Working from home, isolated and with the country under lockdown, it’s difficult for me to focus on climate change rather than Covid-19. So imagine how difficult it must be for the UN secretary general António Guterres, who has been pretty tireless in his efforts to get world governments to act on global warming for some years now. But with an unprecedented pandemic raging, he too has had to tell nations to effectively forget about climate change’s more distant horizons for now.
However, when Guterres addressed a press conference on this last week, it seemed the world’s governments had made the same mistakes in tackling the pandemic that they have been making in dealing with climate change. The biggest was the lack of preparedness. Just as scientists have been warning governments about the outcomes of not cutting emissions for decades, there have been warnings about pandemics too. The H1N1 influenza pandemic of 1918, or the Spanish flu, killed at least 50 million people around the world. Of these, nearly 17-18 million casualties were in India. The world has been through epidemics in the recent past, from Ebola to SARS and MERS. Experts have been warning that a major pandemic was just a matter of time.
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Michael Osterholm, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota, had highlighted this in his 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs. He wrote that time was running out for preparations against a pandemic. In December, virologist and flu expert Robert G. Webster published Flu Hunter: Unlocking The Secrets Of A Virus. “Nature will eventually again challenge mankind with an equivalent of the 1918 influenza virus. We need to be prepared,” he wrote. Of course, governments weren’t prepared.
When Covid-19 plays itself out, will we see a very different world in which governments cooperate proactively to stop global threats? My fear is that we will just see business as usual.
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