Depraved indifference to humanity and the home planet
Aotearoa has demonstrated that democracy can work. Globally, however, covid-19 demonstrates the deadly degree to which governmental and intergovernmental governance, democratic or otherwise, is grossly unfit-for-purpose.
The world’s ascendant and declining superpowers, in particular, are demonstrating the diabolical consequences of intergovernmental dysfunctionality and indifference, in failing to respond dutifully to the emergence of a new and deadly virus. But more crucially, they were already demonstrating four decades of indifference to the efforts of climate scientists to steer them away from fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions rise unabated. As of 28 June, the United States exceeded a reported a covid-19 infection rate of 7500 per million population, in territory shared only with Chile, Kuwait, and Peru. Accordingly, the Mahurangi Magazine has recast its daily updated reported-cases chart to accommodate the next grim milestone of 10 000 per million—1% of population infected. Yet globally the pandemic is in its infancy, with or without near-miraculous progress with the development, manufacture, and deployment of a sufficiently efficacious vaccine.
In the highly improbable event that this pandemic proves to be as deadly as the upper range of estimates for that of 1918Knobler S, Mack A, Mahmoud A, Lemon S, eds. (2005). 1: The Story of Influenza. The Threat of Pandemic Influenza: Are We Ready? Workshop Summary (2005). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. pp. 60–61., in all countries outside of China, fatalities would be more than 350 million. The next pandemic, however, could conceivably be of that scale, because while humanity now has better weapons to fight pandemics, the potential exacerbations—such as the 4.5 billion flights taken per year—are also greater. But as appalling as a 0.35-billion-death-pandemic scenario is, the upper range of estimates of potential premature anthropogenic-global-warming fatalities, for an entirely possible 5° global temperature rise, is a chilling 7.5 billion deaths, in addition to other preventable deaths, over 100–200-year period. But while all it took to stop covid-19 in its tracks was social distancing, a survivable climate can’t be salvaged by a seven-week lockdown—atmospheric carbon dioxide endures, effectively, for millennia. If world powers wait until global warming deaths begin overwhelming intensive care units, enough new hospitals could not be built, nor new food brewing factories brought online, fast enough to avert deaths, not on a 1918 Pandemic scale, but akin a perpetual Black Death, which killed the equivalent of a billion people per year, at today’s population levels.
The depraved indifference that allowed the herd-immunity instinct to be touted as a remotely plausible response is breath-takingly instructive. Even now, in Ardern-led Aotearoa, the same depraved inclinations are barely concealed by those to which law-of-the-jungle neoliberal ideology, long since totally discredited, remains so appealing. That is not to say New Zealand’s post-lockdown quarantine measures have been immaculate, but would-be prime minister Muller should be fighting to ensure that the system is abundantly resourced, and that testing and self-isolation, where practicable, is provided to those seeking repatriation, before they head for Heathrow, Changi, or Sydney, rather than bandstand abundantly premature border reopening. Long term, New Zealand’s covid-19-free status will confer an economic and social premium entirely beyond the reach of most of the, woefully mismanaged, world.
Estonia has demonstrated how that country, having comprehensively embraced governmental digitisation, was well set up to integrate covid-19 contact-tracing into its health information system. Assigned responsibility for knocking New Zealand’s struggling covid-19 quarantine processes into shape, Dr Megan Woods, is also the minister for government digital services and visited Estonia in 2018. Had her government not been beaten community infection a good four months ahead of the 19 September election, Dr Woods, up one to fifth place on the Labour Party’s list, would have had serious cause to regret the 15-years-and-counting that it is taking for Aotearoa to begin to emulate Estonia, which has established the gold standard for online elections. At half the cost of voting via paper ballot, small countries like Aotearoa, responsibly, cannot afford to let Estonia’s contribution to affordable good governance go to waste. Aotearoa and Estonia have the beginnings of a rich relationship that might, if adequately prioritised, have seen close cooperation on their respective covid-19 responses, including, potentially, the first robust, shared European–Pacific bubble.
Such sublime counterfactual, however, would have needed to have been initiated and led by Jacinda Ardern and Estonia’s first female prime minister Kaja Kallas. That Kallas was denied the opportunity to continue her father’s Reform Party’s constructive role in Estonian coalition governments can probably largely be blamed on misogyny, but the anti-immigrant sentiment that has poisoned so much of the developed world provided populist leaders the whip hand. Fortunately, despite Winston Peters wooing Brexit-bankrollerNet worth reported as £100–250 million, June 2018 Arron Banks, a similarly depraved scenario is unlikely to play out in Aotearoa, but it is just one reason it is so desperately important that campaign finance be urgently, and elegantly, reformed. The depraved indifference of Donald Trump means that, come 5 September when New Zealanders begin flocking to the polls for 13 days of early voting, it will be against a backdrop of American people being infected at rates of about 100 000 per day. National and New Zealand First, with their discordant calls for the reopening of borders, are unlikely to find former supporters flooding obediently back to their respective folds.
The United Kingdom poll indicating 59% want to see big or moderate changes in the way the economy is run post-covid-19, and only 6% of people wanting to see no changes, is instructive. It suggests that the hunger to return to business-as-usual might be being misjudged by Muller, and that comeback-kingmaker Peters and his corrupt party won’t be around to game mmpmixed-member proportional after 19 September. But nor does it mean Labour can afford to not admit to its covid-19 mistakes. Aside for taking too long to organise a robust quarantine regime—both before, but more egregiously, after, lockdown—it is persisting with an embarrassingly inept contact-tracing app. Registered by fewer than 12% of the population, and barely used, judging by the average number of scans—two and a bit, per person—the app needs to be put out of its misery. Nor is there any mention of when it will be replaced by one using the Apple–Google protocol. What it cost Apple and Google to develop the protocol has possibly not yet been calculated but any collaboration between tech-behemoth twins collectively valued at $2.3 trillion would have to be eye-watering. And if Europe’s largest, and the world’s fourth-largest, economy, Germany, could swallow its pride and adopt the GappleGoogle–Apple protocol, imagining that New Zealand Ministry of Health bureaucrats might take one for ‘the team of five million’ is far from unreasonable. Nor is a resignation necessary, whereas lame-batsince pangolins have been given a pass, in respect to CoViD-19 self-disgraced David Clark should not have been afforded that dignity, deserving to be fired precisely three months before he finally resigned, and then only from his health ministry.
How covid-19 plays out globally is far from certain, as it will party depend upon when vastly more robust testing methods are developed, and when, or if, large-scale vaccination is achieved. But what is certain about how the pandemic upfolds also holds for anthropogenic global warming. The failure to resource science, and to make best policy use of it, is having escalating lethal consequences. Vital information regarding, for example, how greatly cloud cover will amplify warming is unknown, thanks to the refusal of the United States to fund its National Aeronautics and Space Administration to deploy the satellites necessary to understand and protect the home planet. With Joe Biden failing to crushingly capitalise on the depraved Donald Trump’s unpopularity, and the new prospect of votes being wasted on an unelectable malignant narcissist, it could be 20 January 2025 before the United States is in a position to project a vision for global climate-action mobilisation. Aotearoa and Estonia—and even potential low-carbon energy exemplar Norwaywas it to replace its gas and oil wells with hot-dry-rock wells—could form a coalition of small nations with the moral power to shake the variously authoritarian and populist superpowers from their depraved indifference.
Stop the press——start the dredge Embargoed until Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party conference address yesterday afternoon, is the momentous news that the Mahurangi River dredging is included in the ‘jobs for nature’ tranche of projects funded. As most every Mahurangi citizen well knows, Peter Thompson has dedicated an escalating proportion of his life planning, preparing, and funding this vision to be consented and commenced. Restoring the navigability of the river, the goal of the Mahurangi River Restoration Trust, will shape future of Mahurangi’s tidehead town.
That the project could proceed while most of the world is crippled by covid-19, is down to geographic isolation, the science-based policy decisions and consummate communication skills of the prime minister, the caring response of New Zealanders, and—like the realisation of Peter Thompson’s vision—a shovel-ready-sized serving of serendipity.
Asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is the Achilles’ heel of Covid-19 pandemic control through the public health strategies we have currently deployed. Symptom-based screening has utility, but epidemiologic evaluations of Covid-19 outbreaks within skilled nursing facilities such as the one described by Arons et al. strongly demonstrate that our current approaches are inadequate. This recommendation for SARS-CoV-2 testing of asymptomatic persons in skilled nursing facilities should most likely be expanded to other congregate living situations, such as prisons and jails (where outbreaks in the United States, whose incarceration rate is much higher than rates in other countries, are increasing), enclosed mental health facilities, and homeless shelters, and to hospitalized inpatients. Current U.S. testing capability must increase immediately for this strategy to be implemented.
Ultimately, the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the United States and the globe, the clear evidence of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic personsArons MM, Hatfield KM, Reddy SC, et al. Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections and transmission in a skilled nursing facility. N Engl J Med. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2008457, and the eventual need to relax current social distancing practices argue for broadened SARS-CoV-2 testing to include asymptomatic persons in prioritized settings. These factors also support the case for the general public to use face masks when in crowded outdoor or indoor spaces. This unprecedented pandemic calls for unprecedented measures to achieve its ultimate defeat.