If you are anything like me, you are obsessively reading about the coronavirus — everything from the symptoms, the treatments, the ongoing clinical trials (I’m routing for you Gilead Sciences) to the oft-repeated social distancing measures to curb the peak. We’ve really made some good progress! Pat on the back.
Except we haven’t. And no one has yet called us out on it. We are f**king unbelievably unprepared for pandemics. Even now, as Italy and Europe is at the epicenter of the outbreak, facing the worst, people are still going to bars in North America. What is quite evident from our 2020 situation is that we don’t tend to care about things much until they become a problem. We are people that are reactive, not proactive.
This is not a surprise for anyone who works in the field of climate change. Nothing is ever going to be done about climate change until shit hits the fan. Of course, I do not like comparing climate change to the coronavirus. Its futile and unfair. (What follows is going to be hugely unpopular in my community and might cost me my job but here it goes!) Frankly, I believe we’ve accomplished more in being prepared for climate change than we have accomplished in being prepared for pandemics.
How so, you ask? For one, we have an agreement and a global mechanism in place to manage, account for, and trade carbon emissions. We’ve set up insurance funds to protect us from the impacts of climate change. We have the Paris Agreement and an annual COP. That’s more than what can be said for pandemics. The world doesn’t have a coordinated approach to help with early detection and to communicate and manage the spread of pandemics, nor does it have mechanisms to protect the global economy. And while the Green Climate Fund sits with its pot of money, where is the Global Fund for pandemics?
There is none.
Back in 2018, Bill Gates gave a warning that the world wasn’t prepared for pandemics, which should “concern us all.” And in 2020, we are realizing this warning like never before. Yes, we’ve been able to move fast and have already isolated the virus causing the pandemic — but just imagine if COVID-19 had been deadlier and was getting people younger. That would mean losing a large chunk of the working population. Scary! Right?
For those who think that the coronavirus has stolen climate change’s thunder, please freakin’ chill out. The idea is not to prove if one thing is more important than the other. We all have our causes that we think are the most important. But for now, we have to put out the fire in the house, before we get long-term insurance.
What is frightening is that some of the most important causes — global challenges — are those that we are terribly ill-prepared for. Google trends show that our concern for pandemics is lower than our concern for climate change if we use web searches as a proxy. But both these concerns are way lower than our concern for the military. This fact is also evident in terms of funding. Analysts at Climate Policy Initiative have estimated that climate finance reached $437 billion in 2015. Pandemic preparedness funding is still in the millions (or less because there’s really no figure yet). And military funding is 1.8 TRILLION!
All of this concerning, because we care for pandemics even less than we care for climate change, which in itself is something we care hardly anything for.
Climate change and pandemics are both global challenges that need global efforts. And both these challenges are outcomes from the same thing — a global economy that relies on resource exploitation. There is evidence that viral epidemics such as SARC-COV-1 and SARS-COV-2, both bat viruses have jumped to humans because of humans interference with bat habitat. But in fact, the fight against both requires somewhat the same things: increasing remote work; keeping in check economic activities; reducing the carbon footprint from aviation and travel and prioritizing funding for global efforts .
But please, don’t compare the two.
Rather, use this time as an opportunity to see what we are doing wrong as humankind and how we can ramp up efforts for global challenges.
Because if I were you — I’d worry not for this virus, but for the next global challenge that befalls us, pandemic or otherwise.
And I’d vote for Bill Gates as my President.