This week in a few words.
I will be writing a post every week with thoughts on an article, or a piece of writing that I will have found thoughtprovoking that week. If you would like me to read something you found interesting, or to have a discussion about it, reach out to me here.
As someone who is passionate about Computer Science, and having always had an interest in the discipline of Biology, this week’s article has been especially interesting. It ties into a book I am currently reading and hoping I never finish. Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus is a true pleasure to read. Every page is filled with startling facts about the worrying past, troubling present, and many possible futures of our species.
This article has left me most thoughtful about my present and future. It and other readings I will cite at the bottom examine an issue of interest to me, and perhaps to all of us in many ways. Share your thoughts about it with me.
In May of 1997, a boy in Hong Kong is diagnosed with a new form of influenza- H5- he was dead within days. Within months, the Chinese government had ordered the slaughter of 1.2 million birds to curb the spread of the outbreak. Epidemics and pandemics have historically been the greatest existential dangers our species has faced. We spend trillions on defense annualy, but war and violence have really killed just 167 million to 188 million in the last century. That is a drop in the ocean compared to epidemics and disease.
And more and more countries are continuing to become democratic.
War will continue to kill fewer and fewer people.
In contrast, disease continues to be our greatest existential threat.
“The Black Death is estimated to have wiped out approximately a third of the European population between 1346 and 1353. Tuberculosis killed about a billion people in the 19th and 20th centuries alone, and two billion are thought to be currently infected. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 resulted in between 50 and 100 million deaths worldwide in a space of just 24 weeks.”
Yuval Noah Harari writes on the Spanish Flu in Homo Deus: A brief history of Tomorrow,
Within a few months, about half a billion people – a third of the global population – came down with the virus. In India it killed 5 per cent of the population (15 million people). On the island of Tahiti, 14 per cent died. On Samoa, 20 per cent. In the copper mines of the Congo one out of five labourers perished. Altogether the pandemic killed between 50 million and 100 million people in less than a year. The First World War killed 40 million from 1914 to 1918.
Duncan Geere continues,
“Then there’s malaria, about which there are only scattershot records, but may have killed as many as half the human beings who have ever lived.”
50% of all human beings who have ever lived!
These are frightening figures. Duncan Green almost strike me as two great minds discussing the many ways our species could be wiped out. Fortunately, advances in medicine in the last century have minimised the mortality and prevalence of infectious diseases substantially. In their place, heart disease, and diabetes have risen to occupy the vacuum.
Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder Yuval Noah Harari, Author of Homo Deus- A brief History of Tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari argues,
“In 2014 more than 2.1 billion people were overweight, compared to 850 million who suffered from malnutrition. Half of humankind is expected to be overweight by 2030. In 2010 famine and malnutrition combined killed about 1 million people, whereas obesity killed 3 million.”
Project Syndicate Preempting the Next Pandemic
“Whereas in ancient agricultural societies human violence caused about 15 per cent of all deaths, during the twentieth century violence caused only 5 per cent of deaths, and in the early twenty-first century it is responsible for about 1 per cent of global mortality.22 In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes.Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.”
Authorities in the field say we are grossly unprepared for a major outbreak of a virulent pandemic. Bill Gates and other prominent figures have expressed similar worries. Current global policies and sentiment almost hinder progress we could make in securing ourselves against the risk of such an outbreak taking place.
It is interesting for me to note how even in this arena, our unity plays such a significant stake in the fate of our nations, and perhaps our very species.
Harari, Yuval Noah. Homo deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Place of publication not identified: Vintage, 2017.