Mass Consumption Is What Ails Us

Mass Consumption Is What Ails Us

  • To Avoid Pandemics, Our Whole Economy Needs to Change

The effectiveness of our protections against future pandemics will hinge upon how we think about where they come from. The emerging conventional wisdom casts pandemics as fundamentally inscrutable and unpredictable, comparable to natural disasters and acts of terror. The most society can do to gird itself, in that case, is hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Bill Gates recommends researching and developing vaccines and mobilizing soldiers and medical workers. Former White House biodefense adviser Rajeev Venkayya suggests improved disease surveillance. And Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, calls for more funding for government health agencies.

But a wide range of potentially more effective and lasting interventions becomes possible when pandemics are understood in a different light: not as arbitrary calamities but instead as probabilistic events, made more likely by human agency. This means that humans can do more to avert pandemics, reducing the risk that pathogens erupt in our bodies in the first place and minimizing the probability that they will spread. But doing so will require a fundamental restructuring of the global economy and the current way of life, which rests upon the accelerating consumption of natural resources.