It’s spooky season! We must fix our broken relationship with nature, says disease detective Neil Vora on Climate Curious.

Transcript: Halloween special: Zombies, vampires and fungal horror shows, with disease detective Neil Vora

TEDxLondon Climate Curious

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It’s spooky season! We welcome disease detective Neil Vora to Climate Curious with co-hosts Maryam Pasha and Ben Hurst to explain why ‘The Last of Us’ scenario isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds… Thanks to our warming petri dish of a planet, a fungal horror show might be on the cards! The solution? Protect biodiversity and wean ourselves off of fossil fuels so we can halt the loss of nature and slow climate change to prevent viral spillovers!

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Neil Vora 0:12
I focus particularly on three of those threats which are climate change, pandemics and loss of biodiversity because we have common solutions in some instances for all three, which is repairing our broken relationship with nature.

Ben Hurst 0:24
This is climate curious, the podcast for people who are bored, scared or confused by climate change.

Maryam Pasha 0:31
I Marian Pichette, the director and curator at TEDx London and the co host of this podcast, alongside the amazing men.

Ben Hurst 0:38
Hi, I’m Ben Hurst, activist and advocate exploring what positive masculinities can look like and self confessed climate Nomi

Maryam Pasha 0:50
bugs, creepy crawlies other unmentionable creatures that we can mention because they begin with an S and I’m really afraid of them. We love Halloween, London. And we were thinking as always, we could bring some good old spooky goodness into our event

Ben Hurst 1:07
this evening. And then we remembered Oh, it feels like I’m reading a spooky story. And then we remembered, oh, wait, we’re living in a real life horror story. Right now. It is called Climate Change, which is pretty dark. But we were reminded of an awesome speaker that we met the other day at TED countdown, sorry this year. And he worked this wild breakout article in The New York Times explaining how the Last of Us the TV show, and the video game was pretty accurate. Because our planet is literally a warming petri dish waiting for its next fungal zombie disease to run rampant. Sorry, sorry. That’s Sorry, sorry. You’ve had too many climate solutions this evening. Actually, no, that’s not to say that he’s gonna have climate solutions as well. But we’ll get we’ll get we’ll get into it. All right. Let

Maryam Pasha 2:02
me tell you about him. Our guest this evening is a physician with Conservation International. He is a disease detective working in pandemic prevention. He’s worked around the world responding to Ebola outbreaks and leaving New York City’s COVID-19 contact tracing programme.

Ben Hurst 2:18
And he also has some amazing tattoos, which I will tell you about in a little bit.

Maryam Pasha 2:22
So on a mission to connect health to the climate crisis, please welcome Dr. Neil hora.

Okay, so the Oh, thank you so much for joining us. We’re super excited to have this conversation. Oh,

Neil Vora 2:41
thank you for having me. It’s such an honour to be here and to join this amazing event. Leo

Ben Hurst 2:46
is everyone’s favourite person. Did you know that? Literally, every person backstage was

Maryam Pasha 2:57
just jealous, yeah. Okay, so let me start with the fact that when I have people here seen the last of us, or played The Last of Us a little bit, right, so I was like, they’re obviously watching it for the pot. And it was really, really surprised, actually, that in that opening scene, they’re not giving anything away here. You start, they start talking about climate change, right away. And it, you know, we’re not going to talk a lot about funguses. And if you didn’t know, that’s what the last of us it’s about. It’s about fungus zombies, which we don’t get talked about. Because that makes that upsets Ben. I haven’t seen the last of us want to talk about and we’re gonna get into a little bit about why you wrote that article for The New York Times and what it means. But before we start any of that, can we know what you do? But can you tell us a little bit more about you?

Neil Vora 3:50
Yeah, sure. I guess I’d like to say that I’m a doctor who specialises in rainforest conservation. You know, for as long as I can remember, I wanted to do public health. My dad was born in India, and he actually had smallpox as a child. And so over 70 years later, you can still see the legacy that the disease left on him in the form of scars on his face. And so growing up, I would look at him and I learned very early on about the field of public health and the amazing work that public health workers did in the 60s and 70s. To eradicate smallpox, that’s a gift that keeps on giving, none of us essentially have to worry about smallpox through natural transmission. But at the same time, I also love animals. I mean, I’ve been obsessed with animals also for as long as I can remember. And so I decided that I would go into a medical career, but she ate my career at saving nature for people and I’m living the dream right now. I get to work for Conservation International, and I talk about saving rainforests every day so that we can keep people alive. So it’s a it’s a dream job.

Maryam Pasha 4:57
It’s also them and we want to actually talk a lot about that. I’m, but before, because I just need to ask a little bit more about The Last of Us is that yeah, I’ll allow them. And this article because I was working with Neil, on his TED Talk, which will come out shortly. And you sent me this article from the New York Times, which I then read and like Tomic sent to everyone. Tell us a little bit about what was in that article and why and what how that relates to funguses. And climate change? Yeah,

Neil Vora 5:26
well, first thing I will say is that I love zombies and vampires, right? And this, this is going

Ben Hurst 5:34
to be stressful. feeling. Feeling? Sorry, no,

Neil Vora 5:39
so the show is very good. And if you just very briefly, the idea is that climate change has led to a mutation of a fungal species that normally infects ants, and essentially turns them into zombies. But climate change has caused that fungus to evolve into one that can infect people and turn them into zombies. And so it’s a very scary story. Now, I don’t think that we are facing a zombie apocalypse anytime soon.

Ben Hurst 6:08
We actually are imminently facing that because the fungus is infected. Sorry, carry on. Sorry. Yeah,

Neil Vora 6:13
so it to be very clear, though. No, no zombie apocalypse. As far as I can tell, though, there are a lot of interesting parasites out there that can be on this fungal fungal disease in ants that can turn a number of different organisms, essentially into zombies. Fascinating stuff. But

Maryam Pasha 6:27
that’s another episode of Benin.

Ben Hurst 6:34
Sorry, I’m sorry. This is not gonna translate well to a podcast, but I am freaking out. This is

Neil Vora 6:42
a in all seriousness, this is actually scary stuff. I mean, in that infectious diseases, we’re gonna get to a better I’m

Maryam Pasha 6:51
gonna trust me, we’re gonna get to the stuff. That’s reassuring.

Neil Vora 6:54
But what concerns me is that climate change is increasing the threat of fungal epidemics, and also increasing our vulnerability to those fungal epidemics. So what do I mean by that? There are over a million different species of fungi. We’ve only characterised around 5% of them. What sir, what does characterise meaning, like identify them. And only a small proportion of that 5% can actually cause human disease. Now, part of the reason why we don’t see more fungal diseases in humans is that there’s this thermal barrier that many fungi thrive at temperatures lower than the human body temperature. Right. So we’re normally at around 3637 Centigrade. But with climate change, we might be seeing evolutionary pressures on fungi such that they can adapt to live out warmer and warmer temperatures. Making some capable is going on. Yeah, no, that’s that’s one set of concerns. There’s actually one species of fungal disease that’s very concerned called Canada Oris. That is spreading in hospital settings and healthcare facilities, that in some outbreaks of this of this fungal disease. Again, in hospitalised individuals 50% of people might die, right. But these, again, are people who are already very sick. But one theory for how this fungus emerged back in 2009, when it was first recognised, is because of climate change. That may be because of climate change. This yeast developed the ability to live at warmer temperatures made its way onto birds, that then made us wait and to people, right. So that’s, that’s one set of concerns. Another concern is that because of climate change, we’re going to see more floods, we’re going to see more drought scenarios. And with flooding in some areas with droughts and other areas, we might see the spread of existing fungal diseases into a wider geographic area. Right. So that’s the increased threat. But at the same time, we are becoming more vulnerable in several different ways. First of all, climate change is causing epidemics of kidney disease in certain parts of the world because of the excess heat. Kidney disease increases our vulnerability to infectious diseases. In some instances, we’re seeing malnutrition, we’re gonna see more and more now malnutrition. And again, that’ll increase our susceptibility to infectious diseases. And the area that I work on a lot is zoonotic diseases, I tend to focus on viruses. And we’re going to see more and more zoonotic viruses are emerged because of climate change. And other drivers. When I say zoonotic viruses, that means viruses that are normally in animals that then jump into people,

Ben Hurst 9:39
oh, swine flu and all of them things there, right? Yeah,

Neil Vora 9:42
yeah. So swine flu is an example Ebola, probably also COVID. And, you know, we saw with HIV sadly in the 80s, a rise of opportunistic fungal infections, and it was many of people don’t necessarily as HIV suppressed. Since the immune system, right, we saw something similar with COVID, that there was a rise of fungal disease. So the point here is that fungal disease are a major blind spot. And I think we need to be paying more attention to them.

Maryam Pasha 10:11
So this is why he wrote the article. Yeah, cuz it is like a bit of a blind spot, right? And we don’t, we can’t treat those as of now. Those kinds of fungal is not

Neil Vora 10:21
that well, right. So the other problem is that fungal cells are somewhat similar to human cells compared to like a bacteria or a virus. And so the medicines we use to treat fungal disease can often have very severe side effects in people. So we don’t even have that many good medicines. No licenced vaccine as of now, right?

Maryam Pasha 10:40

Ben Hurst 10:41
Sorry, for context, I just want you all to know that I’m actually learning this all at the same time, there’s been no like, pre conversation where I’ve been exposed to this information. This is like petrified me. They’re just casually sitting here like, Oh, we don’t have any solutions. You can’t tell we do have so bad, this is really bad. Okay.

Maryam Pasha 11:00
You and everyone on a journey right now. Okay, we’ve talked a little bit about that. Can we zoom out for a second? Because you’ve talked about climate change? And its impact on like, funguses? Let’s say, What about the just to say, for me, one of the things that’s really interesting here is that we just don’t often think about climate change and health in these kinds of many intersections, right? We often have like, maybe we think about, like, extreme heat, or something like that. But I want to talk about these intersections of, of climate and health and, and what that why that’s a greater threat today, like what’s happening.

Neil Vora 11:38
So someone else, several other people have said this before me, I’m just quoting them. But the human face of climate change is health. The way that many people will experience climate change is because of a worsening health condition that they will face themselves or one of their loved ones. And the World Health Organisation even considers climate change, the greatest threat to human health we face today. This is not some distant threat. People are dying right now, because of climate change. Every day, we hear about floods around the world. I live in New York City in New York City just like a few months ago. I mean, one thing I’m obsessed with jujitsu, I go to the jujitsu gym, I was like five o’clock, I leave at like seven o’clock at night. And suddenly everything. You know, I couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of me, right? Because wildfire smoke, smog had come in from Canada, right? And that causes worsening asthma exacerbates existing lung disease. The point here is that climate change is killing us. And we have to understand the intersectionality of these crises. We’re facing multiple converging existential threats, and we’re addressing them as silos. But the solutions to these existential threats of pandemics, climate change, the loss of biodiversity will exist in a transdisciplinary space. And that’s why we have to start thinking about how climate is affecting human health is affecting biodiversity is affecting so many other aspects of society, such as economy.

Ben Hurst 13:12
You’re looking at I’m sorry, I will not be able to be helpful.

Maryam Pasha 13:18
When you have questions, you just, I’ve got many questions, you go. Okay, so we’ve got this conversion threats. But you specifically work on nature. Yeah, talk to us about that.

Neil Vora 13:32
For many, many years, I was made to feel ashamed of caring about nature, you know, I went to this medical training. Yeah. And, you know, the messaging I was getting was that, you know, you focus on humans, focusing on trees, or polar bears, or whatever it is, is a distraction from saving humans. But the reality is, is that we need nature to survive. Without nature, we’re not going to thrive as a species. Everything is interdependent. And that’s what we seem to have forgotten we, we seem to have gone down this track of human exceptionalism, that somehow humans are different. And again, I’m just quoting someone else. Human humans, we’re not a part apart from nature, we are a part of nature. And so the point here is that my work is about trying to save nature for people and I focused specifically on trying to save rainforests to prevent future outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Ben Hurst 14:38
Right? Yeah, that makes sense. Because we’re in theory, or in practice, actually, we’re just another animal that lives on the planet, right? Like, we’re not actually any different. We are opposable funds. Yeah, buildings and stuff, but ads have built in so we’re not that different. Like we’re not Yeah, as different as we think we are. Yeah, you’re Yeah. And if we’re saving it for animals, and we should we’re also saving that for ourselves. I guess you’re

Neil Vora 14:59
absolutely right. We’re not going to have clean water, we’re not going to have food. But we heard about peatlands and the importance of of that for our water supply. I mean, we need nature to survive is at the end of the day, we won’t have food, we won’t have water, we will have good mental health, we won’t have protection from infectious disease. We won’t have medicines, you know, nature’s medicine chest. And we, you know, are basically throwing it in the trash when we have so many. And so many diseases that are currently difficult to treat.

Ben Hurst 15:30
So, I might be jumping ahead here, correct me if I’m wrong? You How did you I don’t understand how the work that you do. Do you work with people? Or do you work with animals? Do you work with rainforests,

Neil Vora 15:42
I work behind a computer Alliance and a lot of emails. But I mostly I mostly do policy advocacy. And more recently, I have the great honour of being a co chair for a new Lancet Commission, the lancet is a medical journal. And so I have two amazing co chairs and, and we have around 30 Brilliant commissioners from around the world. And together we are trying to basically lead a scientific effort to look at how to prevent pandemics. And so I do science and policy work.

Maryam Pasha 16:14
So when I think I think the question you’re asking, I’m gonna pick out a little bit, which is this idea of you mentioned rainforest that you work specifically on right, but specifically on rain forests. And I know that you cover this in your TED talk, but can you give us like a bird’s eye view of the relationship specifically with rainforests and health and, and why these two have these interactions?

Neil Vora 16:35
So rainforests have many health benefits, right? medicines, food, biodiversity, right. And that’s like the big picture mental health. I focus specifically on the infectious disease side, right. So just take a step back. Since at least the 1940s, we have seen infectious diseases increasingly emerge around the world. And most of those emerging infectious diseases originate in animals, and then jump into people, we call that spillover. And so when we’re when we’re when we’re trying to understand why spill overs are increasing around the world, it’s important to recognise that is because of human activities, human activities, such as deforestation, wildlife trade, the way we raise farmed animals, and human activities that lead to climate change, right? And we can we can dive deeper into the deforestation there’s at least three different reasons why deforestation, so clearing and degrading tropical forests leads to more infectious disease emergence. Reason number one is that when you clear forests, you create this edge, where people then whether intentionally or not start interacting more with the forest. Right. So they build roads, they build towns, farms, whatever it is. And so there’s more opportunities for people to interact with wildlife, and then for those wildlife pirates to jump viruses to jump into people. Reason number two, is that just like us, when we lose our home, we get stressed, we’re more likely to get sick, you know, with weather a cold or something more severe. Same thing goes for animals, when you’re clear cutting the forest, we’re stressing out animals, leading them to be more likely to get sick and then pass on are not necessarily safe, but more likely to get infected with with pathogens, and then pass those pathogens on to us. And finally, when we clear forests, we lead to loss of biodiversity. So the variety of life in that area. Biodiversity is a good thing for our health. But when we what research has shown is that when you leave when you clear those forests and have less biodiversity, the animals that tend to disappear, are ones that can only live in the forest, but the ones that survive are ones that can live alongside people. Those ones that survive and can live alongside people are also the same types of species that can harbour pathogens that can then go on to infect us. And examples of where deforestation has led to outbreaks include Ebola, and probably Nipah virus Nipah virus was discovered in the 90s. In Malaysia, when it caused a major outbreak with with where people experienced a brain infection deeper virus kills, in some outbreaks more than 50% of people that it infects very severe infection. And again, because of that clear cutting of forests in Malaysia was one weeding hypothesis is that bats got displaced. So they started living in the pig farms that were put in place were put in those areas where forests used to exist, the pigs got infected with that virus and they then pass it on to people.

Ben Hurst 19:31
Is this what people were saying about COVID as well? Is that the same? Am I making this up? Is that a bad link? No, it’s a we’re saying that it came from bats, right? Yeah,

Neil Vora 19:38
you’re entirely right. There’s many Corona viruses that are related to the virus that causes COVID that had been found in bats. And the science now fairly well, the science very strongly shows that wildlife like wildlife markets were the origin of the COVID pandemic. And I know there’s there are other theories about a lab leak. But again, if you look at the peer reviewed science, it looks very strongly like it was wildlife markets. But even if you disregard that, I mean, we know that wildlife markets like the commercial wildlife trade, I

Maryam Pasha 20:14
mean, he talked about what is a wildlife market and people haven’t heard of it. Yeah. I’m

Neil Vora 20:19
really I’m referring here to places where wildlife is sold in an urban setting. I’m not talking about people in rural settings, who hunt wildlife for cultural reasons or for their sustenance, people should have people have a right to access wildlife. But what I’m talking about in a place like London, or a major city, in China, or in New York City, we don’t need to have wildlife markets where life wildlife are sold, particularly birds and mammals. And again, if you disregard the COVID example, even though most scientists in the field think that COVID originated because of that wildlife trade. Even if you look at you can look at other outbreaks, the original SARS in 2003, or the first outbreak of M pox outside of Africa happened in 2003. That was because of the trade of African rodents into the United States for the exotic pet industry. Right, that led to the first outbreak of M pox outside of of Africa. Right. So my point is that there are certain activities that we engage in as humans that are actually increasing our risk for viral outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics. This

Ben Hurst 21:28
is This is crazy. I’m looking at people’s faces to see if they’re having the same reaction as me. I thought size was like a powder in an envelope situation. I didn’t realise it. Okay, yeah, keep going can go in.

Maryam Pasha 21:43
So you did this TED talk, which we will all watch when it comes out. What did you get to say?

Neil Vora 21:52
You, I talked before about the convergence of existential threats, right? For me, there’s, there’s at least six existential threats that that I worry about constantly. But I think there’s solutions to many of them if we started so, uh, you know, but climate change, pandemics, the destruction of nature, particularly the mass extinction that we’re experiencing. Number four is artificial intelligence. Number five, is nuclear Armageddon. And, and this, you know, this sounds funny, but, but when you think about the number of near misses, from nuclear weapons to have been launched at other countries, it’s not so funny. And very brave individuals, in some instances have have put the brakes on these things. But mistakes happen. And that’s a different story. But the sixth one that I think is actually the scariest is the war on truth. The fact that we live in a post truth society, where even climate change deniers still have a very active platform in the current discourse. And this invades so many different aspects of our society, there’s COVID deniers, there’s Flat Earthers, there are people who are campaigning against safe vaccines that we know are safe. And so we are having some backwards hips. But I focused particularly on three of those threats, which are climate change, pandemics, and loss of biodiversity, because we have common solutions, in some instances for all three groups, right, which is repairing our broken relationship with nature. So

Maryam Pasha 23:32
this is a big question, because I want to I’m just, I’m looking at the audience, I’m looking at you. The

Ben Hurst 23:38
only question I want to ask is, how do we solve the problem? By I feel like you’re going in that direction?

Maryam Pasha 23:46
Because you mentioned solutions, event.

Ben Hurst 23:50
stress, stress,

Maryam Pasha 23:51
you should all know that when we were planning this with our producer, Josie, I was like, this is going to stress by that just so you’re aware. Stress, pseudo solutions, right? This is actually in the work that I am familiar with of your work. The thing that I find actually incredible is, this is all like a lot of very intense. And for those of you, you know, on the ground with Ebola, doing this kind of in the research, you know, this stuff for, for those of us who aren’t, it’s a lot to take on board. But then there’s a really interesting, surprising and I in some ways, I guess simple solution, or not simple but talk to us, I want us to transition more to like Okay, so we know it’s bad. And we know that these threats, what do we do? How do we how do we stop this? You

Neil Vora 24:36
know, I joined Conservation International two and a half years ago, and before I did, I felt so much anxiety. You know, I was working for CDC fighting outbreaks around the world. I’ve led New York City’s COVID contract tracing programme, that was a privilege privilege of a lifetime to get to get to do that type of impactful work, but I felt this anxiety that I didn’t understand the solutions. It felt like you know, climate change. happening, I’m not doing anything. And I joined Conservation International. And I’ve never felt more hopeful for the world because now I get to work with people at all these organisations and I get to be in forums like this and listen to people doing amazing work. And there are solutions out there. And to me, the best antidote for despair is action. And I, I’ve had that lived experience in the last two and a half years, and I’ve seen the examples of where people have successfully saved rainforest, right, because again, that’s what I focus on, because ran for just taking a step back, over 30% of the emissions reductions needed to reach our climate goals come from nature, such as keeping forests standing, yet those nature based solutions get less than 5% of overall climate funding. So we have this disconnect, where we overlook nature. On the climate side, we’re also overlooking nature on the pandemic site. Because again, we don’t talk much about how saving for rainforests might lead to fewer pandemics down the road. Yeah, but first time I’ve ever heard it, right. Yeah. But like if we invested in forests, for example, we have every dollar spent and saving for us is $1. That goes a far away, because not only are you mitigating climate change, you’re saving biodiversity. And you’re also potentially preventing the next pandemic, right. And people have done this before, they’ve shown how to save rainforests. One example that comes to mind, I will let me give you two examples of one is health and harmony, which says, this amazing nonprofit that originally started working in Indonesia, that’s focused on listening to indigenous peoples and local communities, and then supporting those indigenous peoples and local communities in implementing solutions. And this NGO showed that, at least, when it comes to a local level, when when local communities are engaging in deforestation, in many instances is because they don’t have means to otherwise survive, they need to clear forests, so that they can generate income to pay for basic health or other basic services. This is a matter of survival for them. So this NGO invested in health care in the area, and it invested in training people in alternative jobs rather than logging to engage in in other types of jobs such as organic farming. And they showed that after a decade of this type of work, that there was a 90% reduction in the number of households engaging in logging. And at the same time, infant mortality dropped by around two thirds. That’s a win win for people and planet, these, these solutions exists. But for too long, even in my own prior life, we’ve we’ve kept them as people and planet as an opposition, but we need to find those win wins. The other example I’ll give is from the Brazilian Amazon, from 2004 to 2012, the Brazilian government implemented this very expansive effort to return territories to indigenous peoples to crack down on illegal deforestation. And basically they through the course of that effort, they found that deforestation on an annual basis dropped by 70%. At the same time, agricultural output increased. Right. So there are ways to save rainforest. It’s just the question is whether we have the political will to do so. So we

Maryam Pasha 28:20
know we know what to do, right? We know how to stop deforestation is what you’re saying. Yeah, it’s not the how, exactly

Ben Hurst 28:28
what? I have a question. What if I don’t care about rainforests? Not in Latin, obviously, not in a rude way. But what if I live in a city? Right? So like, there’s no rain forest in London that I know of? That’s correct, isn’t it? There’s no rain forest in London. So what streets are saying, but if there’s no rain forest here, what role do I have to play in? In, in healing, that broken relationship with nature? How does that work when you’re not living in or near that type of nature? We

Neil Vora 28:58
all play our own different role in in the climate crisis, right? And and particularly if we are based in North America or Europe, we’ve had a larger footprint in the current crisis then, than other peoples in the world, right? That’s something that that needs to be acknowledged, upfront. But like I said before, this is an existential threat that is already here. We are all being affected by climate change. So even if like, I’ve never visited the rainforest, I’ve never been to the Amazon, myself, one, you know, that’s a dream for me to one day go. But we all have a vested interest in mitigating climate change and adapting to climate change. Right. And so that means that if we’re fortunate enough to live in a democracy, we, you know, one thing we got to do is vote, we cannot skip opportunities to vote, that that makes a huge difference to that people come into office. And these people represent a voice of reason and and evidence based policy. Right. So that I think that’s one action and then, you know, presumably those people will then hopefully engage in foreign policy. efforts to mitigate climate change more broadly. So that I think a lot of this is how we vote again, if we’re fortunate enough to live in a democracy. And

Maryam Pasha 30:09
so that’s really about we come back to this sometimes in the podcast, this idea of systems change. It’s not just about in the individual action, although voting is a really powerful, individual action. It’s about the systems that perpetuate this. I’m wondering if in terms of that idea of deforestation, like what does that look like? Like the example of Indonesia was great, because it was like this local example. But what about larger scale? Like deforestation efforts? That’s where policy comes in. Right? That’s what you’re talking about with Brazil. Exactly.

Neil Vora 30:37
Right. So the largest scale efforts need to happen. And I think this is not my area of expertise. But there’s a lot of efforts right now in big policy circles to address like carbon credits, and even biodiversity credits. And so there are many other larger efforts, which is beyond the skills of my expertise, beyond my my skill set. But I will say again, that there, there’s a lot of talk about saving forests. Yet. In recent years, in many parts of the world, we’ve seen deforestation rates increase, and someone named Nicole Ryecroft, who I recently met, actually at the TED event and who

Maryam Pasha 31:14
we interviewed recently, who made you fall in love with trees. Oh, yeah.

Ben Hurst 31:17
You’re the kind of woman Oh, yeah, but listen to that one. Listen to her. And that’s a good one. Yeah,

Neil Vora 31:22
she says this awesome thing. To me. It’s bonkers. This is like the way she puts it. But we are cutting down 100 200 year old trees to make pizza boxes crazy. How absurd. Is that? Right? Like, what do you know? So it’s just was

Maryam Pasha 31:37
like a real flaw and logic there? Yeah, exactly.

Ben Hurst 31:40
We need more Amazon yeses. Yeah.

Neil Vora 31:42
And I have a lot of pizza. Like, you know, I thrive on pizza, but

Unknown Speaker 31:49

Maryam Pasha 31:55
Are there any other you talked about being hopeful? And doing this work? And I agree, I think, you know, three years ago, I wasn’t doing anything in climate at all. Now, I’m kind of doing every day, in different ways. And I think I felt more hopeless before. And very hopeful now, because you meet awesome people like you and all the speakers we’ve heard today, who were doing incredible work. I’m just curious if you could talk a little bit about if there’s any other examples that you’ve seen in your work that are really helping heal this divide between, you know, this heal this divide that we have around health and nature and people and so that it’s repairing that relationship with nature? Well, the first

Neil Vora 32:34
thing I’ll say is that I am so inspired by the generation, generations coming behind me and you know, like, younger individuals seem to get the crisis in ways that when I was growing up, a lot of people didn’t. And it’s amazing, like, they care so much. And they, like many people who, again, are younger than me, are so mission driven. At a greater proportion that I think many prior generations have been right. So to me, that gives me a lot of hope, like my niece, for example, is she wrote a book about the extinction crisis, like a book of poetry on the extinction crisis. And it’s a dark book of poetry. But it’s real. And I’m like, how did you write this? You know, it’s so good. Yeah. She’s now 15.

Maryam Pasha 33:23
Okay, that’s what she wrote,

Neil Vora 33:24
I think when she was like, maybe 12, or 13. And I guess it’s like, yeah.

Maryam Pasha 33:29
I mean, I guess it’s real. Right. Like, I guess it. I think I definitely feel like I, even until possibly, very recently, very much felt like climate change was a problem. Tomorrow problem, preventing it. But I definitely think now, it’s like, as you said, it’s it’s not we are having to prevent the worst impacts of it. But it’s here. I think if you’re young, you’re living in a different context. Yeah.

Neil Vora 33:54
And let me give you one other example quickly, though, like in the medical field. So when I started med school in 2004, again, my intention was to have exactly the career that I have now, but I didn’t know that it existed. I didn’t understand these things. So I’d go to a lot of faculty, and they couldn’t point me in the right direction, not through no fault of their own. But that conversation wasn’t happening. Now in around 2004. I might be wrong about this exactly. But I’m pretty sure in 2004, again, when I started med school, is when the term one health was coined. And that’s the idea that human health is dependent on the health of animals and the planet. So this is a newer concept in western medicine. And it’s gaining traction right now it’s become common conversations at the UN level, the WH the World Health Organisation level. There’s even a student led movement to grade medical schools around the world on how well they are teaching these types of comp concepts about one health and planetary health. You know, and so, to me, that’s also amazing. There’s this shift in the medical culture, where we’re understanding more and more about these these inner connections. But I’ll also add that this is something that many indigenous cultures have known for 1000s of years that were all related. You know, we’re a little bit late in western medicine to the concept. But you know, we’re catching up late

Ben Hurst 35:12
and Western medicine here. Never

Maryam Pasha 35:17
know, I mean, this feedback is a little. It’s worth it. It’s worth it. I do think this idea, you mentioned it earlier, and I wanted to come back to it. So I’m glad you said this, around the silos that we live in, in our work. You know, it seems, it seems now having met you and had these conversations, completely bizarre to me that more local professionals aren’t talking about climate deforestation. Explain it, and more people in climate are not thinking about health, although maybe it’s growing. When we look, I think in cities, we start talking about air pollution, that’s probably a conversation we’re having more, do you? Do you feel now that you’re in this, you know, this career that you’ve always wanted those silos or breaking down? Or are we still very much entrenched in? You know, it’s no, it’s this way? It’s my point of view.

Neil Vora 36:08
I love this question. And, you know, I do think that there’s this slow shift, and I feel like, we’re going to see a break open in the coming years. And I’m excited about that. But look, the silos are on both sides. Let’s look at the health side, again, like my own personal experience, is taken a long time to be able to have these conversations and even on the health side, like, I’m so surprised a number of doctors who are not thinking about this, because why are we saving human lives when we won’t have a planet to live on in the very near future? And many people have children? I mean, what type of Planet Are we leaving our children and our future patients? To me, that’s, that’s scary. But again, there is that that slow shift. On the climate side, I get worried that, you know, cop 28, was right around the corner, right, the big UN Conference on on climate change. It has taken 27 Cops before this, finally, now 27, prior cops to finally get to the point where health is for the first time ever being featured in a prominent way at one of these cops, this coming cop, even though again, the way that most people will experience climate change is because of the health effects that they will experience. So we are we’re so siloed and we have to start bridging those gaps. We can’t think of them as separate issues. Yeah.

Ben Hurst 37:25
You know what? My analysis of the situation is that the people aren’t feeling the cops man. I think these guys these young guys, for some reason

Maryam Pasha 37:43
those of you who are laughing knowingly know that that’s like a category that we’re like. Can you tell us about these statues? Please? Can people see them?

Ben Hurst 37:54
A whole sleeve there’s a there’s a is that an iguana?

Neil Vora 37:57
That’s a tire chameleon. So I have up here and then a lot of other spots, but I do endangered and extinct animals. Sadly, you know there’s never going to be a shortage of creatures to put on but I have pangolin all eight species of penguin around the world are endangered. That’s a crowd playing Loke is Tiger chameleon. Geometric tortoise have a warm kingfisher? Amboli Bush frog. J poor Gecko Amboli sorry, golden rump sangee

Ben Hurst 38:24
you and your niece our Stockman This is the coolest sleeve concept I’ve ever seen in endangered animals but that’s also like, do you would you look at your arm every day and think? Yeah, like why this is this is terrible. Or is it? Is it like motivated? What’s the

Neil Vora 38:47
I mean you can show me a picture of any animal and I love it. Particularly like a creepy crawly like I love reptiles and bats. I mean those are like definitely my favourite.

Maryam Pasha 38:59
I had to I had to like backseat the bat ears immediately.

Neil Vora 39:02
Yeah, you got to I got I got a frog. So I’m happy. But giraffes are cool to

Ben Hurst 39:09
draw something superior.

Maryam Pasha 39:12
If you if you watch replay The Last of Us, you know where we have a draft?

Ben Hurst 39:16
Yes, I have no idea. I just I just like to run off.

Neil Vora 39:20
But but you know, it’s it’s it’s addictive. I guess like getting tattoos. That’s like this was like a personal thing. I’m jujitsu culture. I don’t know if any of you trained in jujitsu. But like if you’re in it, you’re really in it and, you know, just part of the thing. And they mean so much to me. Because the animals? Yeah.

Maryam Pasha 39:41
I think that we are coming towards the end. We’ve got one last thing we want to ask Neil. Before we go, is there anything that we haven’t asked you that we should have asked you? That’s not my actual question. Well, I know it’s great interviewing technique, isn’t it? Glad? What do you

Neil Vora 39:58
what did you know? So I’ll just make two quick points. First of all, just because I’m obsessed with vampires and zombies, there’s a really interesting intersection. You know, we use horror in this current day and age, to help us understand some really scary things that are happening in the world. Right. And that’s why you see this proliferation of zombie apocalypse shows and movies, right. But, you know, vampires back in the 17 1800s people consider vampires are a real thing. You know, the way we’re talking about climate change, you know, people were talking about vampires, you know, some circles. Yeah, that fire and vampires probably were inspired, in part by rabies and tuberculosis, right? Why?

Ben Hurst 40:43
Oh, my gosh. Right. They know, yeah. Oh, my God.

Neil Vora 40:47
Yeah. And I would tuberculosis doctor one day a week I see TB beta TB is a horrible disease. After COVID is the leading infectious disease killer in the world, over 1.5 million people die of TB, one in four people are infected with TB in the world. That’s a neglected disease. But I’m just saying like, you know, horror is a real way for us to understand the world and what we’re experiencing. And so, Last of Us, I appreciate the show, because it really put fungal disease, I think, in the spotlight in a way that hadn’t happened before. And also we’re talking about climate change and health intersection in new ways.

Ben Hurst 41:17
I heard something about a fungal disease where people are breathing in the spores now. Yes, that’s, that’s not the zombie one, though.

Neil Vora 41:25
No, no. And again, just to be clear, like I don’t think we’re going to see like human zombies. But you’re right about the inhalation of spores, particularly in people with with weakened immune systems, diseases like Coxy, do mycosis, they can be devastating. And we might see the spread because of climate change models show that it will be spreading more.

Maryam Pasha 41:43
And this is something we haven’t talked about a little bit, but the adaptation that’s required in the health service, like we’re talking, I heard, like this summer in France, they were seeing tropical diseases in Paris. Yeah. And the health services are not like, that’s not what you’re looking for if you’re a Parisian GP, right? Yeah. Same thing here. Do you think that there’s gonna have to be that adaptation on the medical field as well to start expecting that kind of unexpected?

Neil Vora 42:06
Yeah. And I’m so glad that there’s a lot of conversation about this in the medical field in ways that there haven’t been before. And so we need better diagnostics, we need better medicines, right? We need better vaccines, all that needs to happen. But my concern is that we’re so focused on the band aid because I we need all those things, to save lives. But that’s a bandaid. On the larger problem, which is we our activities are driving these infectious diseases to occur. So we should also invest in preventing them by fixing that relationship with nature.

Ben Hurst 42:37
We’re not going to cure our way out of it. Yeah,

Neil Vora 42:39
I like the way you put that. Yeah. But every

Ben Hurst 42:41
now and then I got some. And now it’s time for our climate confessions. Let’s fess up to the bad habits. We just caught kick,

Maryam Pasha 42:55
climate conventions, and they tell you a bit more about it is a question we ask every single one of our guests. So when Ben and I started doing this podcast about two years

Ben Hurst 43:04
ago, three seasons ago,

Maryam Pasha 43:07
we there was this real feeling we had that maybe everyone who does this kind of work in climate is perfect. And that that’s, that’s like a prerequisite for having to be impactful and effective in their climate work. But actually, we’re all just human, and we’re all imperfect. And so we get our esteemed experts to confess their climate sins. One. So your climate confession or civil? I will then do you want to do an example to start and then I’ll finish with one

Ben Hurst 43:35
Oh, yeah, I’ve got good one. So we’ve been how many seasons deeper, we find. We have made many concessions. Listen, I’ve confessed my way into heaven. I think at this point. I’ve done a lot of tough telling of my secrets here. But one that I realised the other day was when we were planning for this event, Marian told me I had to source her outfit that was sustainable. And I realised I didn’t know where to start with that had no idea I looked through my wardrobe as that No, All Saints notes are nothing. There was nothing in there that could be used for this purpose. So fortunately, I’ve managed to find the suit by my friends are from my friends at batch London, which is a beautiful suit if you’re listening to this podcast, and you should definitely look and invest it slow fashion sustainable. But my confession is this is now I don’t they’ve loaned this okay. I actually still have no sustainable clothes. So I’ve got I’ve got to do a better job, man. I’m trashed right now. But I’m gonna get back

Maryam Pasha 44:36
with I don’t know how you’re gonna follow that. But do you? Do you have a climate?

Neil Vora 44:39
Yeah, that’s a hard act to follow. But you said you said trash and clothing. So I have to say this shirt right here is by this designer Timothy Westbrook who makes clothing out of trash. And so he’s amazing. Be honest

Ben Hurst 44:50
with you. I’m not sure you understand the concept of

Neil Vora 44:56
my confession at all. To get coffee he has also my friends, but so just be aware. But um, my confession is that look, I love animals I’ve tried for so long to go vegan, but I eat a lot of pizza. And also, I mean, I grew up eating meat. And so I have these intense cravings for chicken sometimes. And in a moment of weakness, I’ll eat chicken, and it pains me. But like, you know, I really appreciate what you’re saying. We don’t need like, I think Clover Clover has said this before, we don’t need 100 Perfect activists, we need a million imperfect activists and I’m far from perfect. Thank

Maryam Pasha 45:42
you for that confession. That was a good confession.

I was at a hospital where my confession is also going to be useful. So we obviously run these events, and we have to print things. And printing is obviously bad, in many ways, because it’s wasteful, because often these things you get at conferences, you just throw out. So that’s part of our climate confession. But our solution, this is where I’ve actually just do a bit of housekeeping is as you lead, you can leave your badges if you want. If you’re not someone like me who collects them. You can leave your lanyards and your badges on one of the tables in the lobby and we will reuse them. So all of these lanyards, we reuse from previous events will recycle the badges. So that is actually a housekeeping thing that I’ve turned into a climate confession half. So to wrap up, Neil, thank you for joining us on this

Neil Vora 46:33
very thank you so much.

Maryam Pasha 46:34
I appreciate the spooky

Ben Hurst 46:36
comeback man because I’m I’m still feeling stressed. I’m going to be honest. So I know you’ve I know you’re sitting on more solutions, and I need them. Definitely do do part two. Great.

Neil Vora 46:46
Yeah. Great. So thank you. Thank you.

Ben Hurst 46:56
Thank you for joining us this week. We really hope you enjoyed this episode.

Maryam Pasha 47:00
If you did, please hit the Follow button to make sure you get next week’s release. We

Ben Hurst 47:04
are now officially crowdsourcing climate conditions so please leave yours in the ratings in the review section. And we’ll shout off you next time. And shout out to our fabulous team behind the pod.

Maryam Pasha 47:17
This episode was produced by Josie Colter artwork designed by Rebecca Menzies is curation by Maryam Pasha mixing engineers by Ben Beheshty music also by Ben Beheshty presented by Ben Hurst

Ben Hurst 47:30
and Maryam Pasha. Remember, stay curious



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