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Is Paranoia the Key to Pandemic Preparedness?

Niall Ferguson
 

By Niall Ferguson

In January 2020, government and business leaders from around the world gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum. Among the attendees, there was widespread agreement that climate change was the principal threat to humanity. George Soros said it. Greta Thunberg said it. The forum’s Global Risks Report, published shortly before the Davos gathering, listed as its “top five global risks in terms of likelihood” extreme weather, climate action failure, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, and human-made environmental disasters. Three climate-related risks also made it into the forum’s top five “in terms of impact”—a distinction that pandemics had not achieved since 2008. Yet even as the great and the good mingled in Davos, a deadly and highly contagious novel coronavirus was rapidly spreading around the world.

The dangers arising from climbing global temperatures are, of course, real and potentially catastrophic. But to focus exclusively on climate change is to risk underestimating other potential catastrophes: wars, revolutions, and genocides, not to mention volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, droughts, floods, tempests—and plagues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods around the globe.

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