Preventing the Next Pandemic
This is the first book I could finish since COVID. It’s not the first book I thought I wanted to read, especially after our family got COVID. It’s a painful topic I’d rather quickly forget and move on from, like the rest of us.
But veteran science writer Debora Mackenzie’s book isn’t about the illness as much as it addresses the systems that allow outbreaks to flourish unchecked.
I found it fascinating and ultimately empowering to understand the “why” behind pandemics — especially since we’re likely to have another one soon unless we address the underlying factors.
According to the author, virus outbreaks are increasing due to deforestation/ encroachment on wildlife, global travel, climate change that promotes pathogen-carrying wildlife and insect migration, factory farming with human-to-animal contact (especially chickens and pigs), and cutbacks in infectious disease research.
These are all things that scientists have been warning about for years — especially as it relates to another flu outbreak. We’ve seen plenty of “near-miss” pandemics like SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika, H1N1 and many others that should make us pay attention.
Beyond the illnesses and loss of life, pandemics by definition disrupt all our interconnected global ecosystems, as we saw with the supply chains last spring. The long-term havoc of climate change will only make this worse. The scariest chapter was called “Things fall apart,” which shows how social inequality, our reliance on fragile efficiency, and just-in-time food delivery make us particularly vulnerable.
So what can we do about it? The book is written by a journalist who has been a science writer for 36 years, and she rightly focuses on the importance of governments and international cooperation to prevent and mitigate future outbreaks.
At the same time, I’d like to read more about what we can do on an individual and local level. Reducing our reliance on factory farming and animal agriculture seems like a logical place to start, for the health of the planet and all of us with “shared catastrophic risk.”
In other words, we’re all in this together.