2016 after being infected by anthrax in western Siberia.
It is believed that a reindeer was infected with the anthrax bacteria over 75 years ago, died, and the frozen carcass was trapped under a layer of permafrost that thawed in the summer of 2016. The anthrax was revived and infected the food and water supply and was then spread to humans, killing the young boy and hospitalizing 20 others.
And scientists believe this could happen again.
So that’s awesome.
“The possibility that we could catch a virus from a long-extinct Neanderthal suggests that the idea that a virus could be ‘eradicated’ from the planet is wrong, and gives us a false sense of security,” says Claverie. “This is why stocks of vaccine should be kept, just in case.”
In 2014, Claverie began studying the DNA of permafrost layers and has found quite a bit of evidence that bacteria is present.
Claverie also says we really have no way of knowing how much these diseases are going to effect the population in the future, but it is very possible we could see more outbreaks of bacteria such as anthrax and botulism.
The main thing we should be focusing on now is educating ourselves and playing an active role in keeping global warming under control. Just because the president of the United States decided to pull out of the international Paris climate agreement (something nearly 200 other countries endorsed), it doesn’t mean we can’t do our part. In fact, it means it is more important than ever to take this seriously and take action now.
Even if it is just little things like updating thermostats, recycling, and using CFL bulbs. If we all do our part, if we all make a few minor adjustments, the overall impact will be huge.
Most importantly, we must educate ourselves and our children on the issues that have the biggest effect on our planet. And when the time comes, we need to vote for those who have a proven track record of prioritizing climate change. This is vitally important, folks. (Two great sites to visit are climate.gov and Climate Central.)
If you won’t do it for our children and grandchildren and the rest of the free world, then do it so you don’t get anthrax.