Have We Lost the Plot?

The decisions we make as a society depend directly on what knowledge we have achieved through our educational system. Two major problems the Earth faces occupy the day – the Covid epidemic and climate change. In both major emergencies, a significant fraction of humanity seems to have completely missed the plot and I would like to ask a few simple questions about why this might be.

The Covid epidemic is indeed a global emergency, and if you do not recognize this you should stop reading here. We have had major human epidemics in the last 1000 years so we might start by asking what knowledge we have garnered from past events. Epidemics occur because a particular disease is transmissible among people, and the three most obvious observations that could be made from previous epidemics are that large groups of people should not congregate, travel should be restricted, and that people should always wear a mask, a point made very clearly in the 1918 flu epidemic. More recent medical studies since the 1940s have shown conclusively that immunity to any particular disease can be achieved by vaccination programs, and many people have been vaccinated over their lifespan to reduce greatly the chance of infection. So, to make the point simple, many people are alive today because of the vaccinations they have received over time.

Vaccine hesitancy at this time with respect to the Covid epidemic has been decreasing, and as more of the population becomes vaccinated, disease incidence should decline. My question is how did many people become educated in our schools about these general points and then join the anti-vaxxers? I do not know the answer to this, but at least part of the answer might be a failure of our education systems.

A second emergency over climate change will probably be with us for a much longer time than the Covid pandemic, so we need to think very clearly about it. The problem in part is that climate change is long term (10-100+ years) and it is difficult to change human behaviour in a short time. Consequently, advances like renewable energy, solar panels on roofs, electric cars, and good insulation in houses need to be pushed by government policies. Since governments are too often concerned only about the next 4 years, and all the good policies will result in rising taxes, there is much talking but little action. Longer term issues like population control are too often swept under the table as too hot to handle. News outlets push panic buttons over reduced birth rates in the world today and translate this into immediate population collapse. Elementary issues of human demography that ought to be part of any curriculum are not understood, and the failure to appreciate the consequences of continued growth seem lost on much of the population. Consequently, part of our current problems involving action on the climate emergency must be laid to poor education about these simple matters.

We have gone through a long period when economics triumphed over ecology and sustainability, but that problem is rapidly being rectified. More people are recognizing that a single country cannot ignore global problems, conservation is strong on the agenda of many governments, although again these issues emit more talk than actions.

I certainly do not know the solution to these current issues but the polarization in the world today is strong enough to prohibit many policies being achieved that would improve and overcome our present emergencies. Unless we can achieve agreement on sustainable goals for all of society these emergencies will continue to build. Thinking that I could fly to Mars and get away from these problems is something even the British royalty recognize as ridiculous.

A few possible ideas:

  1. Call out and protest as much as you can about uninformed pseudo-scientific comments on ecology, economics, medical science, and sustainability. Demand political action on these two global emergencies now.
  2. Improve our education systems to demand a curriculum that addresses current problems of climate change and agriculture, population growth, medical history, disease, and the history of the biosphere.
  3. Get accurate data on global change and Covid from reliable sources.
  4. Never give up. Present scientific truth to counteract nonsense.
  5. And use social media effectively to improve communication of the science that speaks to the solution of these major problems.

Kolata, Gina B. (2019) Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that caused it.’ Atria Books: New York. 352 pp. ISBN: 978-0743203982

MacKenzie, Debora (2020) COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One. Hachette Books: New York. 304 pp. IBN: 978-0306924248  (Published in North America in 2021 as Stopping the Next Pandemic, 339 pp. ISBN 978-036924224.)

Piketty, Thomas (2021). Time for Socialism: Dispatches from a World on Fire, 2016-2021
Yale University Press: New Haven, Connecticut. 360 pp. ISBN: 978-0300259667

Salamon, Margaret Klein (2020). Facing the Climate Emergency: How to Transform Yourself with Climate Truth. New Society Publishers: Gabriola Island, B.C. Canada. 160 pp. ISBN: 978-0865719415

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