Oh Ed Yong, how I love your worrrrrrrk! It’s SUCH a light in bleak times, and he’s very real with us about what’s happening, with excellent analysis, written beautifully. Nerd swoon. Check this out: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/09/america-prepared-next-pandemic/620238/
Assessing any problem on an isolated present-moment-single-problem-focused level, will never actually fix it. This applies to individual health concerns, climate justice, and, in this case, public health as it applies to pandemic preparedness.
If we address an individual health condition (say, a Latine person recovering from a severe diabetic ulcer), we make sure they take their medication, have wound care, even help around the house and food while they recover. We don’t usually assess their long term home situation, social support, finances, stress levels, access to food, or health care. It’s even less likely we look with a wider view of the community and structures that allowed them to get that sick before getting help (e.g. structural and individual racism in health care). Good treatment is a good bandaid and buys us time, but doesn’t prevent even that one person from having something else happen as a consequence of the entire collection of conditions that led them there.
Turning to climate change, in November, the UN’s COP 26 meeting is happening, but the parties involved can barely agree on language, much less policies. Each individual country does not matter more than the whole since we’re all connected, but nationalism, power, and money are still driving 99% of the political conversations about climate change. We are unlikely to make helpful change without understanding and taking into account the history, racism, and economic injustice inherent in environmental issues. I’m angry that they’re blathering still, when the evidence is overwhelming and there are so many excellent options if we only had the courage to implement them. Money means nothing if we don’t have air and water and food, not to mention beautiful spaces, biodiversity, with working ecosystems worldwide.
From Ed’s article, there is funding in the US bill to improve diagnostics, vaccines, treatments, monitoring of future threats, and shoring up infrastructure slightly. But the things that will actually protect us and help us meet future challenges are the same as the things that will improve health overall and help us reduce the severity and impacts of climate change: improving equity in education, housing, wages/sick leave, food access and quality, and access to healthcare. The pandemic is likely to cost us $16 trillion, but that pales in comparison to the destruction that will come with the most severe outcomes of climate change. The money we spend on war and the carceral and police system now will not protect us from global destabilization from climate change. The way forward is to take this whole white supremacist colonialist capitalist structure and remake it. We’re all interdependent on each other and on the planet’s health to survive. No one is free or healthy until all the planet’s inhabitants are.
Medicine is a social science indeed, and so is environmental science. These things are all linked and need to be tackled together. Call your congress person, state representatives, local county board and city council, and ask them what they are doing – and because it’s unlikely to be nearly enough, push them. Support people and organizations that support interdependent and Indigenous frameworks and give us examples of how to do this work better and faster.