What is the lesson of COVID-19?

The US has been reacting to this public health crisis of COVID-19. But one can’t remain in emergency mode permanently. So, we’ve suddenly switched to the opposite reaction of reopening everything as a free-for-all as if everything is fine and normal again. Then there will likely be a massive upswing again of infections, followed by another period of fearful reaction.

We are stuck in this cycle because we are unprepared, both in terms of public policy and public health. But a major factor is the population is so unhealthy with 88% of Americans being metabolically unfit, not to mention environmental risks to the health of poor communities. Even in the best of times, that would eventually be devastating simply in terms of financial costs. Some predict we might eventually go bankrupt from treating all those sick Americans, along with the increasing costs of sick days, disability pay, etc.

The main thing that COVID-19 is showing us is how weak of a position we are in. It’s multiple factors that are putting us in a difficult bind. And this is a rather minor pandemic. If a truly deadly pandemic hits, which is inevitable, our society is going to be totally crippled and devastated. We barely can manage public health issues and healthcare costs without a pandemic. This situation is only going to get worse, specifically as the rates of metabolic disease continue to rise.

If we don’t become pro-active about dietary policy and healthcare quickly, we could be facing an existential crisis as a society. So, why is no major official or expert talking about public health in terms of factors we can control, specifically comorbidities such as diet-related and pollution-related suppression of the immune system? We can try to control external risk factors through public policies on social gathering and such, but we’d be wiser in the long term to improve public health by improving the metabolic and immunological health of Americans so that we are less susceptible to infections in the first place.

Being unhealthy is not only a threat to the individual. When magnified across an entire society, most of the population being unhealthy is a much greater threat. Every single unhealthy individual is a risk factor, is a threat of infectious spread to their family, friends, neighbors, fellow church congregants, etc. Personal health is a public health issue. But Americans seem only to know how to react to such things, or else scapegoat individuals for failure of public policy. Even those who want to dismiss it all are likewise trapped in an opposite reaction. Both sides have their head in the sand about the most central factor.

Even if the COVID-19 pandemic fizzles out in the end with maybe only a million or so dead in the United States, it doesn’t change the basic public health crisis that will continue to get worse. Imagine when even more people in the United States and worldwide have metabolic diseases, and imagine when an even more virulent infectious disease hits. If we make no changes before then to improve individual and public health, we will be in a worse position than now and we will still be unprepared. Are we going to learn any lesson from this crisis?

None of this is to consider the potential combination of other factors. We are likely entering a period of one crisis after another with each crisis as bad or worse than the one before. Besides pandemics and other public health problems, there will be climate change events with worsening and increasing number of superstorms, along with floods, droughts, wildfires, famines, etc that will lead to refugee crises, social instability, civil wars, political coups, international conflict, fight over resources, and on and on.

That could be on top of the crises of destabilizing inequality, loss of public trust, and weakening political authority; not to mention various backlashes of reactionary politics, authoritarianism, riots, terrorism, and so much else. In the end, worsening health concerns, even pandemics, might be the least of our worries. But certainly a great enough public health crisis alone could unleash a cascade of stresses, conflicts, and failures within American society and across the geopolitical order.

This situation with COVID-19 is a warning we should heed. This could be, as some claim, the new normal. Or else a mere suggestion of the new normal yet to come.

Climate Change Worsening Faster Than Expected

Here in the Midwest, the “Hundredth Meridian” has been moving eastward (140 miles east and so now technically is the 98th Meridian). That is the dividing line between the dry and the humid. The dry region is creeping into Iowa and, in recent years, it has brought droughts along with it. Yet in the unpredictability of climate change, this year Iowa as had more precipitation than has been seen since records began to be kept in 1895. We have some of the best soil in the world and so feed a large part of the world, but farmers here are having a hard time getting their crops in. Also, it wasn’t that long ago that the Midwest had one of the largest floods in American history, what they called a 500 year flood. On top of that, there has been increased tornado activity.

Climate change causes weather patterns to go wacky and bounce between extremes. Along with other weather events such as superstorms that get so much attention, droughts and floods have increasingly been seen around the world. Like the American Midwest, Europe has also recently experienced droughts and that has decreased crop yields. It’s far worse in other regions. One of the largest cities in India has lost all access to water, as all four reservoirs have dried up. The Middle East is having the worst drought seen in almost a thousand years. And it turns out this has been happening for a while. Scientists have determined that man-made climate change was causing droughts at least as far back as earlier last century. Even further back, the impact on climate can be detected from ancient Roman air pollution.

Not only scientists but the Pentagon has been studying the situation and warning about the consequences. Climate change is a climate crisis. We now know that it’s a key contributing factor to ongoing famines, economic collapse, sociopolitical instability, international conflicts, civil wars, revolutions, and refugee crises. In some parts of the world, it’s beginning to get too hot to live. And these places happen to be where most of the world’s population is concentrated. A similar pattern is happening with how most of the world’s population is along coasts where storms are becoming a worsening threat. The Arctic is seeing record temperatures, the permafrost and glaciers are melting, and islands are disappearing as the water rises. Ever more people are being affected, many to the point of desperation. This leads to authoritarian and violent reactions, including terrorism. So, large numbers are fleeing in all directions and so the problem cascades from one society to the next.

Even in countries like the US, the increasing stress might be more subtle but no less impactful. Most Americans now agree that climate change is happening, even if the ruling elite continues to put on a spectacle in debating it. There is an underlying sense of crisis, not only felt by farmers who are struggling and worried about the future. Many major storms and floods have devastated American cities. Because of drier conditions, wildfires are ravaging other parts of the country. Even as President Donald Trump denies its existence, maybe the stress and uncertainty of climate change contributed to the populist outrage that got him elected. Americans realize there is a dangerous situation developing and, in desperation, it isn’t uncommon for people to turn to demagogues and authoritarians. It’s not that climate change is behind every bad thing in the world, but what is true that every bad thing in the world will be made worse by it.

Even ignoring the worst results on society, the harm to the individual is real. Many people become sick as pests and viruses spread. And many die from numerous causes, such as heatwaves: “More than 70,000 people perished to the extreme heat of the 2003 European heatwave, more than 10,000 people to the 2010 Russian heatwave, and more than 2,000 to the 2015 India heatwave. Altogether more than 800 cases of deadly heatwaves have been documented worldwide since 1980” (Climate & Capitalism, Heatwaves can kill 27 ways, and climate change puts 74% of humanity at risk).

Even for those who don’t die, life will be more difficult, uncomfortable, and stressful. Resources, from water to food, will become scarce for ever more people and so, even for those lucky enough to have access, prices for basic goods will increase. Disease and sickness will grow, along with healthcare burdens that could bankrupt many countries. Sure, the worsening conditions in many cases will lead to mass violence, probably world war, but for the average person that might be the least of their worries when they are faced with everyday difficulties and struggles in trying to take care of their families. We will see mass suffering on a scale not known in modern history. It has already begun.

Much of it is already too far gone to stop. Ecological destruction, for example, has already hit a tipping point where mass extinction will probably continue unabated. Yet climate change itself is not inevitable. Even at this late of a date, we could change our ways and avoid the worst outcomes. Will we? Probably not. But I’m not absolutely certain civilization will entirely collapse. Humans are innovative when times get tough. Still, we are forcing ourselves into a corner that will be hard to get out of without mass sacrifice and mass death. There will be high costs without any guaranteed benefit, much less certain salvation. The best hoped for outcome could be severely decreased populations living in small areas of environmental stability while others might eke by in biodomes. Life won’t return to normal. The good times of temperate climate that made the agricultural revolution possible, that is most likely coming to an end.

* * *

Environmentalist Majority
Climate Catastrophe In Slow Motion
Modernity as Death Cult
Inequality in the Anthropocene
Climate Change, Refugees, and Terrorism
Is Adaptation to Collapse the Best Case Scenario?
More Words
Learning to Die

Ancient Roman air pollution caused climate change in Europe
by Michael Marshall

Roots of Climate Change Traced to 19th Century Industry
by John Parton

Global Warming Was Already Fueling Droughts in Early 1900s, Study Shows
by Bob Berwyn

Fingerprint of Climate Change on Drought Traced to 1900
by Victoria Prieskop

100th Meridian, Which Divides the Arid West From the More Humid East, May Be Shifting Because of Climate Change
by Pam Wright

The 100th Meridian, Where the Great Plains Begin, May Be Shifting
Warming Climate May Be Moving Western Aridity Eastward
by Kevin Krajick

Scientists: Climate change causing heatwaves, droughts and floods
from Climate & Capitalism

Tipping Point Looms as Climate Change Dries Out Earth
by Matthew Renda

Warming raises threat of global famine repeat
by Tim Radford

This Exhausted Polar Bear Wandering a Siberian Suburb Is the Latest Face of the Climate Crisis
Olivia Rosan

‘This Should Scare the Hell Out of You’: Photo of Greenland Sled Dog Teams Walking on Melted Water Goes Viral
by Jon Queally

CO2 Concentration Is Higher Than Ever in Human History
by Dahr Jamail

Scientists Are Stunned by How Rapidly Ice Is Melting in the Arctic
by Dahr Jamail

Scientists shocked by Arctic permafrost thawing 70 years sooner than predicted
from The Guardian

‘The Changes Are Really Accelerating’: Alaska at Record Warm While Greenland Sees Major Ice Melt
by Eoin Higgins

Canada warming at twice the global rate, climate report finds
by Leyland Cecco

Himalayan Glacier Melt Has Doubled Since 2000, Satellites Show
by Olivia Rosane

Greenland Temps Soar 40 Degrees Above Normal, Record Melting of Ice Sheet
by Jordan Davidson

Climate Change Is Slamming the Mediterranean and Risks Are Being Underestimated, Scientists Warn
by Ruth Schuster

New Satellite Photos Show Climate Change Is Sweeping Europe
by Jonathan Tirone

Climate Change Plays Major Role in Record European Heat
from Climate Central

Europe’s seas to lose almost a third of life due to climate change: report
from DW Akademie

Europe set to suffer as climate change brings mosquito threat
by Tarek Bazley

Global warming could drive 660,000 more people per year to Europe
by Courtney Norris

Chennai water crisis: City’s reservoirs run dry
from BBC

‘The New Normal’: Ten of Thousands Flee Extreme Heatwave in India as Temperatures Topping 120°F Kill Dozens Across Country
by Julia Conley

The Future Is Now: Iran’s Drought Crisis Is Fueling the Country’s Political Instability
by Matthew Reisener

Pakistan is ground zero for global warming consequences
by Abdul Salam

How Climate Change Could Exacerbate Conflict in the Middle East
by Sagatom Saha

Climate change will fuel more wars and displacement in the Middle East, experts warn
by Borzou Daragahi

How The Middle East’s Drought Cycle Will Probably Lead To Even More Refugees
by Rachel Delia Benaim

3.5 million children now uprooted in Africa – including those displaced by conflict, poverty and climate change
from UNICEF

Drought subjects Central America to pests, loss of crops and lack of drinking water
by Noe Leiva

Two million risk hunger after drought in Central America – U.N
by Anastasia Moloney

The Caravan Is a Climate Change Story
by Lauren Markham

How Climate Change Is Fuelling the U.S. Border Crisis
by Jonathan Blitzer

Central America: Climate, Drought, Migration and the Border
by Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett, US Navy (Retired)

How a Climate Change-Fueled Drought and US-Fed Violence Drives Immigration
by Amy Goodman and Juan González

Pentagon Fears Confirmed: Climate Change Leads to More Wars and Refugees
by Jonathan Tirone

How soon will climate change force you to move?
by Adele Peters

A warming Arctic could cost the world trillions of dollars
by Stephen Leahy

Companies Expect Climate Change to Cost Them $1 Trillion in 5 Years
by Sara Harrison

The Bank of England lays bare the “very real” trillion-dollar risks of climate change
by Akshat Rathi

Arctic Warming Will Cost At Least $24 Trillion More Than We Thought, Study Finds
by Becky Ferreira

The $70-Trillion Climate Bill Coming Our Way
by Tim Radford