In the book Global Catastrophic Risks by Nick Bostrom and Milan J. Cirkovic, Chapter 14 p. 287-307 is about Plagues and pandemics: past, present, and future, is written by Edwin Dennis Kilbourne professor emeritus of microbiology. This chapter gives a basic overview of the most disastrous diseases which have struck humanity — Bubonic plague, Cholera, Malaria, Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Syphilis, Influenza and HIV/AIDS. At the end he concludes, “we should not fear the future”. Why? … The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offers hope for the future by their organized and carefully considered programs which have identified and targeted specific diseases in specific developing regions of the world. His statement leaves me slack jawed. Perhaps it is because I explore various time-lines of hundreds and even thousands of years which include more future than a somewhat arbitrary one year grant from a temporarily wealthy person. The Gates Foundation may make some much needed progress on a few targeted diseases which may be effective for a few years but to assume that this will impact diseases or humanity much in a thousand or ten thousand time frame is overly optimistic. This is a book about Global Catastrophic Risks to humanity and disease is probably a greater risk to the extinction of the human species than is the detonation of 30,000 H-bombs. But this chapter implies that Gates and his gifts to humanity will save us. That’s a supprise!
When the Doomsday disasters unfold and the various nations of the world seek to defend themselves by destroying their perceived enemies with H-bombs there will be mass casualties. However, even the total number of human controlled homicides of that type doesn’t come near the Crater of Doom disaster which struck down the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Yet, even that mega disaster didn’t kill everything and certainly didn’t kill our mammalian ancestors or we wouldn’t be here. Those ancient mammals didn’t have the intelligence to get out of the way of the fallout and secondary effects of that event. However, if that event happened with modern humans inhabiting the planet, as they do now, many of them would survive. Humans, on the opposite side of the Earth, given even a few hours notice would be able to stockpile some food and water in underground shelters and survive for quite a while. World War III won’t kill everyone, at least not right away and the ensuing mega-famine won’t kill everyone either, not quite, but a disease or more likely all of the diseases formerly encountered by humanity would no longer be held in check and if one didn’t get you another one would and the cumulative effect would be near extinction. This is especially true if humans in their infinite wisdom chose to develop biological weapons which are resistant to our medical technology.
Unfortunately, this new bio-warfare is becoming easier to do everyday and unless there is something unknown about human biology which protects some of us against all diseases which can ever be created in the laboratory in the next 10,000 years people are at a true global catastrophic risk of extinction.
Why are people so shortsighted? — I don’t know. So let’s just go sing-along with a song.