Don’t Let Global Warming Reanimate Zombie Viruses

Target: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of World Health Organization

Goal: Highlight and develop action plan for dangers posed by permafrost pathogens.

A recent study detailing the rapid acceleration of Greenland’s melting glaciers has warned about the potential of an even greater surge in global sea levels. But this consequence of the warming Earth’s impact on its coldest regions is not the only danger. Another research initiative has highlighted a more insidious risk: the possibly deadly pathogens lurking in melting permafrost.

This substance, which now covers one-fourth of the northern hemisphere, gained its name because it’s supposed to represent permanently frozen ground. The effects of climate change are affecting these icy surfaces, too, however. When permafrost melts, it can unleash viruses, bacteria, and other infectious substances that pose a threat to living beings now. For instance, reindeer—and even some humans—have reportedly become infected by anthrax after being exposed to it via melting ice.

In Siberia, researchers conducted an experiment on amoeba-infecting viruses retrieved from permafrost to test the bugs’ viability. The viruses dated back nearly 50,000 years, yet the researchers were still able to activate them and infect amoebas today. The fear is that continuously thawing permafrost will let loose yet more pathogens—both known and unknown—capable of infecting far more than amoebas. The next pandemic could be in hibernation beneath these icy exteriors. And to add another disturbing layer, radioactive residue from the Cold War era could be lying dormant as well.

Sign the petition below to urge world leaders to take this threat seriously.


Dear Dr. Ghebreyesus,

Warming temperatures thaw permafrost and melt glaciers. The residue seeps into a nearby lake and then into the public water supply. This residue contains an unknown virus that has been in a cryogenic state for tens of thousands of years. And then….

It’s not the plot of a sci-fi horror movie, but it is the reality that we could one day face as the layers of ice and cold that have served as light-free and oxygen-free storage chambers for pathogens continue to evaporate. These possibilities were brought to light after strains of smallpox, the 1918 influenza outbreak, and anthrax were discovered at various times in thawing regions…the latter confirmed to have infected and killed mammals. And a recent Siberian study in which a 50,000-year-old virus was successfully de-zombified re-affirmed the potential of a worst-case scenario unfolding.

The COVID public health emergency may be ending, but another alarming threat could take its place without intervention. Please work hand-in-hand with environmental and climate experts to raise public awareness about these dangers and to enact a coordinated plan of action driven by strong and decisive leadership and global teamwork.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Andre Ulysses de Salis

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