Postscript – The World at Risk: Covid-19, Global Sustainability and 1 HOPE

Postscript piece here by George Lueddeke is just an addition - an update to an article by him first posted on PEAH in March this year. Publishing it further to the article may be of help to reinforce proactivity and awareness governments and policymakers desperately need in preparation for post-Covid-19. Given the devastating worldwide effects of the pandemics, no wonder, indeed, global and national leaders are urged to collaborate and adopt sustainability values and measures without delay to save the world from itself.

Comments on the article and postscript are welcomed –

By George Lueddeke PhD, MEd, Dipl. AVES (Hon.)

Chair, One Health Education Task Force and the international One Health for One Planet Education initiative (1 HOPE) 

(One Health Commission and the One Health Initiative)


The World at Risk

Covid-19, Global Sustainability and 1 HOPE

The article published on 25 March 2020 reported data that totally underestimated the devastating global effects of Covid-19. Since that time the pandemic has forced more than 30 million Americans alone to lose their jobs, far exceeding the 25 million job losses worldwide predicted by the United Nations. Indeed, projections are now that close to 200 million people could end up without work globally – ten times the March prediction with over 80% of the global workforce of 3.3 billion people having had their workplace fully or partly closed. Business is in freefall with several countries (e.g., France, Italy) already in recession and GDP possibly collapsing by as much as 12 percent across the Euro area as shoppers stay indoors. The possibility of a global depression similar to the 1930s is very real. While the coronavirus antiviral drug remdesivir looks promising, many scientists agree that it may not be a “game-changer” for most patients, and the hunt is on for a long-term solution to the global crisis. Over 100 clinical labs are conducting intensive research – most collaboratively- to develop a vaccine that would provide protection for billions of people with Oxford University and Imperial College leading the way in the UK.

The impact of Covid-19 has been devastating with the total number of cases across the world now moving toward 4 million (May 3) and most of the more than 254,000 deaths in the US (c. 66, 000), followed by Spain (c. 25,000), Italy (29,000) and the UK (c. 30,000). On a cautiously  more positive note, in some  countries the cases  may have peaked in April and governments have begun to ease restrictions on social distancing as concerns remain over  the psychological effects of those (especially the elderly and young) forced to remain indoors and away from family and friends.

Covid-19 was not unexpected as key reports in the US (e.g., independent Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future [GHRF], 2016; Harvard’s Global Health Institute report, Global Monitoring of Disease Outbreak Preparedness: Preventing the next Pandemic, 2019) all  reached similar conclusions as the GHRF:  “a flu pandemic could kill millions, cost trillions, and derail the global economy.”  In the UK the possibility of a pandemic was considered a “level five” threat-war-gamed in October 2016. Notably, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board in 2019 also alerted governments to scale up “research and development for new vaccines and medicines.” Its chair, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, formerly Prime Minister of Norway and Director-General of the World Health Organization, lamented that world leaders’ response to an impending crisis was “a cycle of panic and neglect.”

The questions on everyone’s mind are ‘when will the pandemic be over?’ and ‘what changes will need to be put in place to create a new “normal,”?’ –  one that mitigates the probability of a pandemic reoccurrence, and other possibly future crises.  As someone recently said, the “old normal” was never “normal,”  not when we have regions and countries, for example, Africa and India – with over 1 billion people each – excluded as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the UN’s most powerful body that  has ‘primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security’ but seems to be in a state of  Covid-19 ‘paralysis,’  when we are driving species to extinction at about 1000 times baseline rates, while decreasing vertebrate animals by more than  50% in the past two generations. And, definitely not when social injustices and inequities are allowed to continue  (e.g., the Syrian conflict – creating ‘one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time’ with millions killed or forced to flee their homes now facing Covid-19,  and, globally, 4.5 billion out of c 7.8 billion without safe sanitation). Can we really continue on a planet where annual funding for conflicts and wars (c. US $13 trillion) is prioritised over peace (c. US $ 6 billion) with on-going attempts to reduce even this amount?  And, can we simply ignore the latest metaphorical re-setting of the Atomic Clock (threats to humanity – e.g., nuclear weapons, climate change, pandemics) by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, from 2 minutes to midnight in 2018 to 100 seconds in January 2020?

In terms of responding to the question on the length of the pandemic raised in the previous paragraph no one really knows the answers and will largely depend on how well people follow government guidelines on keeping safe. Unfortunately, many of the most vulnerable living in the poorest conditions will not have any guidelines to follow and will be at greatest risk to themselves and their families and indeed the world. Their plight will need to become a top global priority as we strive to build  a new “normal” and the adoption of  a global new mindset – re-orienting society  from its main concern for itself and separate from and superior to nature (anthropocentrism or humancentrism) – the root causes of most global problems today!- to one that respects and protects the sanctity of all life and the sustainability of the planet (ecocentrism). Transdisciplinary education (holistic learning!) – across all formal and non-formal levels – that demonstrates a much greater concern for the future – remains our best hope for transforming society in the longer run.

In the immediate, the sage advice offered by Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary General, is well worth noting as governments plan for a new “normal”.  In a piece entitled “Tackling the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis together: Contributing to a global effort,”  he  contends  that in the post-COVID world

“…governments have a unique chance for a green and inclusive recovery that they must seize – a recovery that not only provides income and jobs, but also has broader well-being goals at its core, integrates strong climate and biodiversity action, and builds resilience. Stimulus packages need to be aligned with ambitious policies to tackle climate change and environmental damage. Only such an approach can deliver win-win-win policies for people, planet and prosperity.”

Applying lessons from previous crises, the Secretary General’s recommended strategies include the need to

  • align ‘the short-term emergency responses to the achievement of long-term economic, social and environmental objectives and international obligations (the Paris Climate Agreement, the SDGs)’;
  • prevent ‘lock-in of high-emissions activities’ while focusing  ‘support on the most vulnerable countries’; and
  • ensure the systematic integration of ‘environmental and equity considerations into the economic recovery.’

His concluding comment that ‘Protecting the planet is the most important inter-generational responsibility we have today’ is one that must be taken very seriously by all decision-makers.   Significant steps in this direction would be reversing decades of undervaluing and underfunding (5%: 95% ratios) public health measures at the expense of treatment and increasingly unaffordable cures. Extending the meaning and responsibilities of public health to embrace not only human health and well-being but also all species is another critical advance.  In this regard, bringing human and veterinary medicine more closely together (education, research, practice) would not only reduce costs but most importantly also lead to building our capacity for ensuring the sustainability of life on earth. Over 70% of all emerging diseases today are of animal [zoonotic] origin. Covid-19  is the most recent and likely one of the most devastating pandemics  in the past century, and  to save the world from itself,  global and national leaders – regardless of  political persuasion or ideological leanings – are urged to collaborate and adopt sustainability values and measures without delay.

In the final analysis, will any of our differences or divisions that we have created matter on a planet potentially devoid of life?



Comments on the article and postscript are welcomed –