Evolution can be ruthless at eliminating the unfit. “Red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson memorably described it, Nature routinely sacrifices billions of individual organisms and sometimes entire species in the course of its adaptive progression.
We humans have been able to blunt Nature’s fangs. We take care of individuals who would not be able to survive on their own—the elderly, the sick, the wounded—and we’ve been doing so for a long time, perhaps tens of thousands of years. In recent decades more and more of us have leapt aboard the raft of societally ensured survival—though in ways that often have little to do with compassion: today even most hale and hearty individuals would be hard pressed to stay alive for more than a few days or weeks if cut adrift from supermarkets, ATMs and the rest of the infrastructure of modern industrialism.
This strategy of expanding our collective fitness has (at least temporarily) paid off: the consequent reduction in our death rate has resulted in a 700 percent expansion of human population in just the past two centuries, and a current population growth rate of about 80 million per year (births in excess of deaths). Humans are everywhere taking carrying capacity away from most other organisms, except ones that directly serve us such as maize and cattle. We have become expert at cooperatively avoiding nature’s culling, and thus at partially (and, again, temporarily) defeating natural selection—at least, in the way it applies to other species.
Some argue that “natural selection” is at work within human society whenever clever and hard-working folks get ahead while lazy dullards lag behind. The philosophy of Social Darwinism holds that this kind of competitive selection improves the species. But critics point out that individual success within society can be maladaptive for society as a whole because if wealth becomes too unequally distributed, social stability is threatened. Such concerns have led most nations to artificially limit competitive selection at the societal level: in the U.S., these limits take the forms of the progressive income tax, Social Security, food stamps, disability payments, Medicaid and Aid for Dependent Children, among others. Even most self-described “conservatives” who think that government shouldn’t prevent society’s winners from taking all still think it’s good for churches to give to the needy.
While the last few decades of rapid economic growth and material abundance—enabled by cheap fossil energy—led to a dramatic expansion of social safety nets in industrialized countries, they also featured the emergence of an ostensibly benign global imperial system led by the U.S., whose fearsome military machine kept a lid on international conflict and whose universally accepted currency helped maintain relative international economic stability (in ways that served U.S. interests, of course). Globally, deaths from war have declined, as has mortality linked to dire poverty.
So far, so good (more or less).
Unfortunately, however, many key components of our successful collective efforts to beat The Reaper are essentially unsustainable. We have reduced mortality not just with antibiotics (to which microbes eventually develop immunity), but also with an economic strategy of drawing down renewable resources at rates exceeding those of natural replenishment, and of liquidating non-renewable resources as quickly as possible. By borrowing simultaneously from the past (when fossil fuels were produced) and the future (when our grandchildren will have to clean up our mess, pay our debt and do without the resources we squander), we are effectively engaging in population overshoot. Every population ecologist knows that when a species temporarily overshoots its environment’s long-term carrying capacity, a die-off will follow.
And so, as the world economy stops growing and starts contracting during the next few years, the results will likely include a global increase in human mortality.
Resilience theorists would say we’re entering the “release” phase of the adaptive cycle that characterizes all systemic development, a phase described as “a rapid, chaotic period during which capitals (natural, human, social, built and financial) tend to be lost and novelty can succeed.” This is a notion to which we’ll return repeatedly throughout this essay, and it’s a useful way of conceptualizing an experience that, for those undergoing it, will probably feel a lot less like “release” than “pure hell.” Among the possible outcomes: Government-funded safety nets become unaffordable and are abandoned. Public infrastructure decays. Economic systems, transport systems, political systems, health care systems and food systems become inoperable to varying degrees and in a variety of ways. Global military hegemony becomes more difficult to maintain for a range of reasons (including political dysfunction and economic decline at the imperial core, scarcity of transport fuel and the proliferation of cheap but highly destabilizing new weapons) and international conflict becomes more likely. Any of those outcomes increases our individual vulnerability. Everyone on the raft is imperiled, especially those who are poor, old, sick or disabled.
We could redesign our economic, political, transport, health care and food systems to be less brittle. But suggestions along those lines have been on the table for years and have been largely rejected because they don’t serve the interests of powerful groups that benefit from the status quo. Meanwhile the American populace seems incapable of raising an alarm or responding to it, consisting as it does of a large under-class that is over-fed but under-nourished, over-entertained but misinformed, over-indebted and under-skilled; and a much smaller over-class that lives primarily by financial predation and is happy to tune out any evidence of the dire impacts of its activities.
A thoroughly unsentimental reader of the portents might regard an increase in the human death rate as an inevitable and potentially beneficial culling of the species. The unfit will be pruned away, the fit will survive and humanity will be the better for it. Eventually. In theory.
Or maybe the rich and ruthless will survive and everyone else will either perish or submit to slavery.
The greatest danger is that, if social support systems utterly fail, “overshoot” could turn to “undershoot”: that is, population levels could overcorrect to the point that there are fewer survivors than could have been maintained if adaptation had been undertaken proactively—perhaps far fewer than the population just prior to the Industrial Revolution. And for those who did manage to struggle on, levels of culture and technology might plummet to a depth far below what could have been preserved had action been taken.
We have a population bottleneck, as William Catton calls it, ahead of us no matter what we do at this point. Even if a spectacular new energy source were to appear tomorrow, it would do little more than buy us a bit of time. However, we still get to choose how to pass through that bottleneck. We can exert some influence on factors that will determine how many of us get through, and in what condition.
Cooperative or Competitive Adaptation
A worst-case scenario is likely to be averted only by an effective, cooperative effort to adapt to scarcity and to recover from crises.
Fortunately there are perfectly good reasons for assuming that collaborative action along these lines will in fact emerge. We are a supremely cooperative species, and even our earliest ancestors were dedicated communitarians. Other species, though often squabbling over food and potential mates, likewise engage in sharing and cooperative behavior. Members of one species sometimes even cooperate with or offer help to members of different species. Indeed, as evolutionary theorist Peter Kropotkin pointed out in his landmark 1902 book Mutual Aid, evolution is driven by cooperation as well as by competition.
More directly to the point: hard times can bring out the worst in people, but also the best. Rebecca Solnit argues in A Paradise Built in Hell (see this review in the New York Times) that people tend to cooperate, share and help out at least as much during periods of crisis as during times of plenty. A critic might suggest that Solnit stretches this argument too far, and that collapsing societies often feature soaring rates of crime and violence (see, for example, Argentina circa 2000); nevertheless, she supports her thesis with compelling examples.
Assuming we fail to prevent crisis but merely respond to it, we might nevertheless anticipate a range of possible futures, depending on whether we set ourselves up to compete or cooperate. At one end of the competitive-cooperative scenarios spectrum, the rich few become feudal lords while everybody else languishes in direst poverty. At the other end of that spectrum, communities of free individuals cohere to produce necessities and maximize their chances for collective prosperity. Back at the “competitive” end of the scale, there is hoarding of food and widespread famine, while at the “cooperative” extreme community permaculture gardens spring up everywhere. With more competition, people perish for lack of basic survival skills; with more collaboration, people share skills and care for those with disabilities of one kind or another. Competitive efforts by investors to maintain their advantages could lead to a general collapse of trust in financial institutions, culminating in the cessation of trade at almost every level; but with enough cooperation, people could create a non-growth-based monetary system that acts as a public utility, leading to a new communitarian economics.
It’s a Set-Up
In the real world, humans are both competitive and cooperative—always have been, always will be. But circumstances, conditioning and brain chemistry can tend to make us more competitive or more collaborative. As we pass through the population-resource-economy bottleneck in the decades ahead, competitive and cooperative behaviors will in turn come to the fore in various times and places. My initial point in all of this is that, even in the absence of effective action to avert economic and environmental crises, we still have the capacity to set ourselves up to be either more competitive or more cooperative in times of scarcity and crisis. With the right social structures and the right conditioning, whole societies can become either more cutthroat or more amiable. By building community organizations now, we are improving our survival prospects later.
But I’d go further. Here’s a preliminary hypothesis for which I’m starting to collect both confirming and dis-confirming evidence: We’re likely to see the worst of ruthless competition in the early stage of the release phase, when power holders try to keep together what wants to fall apart and reorganize. The effort to hang on to what we have in the face of uncertainty and fear may bring out the competitive nature in many of us, but once we’re in the midst of actual crisis we may be more likely to band together.
Among elites—who have enormous amounts of wealth, power and privilege at stake—the former tendency has carried the day. And since elites largely shape the rules, regulations and information flows within society as a whole, this means we’re all caught up in a hyper-competitive and fearful moment as we wait for the penny to drop. Elites can deliberately nurture an “us-versus-them” mentality (via jingoistic patriotism, wedge issues and racial resentments) to keep ordinary people from cooperating more to further their common interests. Revolution, after all, is in many respects a cooperative undertaking, and in order to forestall it rulers sometimes harness the cooperative spirit of the masses in going to war against a common foreign enemy.
The over-competitiveness of this pre-release-phase is playing out most prominently and fatefully in debates over “austerity,” as nations bail out investment banks while leaving most citizens to languish under lay-offs, pension cuts, and wage cuts. It seems that no measure aimed to prevent defaults and losses to investors is too draconian. But in many historic instances (Russia, Iceland, Argentina) it was only after a massive financial default occurred—that is, once release ran its course—that nations could fundamentally revamp their monetary and banking systems, making recovery possible. That makes “release” sound a bit like a long-overdue vacation. It’s important to emphasize, however, that what we face now is not just a collapse and reorganization of a national financial sector, but a crucial turning from the overall expansionary trajectory of civilization itself.
Our collective passage through and reorganization after the release phase of this pivotal adaptive cycle can be thought of as an evolutionary event. And, as noted above, evolution is driven by cooperation as much as by competition. Indeed, cooperation is the source of most of our species’ extraordinary accomplishments so far. Language—which gives us the ability to coordinate our behavior across space and time—has made us by far the most successful large animal species on the planet. Our societal evolution from hunting-and-gathering bands to agrarian civilizations to industrial globalism required ever-higher levels of cooperative behavior: as one small example, think for a moment about the stunningly rich collaborative action required to build and inhabit a skyscraper. As we adapt and evolve further in the decades and centuries ahead, we will do so by finding even more effective ways to cooperate.
Ironically, however, during the past few millennia, and especially during the most recent century, social complexity has permitted greater concentrations of wealth, thus more economic inequality, and hence (at least potentially) more competition for control over heaps of agglomerated wealth. As Ivan Illich pointed out in his 1974 classic Energy and Equity, there has been a general correlation between the amount of energy flowing through a society and the degree of inequality within that society. And so, as we have tapped fossil fuels to permit by far the highest energy flow rates ever sustained by any human civilization, a few individuals have accumulated the biggest pots of wealth the world has ever seen. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that it is precisely during this recent, aberrant, high-energy historic interval that Social Darwinism and neoliberal economics have arisen, with the latter coming to dominate economic and social policy worldwide.
With release will come the opportunity for a collaborative evolutionary surge. Recall that in the release phase of the adaptive cycle there is expanded opportunity for novelty to succeed. Most people these days tend to think of novelty in purely technological terms, and it’s true that email and Twitter can speed social change—for example, by helping organize an instant political rally. But spending hours each day alone in front of a screen does not necessarily lead to collaborative behavior, and it’s just possible that we may not be able to count on our hand-held devices continuing to function in the context of global economic crisis, trade disruptions and resource shortages. Therefore perhaps it will be in our interactions within flesh-and-blood communities that our most decisive further innovations will arise.
The details are impossible to predict, but the general outline of our needed cooperative evolutionary leap is clear: we must develop a heightened collective ability to conserve natural resources while minimizing our human impacts on environmental systems. In some respects this might turn out to be little more than an updating of traditional societies’ methods of managing common grazing or hunting lands. But today the stakes are far higher: the commons must extend to include to all renewable and non-renewable resources, and “management” must bring extraction and harvest levels within the long-term ability of natural systems to recover and regenerate.
At the same time, with energy flows declining due to the depletion of fossil fuels, current levels of economic inequality will become unsupportable. Adaptation will require us to find ways of leveling the playing field peaceably.
Laying the groundwork for reorganization (following the release phase) will require building resilience into all our social structures and infrastructures. In the decades ahead, we must develop low-resource, low-energy ways of meeting human needs while nurturing an internalized imperative to keep population levels within ecosystems’ long-term carrying capacity.
There are those who say that we humans are too selfish and individualistic to make this kind of evolutionary leap, and that even if it were possible there’s simply too little time. If they’re right, then this may be the end of the line: we might soon wind up in the “unfit” bin of evolutionary history. But given our spectacular history of cooperative achievement so far, and given our ability to transform our collective behavior rapidly via language (aided, for the time being, with instantaneous communications technology), it stands to reason that our species has at least a fair chance of making the cut.
To be sure, evolution will be driven by crisis. We will adapt by necessity. In this release phase there will be vast potential for violence. Remember, release is the phase of the cycle in which capital is destroyed—and currently there are towering piles of human, built and financial capital waiting to topple. We have been set up to compete for shards and scraps. It’s no wonder that so many who sense the precariousness of our current situation have opted to become preppers and survivalists. But things will go a lot better for us if, rather than stocking up on guns and canned goods, we spend our time getting to know our neighbors, learning how to facilitate effective meetings or helping design resilient local food systems. Survival will depend on finding cooperative paths in which sacrifice is shared, the best of our collective achievements are preserved, and compassion is nurtured.
Darwin tells us we must evolve or die, and current circumstances bring that choice into stark relief. A lot of people evidently think that fitness and selfishness are the same. But we’ve gotten ourselves into our current fix not because we’re too good at cooperating to achieve collective fitness, but rather because, in our success, we failed to take account of the finite and fragile nature of the natural systems that support us. It’s true that individual initiative is important and that group-think can be stultifying. Yet it is our abilities to innovate socially and to cooperate in order to increase our collective fitness that have gotten us this far, and that will determine whether we survive, and under what conditions, as we adapt to scarcity and re-integrate ourselves within ecosystems in the decades ahead.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Arkilaus Kladit
My name is Arkilaus Kladit. I'm from the Knasaimos-Tehit tribe in South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. For decades my tribe has been fighting to protect our forests from outsiders who want to log it or clear it for palm oil. For my people, the forest is our mother and our best friend. Everything we need to survive comes from the forest: food, medicines, building materials, and there are many sacred sites in the forest.
Map of the Knasaimos traditional lands.
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By Farah Aqel
Overthinkers are people who are buried in their own obsessive thoughts. Imagine being in a large maze where each turn leads into an even deeper and knottier tangle of catastrophic, distressing events — that is what it feels like to them when they think about the issues that confront them.
Ruminating<p>According to the late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at Yale University, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796420/" target="_blank">ruminating</a> involves replaying a problem over and over in your mind. We ruminate by obsessing over our thoughts and thinking repetitively about various aspects of a past situation.</p><p>It usually involves regret, self-loathing and self-blaming. Rumination is associated with the development of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. </p><p>People prone to such patterns of thought may, for example, overanalyze every single detail of a relationship that breaks up. They often blame themselves for what has happened and are overcome with regret, with typical thoughts being: </p><p>- I should have been more patient and more supportive. </p><p>- I have lost the most perfect partner ever. </p><p>- No one will love me again.</p>
Worrying<p>Worrying is wanting to predict the future. It involves negative thoughts about things that might and might not happen.</p><p>- They'll not like me in the interview; they'll not give me the job. </p><p>- I haven't heard back from other employers. How long will I be unemployed?</p><p>These thoughts are energy-draining and distressing. They could happen to anyone under stress. But when you reach the point where your thoughts and worrying are preventing you from doing what you want to do — from living your life to the fullest — then you should take action.</p>
Catch Yourself Overthinking<p>Reuben Berger, a psychotherapist at the university hospital in the western German city of Bonn, recommends several practical steps that you could employ in your daily routine when you catch yourself worrying or ruminating.</p><p>One effective remedy, says Berger, is the <a href="https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uf9938" target="_blank">thought-stopping technique.</a></p><p>"When the negative thoughts come or ruminations start, you say to yourself: 'Stop!,'" he says, adding that it is more effective when you actually say the word out loud.</p><p>He even recommends having a rubber band around your wrist to ping against yourself while saying the word. Adding a visual component by imagining a stop sign also makes the technique more powerful, he says.</p><p>The main idea here is conditioning yourself to stop the loop of worrying (making future predictions) or rumination (obsessing over past events).</p><p>Berger says the technique could take up to two weeks to take effect and that it needs to be practiced every day. "Consistency is very important," he says. </p>
Thoughts Are Just Thoughts<p>Another way of dealing with negative thoughts often used in modern therapy is realizing that thoughts aren't facts, says Berger.</p><p>He says it is important when we think something to ask: Is that real? Did that really happen? What is the worst thing that could happen?</p><p>Flight anxiety is one example where untrue thoughts are accepted as facts. Although air travel is the safest way to get around, people suffering from fear of flying accept their thoughts and fears as reality, then act upon them by refusing to fly.</p>
Mindfulness<p>Berger also recommends the use of mindfulness techniques, in which attention is paid to experiences in the moment without judging them, as a way of reducing worrying.</p><p>"Mindfulness helps you to distance yourself from your thoughts and to be more present in the moment," he says.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3432145/#R2" target="_blank">Several studies</a> have shown that mindfulness has a positive impact on reducing stress-related behaviors such as rumination and worrying, as focusing on the moment makes anxiety about other problems impossible.</p><p>Mindfulness can be practiced during routine activities by paying attention to your body and your surroundings. For instance, when you leave for work in the morning, you can focus on sensing the breeze, listen attentively to birds, feel the gravel under your feet and monitor your breath. </p>
Trick Your Brain Into Happiness<p>People plagued by obsessive thoughts do not always choose healthy ways like mindfulness to distract from them, however.</p><p> Dr. Edward Selby, a psychologist at Florida state university, has shown in a study that people try to avoid rumination by engaging in a range of uncontrolled behaviors, such as binge eating and substance abuse.</p><p>But he says that a much better way to overcome such distress is by distraction and shifting attention away from problems that are obsessing us.</p><p>There are many activities that can be used to distract from rumination, he says, and people should choose the one that works best for them. Here are some examples:</p><p>- Listen to music</p><p>- Read a book</p><p>- Take a hot shower</p><p>- Dance or exercise </p><p>- Talk to a friend (not about the problem)</p><p>- Watch a movie</p><p>- Mindfulness meditation</p>
Changing the Perception of Events<p>The way people perceive a situation largely influences their emotions and behavior. It is not the situation itself that determines how they feel, but rather the way they interpret it.</p><p>Reframing negative thoughts can lead to positive emotions and, subsequently, healthier behaviors — including a reduction in damaging overthinking and worrying.</p><p>Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is currently a gold standard in psychotherapy. CBT aims to change the way people think and act. It largely involves challenging unhelpful beliefs or attitudes such as overgeneralization — thinking "I always fail at public speaking" when you have had one bad experience in front of an audience, for example — or "catastrophization," i.e., imagining the worst possible outcome to a situation. </p><p>A psychotherapist can teach people how to implement such thought-changing techniques into their lives. Techniques vary depending on their issues and goals.</p>
Solutions Are at Hand<p>Try to find ways of avoiding worrying, rumination and overthinking that make you feel most comfortable.</p><p>Incorporating any routine in your life when you're stressed isn't an easy task, but you can do it! If you feel overwhelmed, you can always seek professional help. </p><p><em>If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, <a href="https://www.befrienders.org/" target="_blank">at this website.</a></em></p>
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Researchers at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a cheap, efficient way to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuel, potentially reducing the amount of new carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.
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A 4,000-year-old ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed into the sea, leaving Canada without any fully intact ice shelves, Reuters reported. The Milne Ice Shelf lost more than 40 percent of its area in just two days at the end of July, said researchers who monitored its collapse.
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The coronavirus cases surging around the U.S. are often carried by kids, raising fears that the reopening of schools will be delayed and calling into question the wisdom of school districts that have reopened already.
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By Michael Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig and Nick Wilson
On Sunday, New Zealand marked 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.
Deaths From COVID-19 Per Million Population<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU0ODIyOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjkzMDc1OX0.7Yp1h1hokihlMJUurDukGmq-Y8NJB0V-07O1ukEjGt0/img.png?width=980" id="0fe6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bce85a610aee18e2f4f1c1caca7b8a0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
<div id="77fff" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce7b34f8986d3d36bee5d4d83ac0822c"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1292270210238447616" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">COVID-19 Update There are no new cases of COVID-19 to report in New Zealand today. It has been 100 days since t… https://t.co/Cz55ixGZUz</div> — Unite against COVID-19 (@Unite against COVID-19)<a href="https://twitter.com/covid19nz/statuses/1292270210238447616">1596936201.0</a></blockquote></div>
Getting Through the Pandemic<p>We have gained a much better understanding of COVID-19 over the past eight months. Without effective control measures, it is likely to continue to spread globally for many months to years, ultimately infecting billions and killing millions. The proportion of infected people who die appears to be <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.03.20089854v4" target="_blank">slightly below 1%</a>.</p><p>This infection also causes serious <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2815" target="_blank">long-term consequences</a> for some survivors. The largest uncertainties involve <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02278-5" target="_blank">immunity to this virus</a>, whether it can develop from exposure to infection or vaccines, and if it is long-lasting. The potential for treatment with antivirals and other therapeutics is also still uncertain.</p><p>This knowledge reinforces the huge benefits of sustaining elimination. We know that if New Zealand were to experience widespread COVID-19 transmission, the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3310086/" target="_blank">impact on Māori and Pasifika populations</a> could be catastrophic.</p><p>We have previously described critical measures to get us through this period, including the use of fabric face masks, improving contact tracing with suitable digital tools, applying a science-based approach to border management, and the need for a dedicated national public health agency.</p><p>Maintaining elimination depends on adopting a highly strategic approach to risk management. This approach involves choosing an optimal mix of interventions and using resources in the most efficient way to keep the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks at a consistently low level. Several measures can contribute to this goal over the next few months, while also allowing incremental increases in international travel:</p><ul><li>resurgence planning for a border-control failure and outbreaks of various sizes, with state-of-the-art contact tracing and an upgraded alert level system</li><li>ensuring all New Zealanders own a <a href="https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal-articles/mass-masking-an-alternative-to-a-second-lockdown-in-aotearoa" target="_blank">re-useable fabric face mask</a> with their <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12354409" target="_blank">use built into the alert level system</a></li><li>conducting exercises and simulations to test outbreak management procedures, possibly including "mass masking days" to engage the public in the response</li><li>carefully exploring processes to allow <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/16/preventing-outbreaks-of-covid-19-in-nz-associated-with-air-travel-from-australia-new-modelling-study-of-alternatives-to-quarantine/" target="_blank">quarantine-free travel</a> between jurisdictions free of COVID-19, notably various Pacific Islands, Tasmania and Taiwan (which may require digital tracking of arriving travellers for the first few weeks)</li><li>planning for carefully managed inbound travel by key long-term visitor groups such as tertiary students who would generally still need managed quarantine.</li></ul>
Building Back Better<p>New Zealand cannot change the reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But it can leverage possible benefits.</p><p>We should conduct an <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/11/five-key-reasons-why-nz-should-have-an-official-inquiry-into-the-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank">official inquiry into the COVID-19 response</a> so we learn everything we possibly can to improve our response capacity for future events.</p><p>We also need to establish a specialized national public health agency to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2017/12/20/the-havelock-north-drinking-water-inquiry-a-wake-up-call-to-rebuild-public-health-in-new-zealand/" target="_blank">manage serious threats to public health</a> and provide critical mass to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/02/05/a-preventable-measles-epidemic-lessons-for-reforming-public-health-in-nz/" target="_blank">advance public health generally</a>. Such an agency appears to have been a key factor in the success of Taiwan, which avoided a costly lockdown entirely.</p><p>Business as usual should not be an option for the recovery phase. A recent <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12353555" target="_blank">Massey University survey</a> suggests seven out of ten New Zealanders support a green recovery approach.</p><p>New Zealand's elimination of COVID-19 has drawn attention worldwide, with a description just <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2025203" target="_blank">published</a> in the New England Journal of Medicine. We support a rejuvenated World Health Organization that can provide improved global leadership for pandemic prevention and control, including greater use of an elimination approach to combat COVID-19.</p>
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