Climate Change and the Emerging Disease Crisis: An Existential Threat to Technological Humanity by Daniel R. Brooks
Date: 28 November 2016, Monday at 14.00-15.30
Venue: Europe House Bibó Auditorium
For most people, the emerging disease crisis is a matter of a few highly publicized viruses restricted to tropical developing countries. In reality, the crisis encompasses all pathogens affecting humans and all species upon which humans depend for survival and for socio-economic development and growth. Viewed in that light, the emerging infectious disease (EID) crisis constitutes an existential threat of global proportions. Humanity is playing a losing game with respect to emerging diseases, mostly by failing to internalize the scope and cost of the crisis. Our failure is further exacerbated by an odd mixture of psychological denial and over-confidence with respect to our technological capabilities, coupled with ignoring fundamental evolutionary principles. Biodiversity, disease, and climate change are linked, and integrating the fundamental evolutionary nature of diversifying life can allow us to "buy time" and save resources in our efforts to cope with emerging diseases. The Stockholm Paradigm is new as a "named" conceptual framework, although its elements are each well-established scientifically. It provides a comprehensive view explaining the ease with which pathogens can "change allegiance" even without genetic changes, given the opportunity, something not considered in current "health" frameworks. This makes the planet an evolutionary minefield of potential EID, needing only climate change and the resulting movements of humans and other species to trigger them. Our inattention has allowed pathogens to be better at finding us than we have been at finding them. We need to change from a crisis-response policy paradigm of "Do No Harm" to a proactive policy paradigm based on the Precautionary Principle. I will discuss concrete proposals for what we can do to "anticipate to mitigate" the impact of emerging disease and climate change on humanity, helping to buy time and save resources while humanity searches for ways to achieve a sustainable existence of indefinite duration. Much of this is embodied in the DAMA protocol - Document, Assess, Monitor, Act - which can augment existing measures. I will close with an assessment, based on the Darwinian principle John Maynard Smith termed "The Gambler's Ruin," of just how well-insulated technological humanity actually is, as opposed to how well it thinks it is, from the impact of climate change and disease. In particular, large densely populated cities may be vulnerable in ways not generally appreciated.