PublicationMiscellaneous This Should Have Been Problem, Not a Pandemic

June 12, 2020
Publication Type:

This Should Have Been a Problem, Not a Pandemic

By Daniel M. Kammen

AS OF THIS WRITING (EARLY APRIL 2020), more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide are sick with COVID-19, 20 per­cent of them in the Unit­ed States. After claim­ing that COVID-19 was noth­ing more than the flu, the U.S. pres­i­dent has been forced to retreat and admit that 200,000 deaths would be a sort of vic­to­ry rel­a­tive to fore­casts of 2 mil­lion dead. His pres­i­den­cy has turned away from sci­ence in search of prof­its for the already wealthy and cares so lit­tle about its cit­i­zens that basic health care is a lux­u­ry good. We have seen the worst eco­nom­ic quar­ter in the his­to­ry of the U.S. stock mar­ket, and unem­ploy­ment is approach­ing 15% nation­wide, with pro­jec­tions of 50% in some of the hard­est hit, and most fos­sil-fuel depen­dent, states. Every­thing COVID is of exces­sive, his­toric proportions.

Daniel M. Kam­men is the Class of 1935 Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Ener­gy with appoint­ments in the Ener­gy and Resources Group, the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­i­cy, and the Depart­ment of Nuclear Engi­neer­ing. He is also the found­ing direc­tor of the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Ener­gy Lab­o­ra­to­ry (RAEL), co-direc­tor of the Berke­ley Insti­tute of the Envi­ron­ment, and direc­tor of the Trans­porta­tion Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Research Center.

And yet, COVID-19 is a sim­ple, nat­ur­al virus. True, it is potent and chal­leng­ing, but it is not unique, and there will be oth­er crises on a crowd­ed, over-con­sum­ing plan­et where we have put every ecosys­tem and species in per­il, includ­ing our own.

There is, how­ev­er, noth­ing nat­ur­al about the cri­sis we now face. It has been engi­neered by humans. The tragedy we face is, in fact, one of greed and indifference.

To turn a virus into a social and eco­nom­ic upheaval takes work. We need­ed to active­ly ignore and dis­count most of the best lessons of the past cen­tu­ry. We have elect­ed a gov­ern­ment that deval­ued, ignored, and dis­re­spect­ed sci­ence, despite a cen­tu­ry of med­ical advances that have enabled healthy, long, lives. We have under-invest­ed in research and edu­ca­tion, despite award­ing the 1987 Nobel Prize in Eco­nom­ics for work that indi­cates that 80 per­cent of eco­nom­ic growth, or more, derives from sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion. We have uplift­ed opin­ions on social media based on how caus­tic and cru­el they are, not how much they are based in fact. We installed a gov­ern­ment that has looked to divide, not to unite, has fought against healthy air and water, and encour­ages wages to be as low and demean­ing as pos­si­ble to enrich the already affluent.

COVID-19 would not have spread as fast and as vir­u­lent­ly if the lessons of SARS, MERS, and Ebo­la were act­ed upon in the Unit­ed States. It would be a prob­lem, not a pan­dem­ic, if health­care were avail­able to the peo­ple who cook, clean, shop, and care for the more afflu­ent. And more impor­tant­ly, destruc­tion of bio­di­ver­si­ty and nat­ur­al areas means that coro­n­avirus-type episodes are like­ly to become more common.

So, while COVID-19 is right­ly dom­i­nat­ing the head­lines, the true crime is of sidelin­ing sci­ence, abus­ing the plan­et by valu­ing prof­its over basic health and edu­ca­tion­al ser­vices, liv­ing wages, and social oppor­tu­ni­ty for the most vulnerable.


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