Oops, Apocalypse

The pandemic that’s upon us is – obviously – a complete surprise, one that couldn’t be planned for. Understandably governments are reacting in real-time to an unfolding threat in the best way that they can. It’s – as they say – a Black Swan event.

Only – it isn’t. Pandemics are not unknown unknowns, they’re known unknowns. Just as in 2008 when governments had started to forget the lessons of the Great Depression so they have forgotten the lessons of the Spanish ‘flu pandemic of 1918. History will not be kind.

Flu is Inevitable

The great, but sadly late, Hans Roslen identified a global pandemic as one of the main threats to humanity in his must-read book Factfulness:

"Serious experts on infectious diseases agree that a new nasty kind of flu is still the most dangerous threat to global health ... we need the World Health Organisation to remain healthy and strong to coordinate a global response."

The second-highest funder of WHO is not a government, it’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The latest proposal from the US – currently the largest donor – would cut its contribution by half. Expecting other countries to pay more into the world’s health police force is reasonable – but proposing to cut existing contributions seems a tad shortsighted.

Flu is Really Inevitable

In 2012, Vaclav Smil noted in Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years that, based on the evidence of previous pandemics, it was highly probable that we would have another one before 2021 and it was as close to certain before 2050. Overall, Smil is frankly pessimistic, noting that a global pandemic will be far-reaching in effect and will not be over in a short space of time:

"But the event may not be over in six months, as substantial mortality could continue during the second season, and many cities and countries may find it particularly difficult to cope with such a second wave."

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Bill Johnson 1 month ago Member's comment

Didn't see you were writing again, great to have be able to read your articles again.

Gary Anderson 1 month ago Contributor's comment

Not cheerful, but very interesting.