One of my earliest articles for the Fillmore County Journal attempted to explain the importance of foresight, and the resources and techniques required to construct figurative towers of foresight in our society so as to give our civilization as a whole the ability to become aware of problems before they arise.
Known threats can become disasters at alarming speeds leaving little, if any, time for serious preparation. For instance, take what happened to people in Hawaii who received this text on their phones on January 13, 2018. “Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Recall the significant diplomatic instability between the U.S. and North Korea? No ICBM strike took place, but it took 30 minutes before an official correction was announced. What would happen if there truly were such an imminent threat? What preparations are in place to deal with it?
Fast-forward to now, but introduce a different threat in terms of speed, impact, and variety. SARS-CoV-2, a type of corona virus originating in China, began infecting people in late 2019. It has since spread to dozens of countries (including the United States) with over 116,000 confirmed cases and more than 4,000 dead from COVID-19. For clarification, diseases are often named differently than the viruses which cause them, e.g., HIV begets AIDs, and in this case SARS-CoV-2 begets COVID-19.
SARS-CoV-2 is not the Bubonic Plague that wiped out (at minimum) one quarter of Europe’s population in the 14th century. It’s not the Spanish Flu, which, almost exactly 100 years ago, infected 500 million people and had a death rate of up to 20% globally (of those infected). Right now, COVID-19 kills about 3.4% of those infected.
Perhaps this is lower because we have better methods now than 100 years ago to prevent such a large infection/death rate and can treat patients more readily. But how prepared are we, the civilians, to quantify this threat? How knowledgeable are we about the symptoms or how the disease is transmitted? What are the effects of panic when those questions aren’t known very well by many people?
Humans are remarkably reliable to react to imminent threats. That doesn’t mean we know how to react, necessarily, but react we do. Professionals well-versed in disease, fire, war, famine, etc., are usually those who have personally prepared appropriately to prevent negative effects impacting themselves and those close to them. But what about the average civilian? The U.S. military may be prepared for an ICBM to be launched from North Korea, but are we? The CDC or WHO may be prepared for a viral outbreak, but are we?
Stores’ shelves are now emptying of cleaning wipes, hand sanitizers, and toilet paper(?). There are virtually no masks available on the global market, online or otherwise (China makes the vast majority of masks; ponder that potential future or present dilemma for a moment). It’s shocking how many people are now so concerned about thoroughly washing their hands, as though it isn’t standard practice already. Ironically you may have a better chance of shaking a clean hand of an average person than a month ago (although the CDC maybe not approve). Wash your hands anyway. Why? To prevent yourself, or others from getting sick.
Focus on the present is important, but (like the reasons for washing our hands during an epidemic) we must also prevent future calamities now. Who is responsible for detecting and making others aware of future dangers? Consider these potential foreseeable problems that can become disasters if ignored for too long: misuse of anti-bacterial products, inadequate data on soil erosion/nutrient depletion, power consolidation, a shrouded phosphorus supply chain, trending nitrification/toxification of freshwater and ocean acidification, loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Disinformation campaigns, loss of trust and cooperation, or indifference shown among those of our own species are all welling problems with magnified consequences as the population grows.
Learn from the past, adjust now, prepare for the future. We must recognize the dangers that may become insurmountable if we fail to address those issues right now, together.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
2018 ICBM Message: abcnews.go.com/US/drill-hawaii-residents-wake-false-alarm-imminent-missile/story?id=52328642
Corona Virus Data: www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/