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Opinion: Jared Diamond explains how COVID-19 could change the world – for the better

By on April 19, 2021 0

LOS ANGELES (Project Syndicate) —Today, COVID-19 is ravaging the world. It’s infecting many (maybe even most) of us, killing some, ending our normal social relationships, disrupting most international travel, and sabotaging our economies and commerce.

What will the world be like in a few years, after this acute crisis is over?


No country will be safe from COVID-19 until all are.

It is widely believed that vaccines will soon protect us against COVID-19. Alas, this perspective remains very uncertain. Scientists from many countries – China, the United States, Russia, Britain and others – have rushed to develop effective COVID-19 vaccines, and the first are just starting to become available. It suggests worst case, best case, and everything in between.

Worst case

There are already many signs of the onset of the worst-case scenario. Even though some countries have developed, tested and started distributing an effective vaccine, doses sufficient for the 7.7 billion people worldwide cannot be manufactured and distributed around the world overnight.


On second thought, however, selfish national policies would be suicidal. Even in the short term, no country can ensure sustainable COVID-19 security on its own by eliminating the disease within its borders.

At first, supplies will be scarce. Who will receive these coveted first doses? Common sense propositions state that the first doses should be reserved for medical personnel, because everyone needs these medical personnel to administer the doses to the rest of us and to treat the sick. Among those of us who are not medical personnel, the rich and influential can be expected to find ways to acquire doses before the poor and uninfluenced.

But these selfish considerations don’t just apply to the allocation of doses in a country, there is probably also international selfishness.

A country that develops a vaccine will surely prioritize its own citizens. Such prioritization has already occurred when it comes to face masks: a few months ago, when these masks were scarce and some shipments from China reached Europe, there were rushes and bidding wars. ensued as countries sought to secure these supplies for themselves. Worse yet, countries that develop a vaccine may deny it to their political or economic rivals.

Richard N. Haass: How nationalism could ruin the COVID-19 vaccine

On second thought, however, selfish national policies would be suicidal. Even in the short term, no country can ensure sustainable COVID-19 security on its own by eliminating the disease within its borders. In today’s globalized world, COVID-19 would simply return to such a country from others who had not eliminated the virus.

It has happened before in New Zealand and Vietnam, where strict measures have stopped local transmission, but returning travelers have continued to import new cases of COVID-19. This illustrates a key conclusion: No country will be safe from COVID-19 until all are. It is a global problem that demands a global solution.


COVID-19 is a trifle compared to the dangers that climate change, resource depletion and inequality pose for all of us.

The good news

I take this fact as good news. We face other global problems requiring global solutions: in particular climate change, the depletion of global resources and the destabilizing consequences of inequalities between countries in our globalized world.

Just as no country can protect itself forever from COVID-19 simply by eliminating the virus within its borders, no country can protect itself from climate change simply by reducing its dependence on fossil fuels and reducing its costs. own greenhouse gas emissions. Atmospheric carbon dioxide, like COVID-19, does not respect political boundaries.

But climate change, resource depletion and inequality pose far more serious threats to our survival and quality of life than the current pandemic. Even in the worst case scenario, if every human being on Earth is exposed to COVID-19 and 2% of us die from it, it only kills 154 million. That leaves 7,546,000,000 people still alive: more than enough to ensure human survival.

COVID-19 is a trifle compared to the dangers that climate change, resource depletion and inequality pose for all of us.

Kill us fast, kill us slow

Why, then, have we not been galvanized to act on climate change and these other global threats, when we are galvanized by the milder threat of COVID-19? The answer is obvious: COVID-19 catches our attention, making its victims sick or killing them quickly (within days or weeks) and unequivocally.

In contrast, climate change is slowly ruining us, and much less clearly, through indirect consequences such as reduced food production, famine, extreme weather events and the spread of tropical diseases in temperate zones. Therefore, we have been slow to recognize climate change as a global threat requiring a global response.

This is why the COVID-19 pandemic gives me hope, even as I mourn the loss of dear friends she killed. For the first time in the history of the world, the peoples of the world are forced to recognize that we all face a common threat that no country can overcome on its own.

If the peoples of the world unite, under duress, to defeat COVID-19, they could learn a lesson. They can become motivated to unite, under duress, to tackle climate change, resource depletion and inequality. In this case, COVID-19 will have brought not only tragedy but also salvation, finally putting the peoples of the world on a sustainable path.

Jared Diamond, professor of geography at the University of California Los Angeles, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Weapons, germs and steel, “Collapse, ”And other international bestsellers.

This comment was posted with permission from Project unionHow could COVID-19 change the world?

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