In The Lorax, Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s conservation parable, after an entrepreneur comes to town and chops down all the tufty truffula trees to make onesies, he gets fully reamed out by the Lorax, a creature who “speaks for the trees.” Cutting down the trees has a spiral of bad effects on the fantasy environment—including giving the frolicking animals called Bar-ba-loots a disease called the crummies.
In fact, a lot of real life’s crummies are linked to the state of the environment. By one estimate, 24 percent of the global burden of disease can be attributed to environmental risk factors. For some specific diseases, that number is even higher—diarrhea owes 94 percent of its existence to the environment, lower respiratory infections owe 41 percent, and malaria, 42 percent.
If the existing environment has such a big impact, would it be possible to cultivate surroundings that would prevent some of these diseases? This is the question asked by a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which looked at conservation efforts in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, specifically in the context of those three conditions—diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, and malaria.