The danger of acquiring an endemic mindset
Given the ongoing upswings in the severity of the pandemic in countries across the world, including those that had previously handled the crisis well, one needs to question why global leaders and elites are shifting mindset and classifying Covid-19 as endemic all in an effort to return to social normalcy. It is obvious that none of the global issues described above are anywhere near being solved. Instead, they have dropped off from the international community’s agenda of pressing challenges. Pushed to the edge of the radar screen, they have been relegated to a black hole of endemic issues. The situation is not dissimilar to an individual with a fractured hip being advised to take two aspirins and carry on, with no prospect for meaningful treatment.
Adding to this tragedy of indifference is the geopolitical pecking order. Decisions and policy measures initiated and taken by the G7 collectively or by certain Western developed countries do reverberate in the Global South. But these emerging markets, due to population size, poverty and limited capacity, are often at the mercy of the major players in the “green room”, with policies formulated by them not necessarily bringing any real benefits or positive change to the developing economies. Indeed, they may even be harmed by the actions of the rich countries. As in the case with DDT, the plastic explosion, anti-microbial resistance and the financial inequalities driven by the GFC and the Covid-19 pandemic – all the decisions made by Western developed countries have had negative repercussions in the Global South.
Is the human race smart enough to face up to reality?
Humans are profoundly ignorant about the intertwined relationships among health, microbes and the ecosystems. Studies in sustainability science suggest human activities (lifestyle, agricultural and industrial activities) are damaging and challenging the microbial ecosystems. Microbes are responsible for producing critical elements – oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and sulfur – that support other life forms. These make possible the photosynthesis for the planet that is responsible for food production and decomposition. The microbes in humans facilitate digestion, essential Vitamin K production and immune system development, and make detoxification of chemicals in the body possible.
Will our selfish desire for the return of social economic normalcy edge us carelessly to destabilize planetary boundaries and alter the microbial world beyond the point of no return? Global wealth under the status quo will certainly flow disproportionally into the hands of the elites. As the earth becomes unlivable for most of its poorer inhabitants, however, this would remove a significant proportion of consumers and leave no human service providers for the elites.
Is there opportunity for a global reset? The Covid-19 crisis provides humanity with a unique opportunity to address all the pressing global issues highlighted above (including Covid-19) instead of adopting the endemic mindset and putting off tackling them. A new and immediate global reset would demand that we no longer put livelihood above lives and operate on the basis of a binary trade-off between economic benefits and humanity. It would be necessary to take on all these challenges together, acknowledging and understanding their linkages, how all the scientific and social problems the world faces are interconnected. Solutions will require an integrated approach that focuses on sustainability’s triple bottom line, namely, people, planet and profit.
It is a fallacy for the human race to think that a global public-health crisis or ecosystems disaster, whether man-made or natural, is but an everyday problem that can be dealt with in bits and pieces – in the manner of the proverbial can kicked down the long road to a calamitous end. If the human race is not up to the task despite all its intellectual firepower, then we are tragically worse off than the brainless single-cell slime molds that at least can actually solve problems and make intelligent decisions.