Blog: COVID-19: A Pandemic of Assassinated Assumptions: A Perfect Storm for Leaders

by David Harries 27/12/2020 0 comments

First published Dec. 14th 2020.


The global pandemic was declared by the WHO on 11 March, signalling that COVID-19 had or was about to reach all shores. Since then, the initial virus and increasing number of mutations[1] and their consequences, have all but destroyed the ‘conventional wisdom’ that leaders at all levels followed, more or less, for decades. This destruction is cause and effect of a mind-boggling variety of ever-changing responses to the pandemic. These have included frenetic efforts to contain it such as an every-changing matrix of country-wide lockdown menus, and to treat it such as the amazingly quick development and approval of vaccines now being deployed. Nevertheless, loud and influential denial of COVID-19’s existence and lethality continues to obstruct progress, even as hundreds of thousands sicken and die. Whether wisdom was norm, assumption, opinion, ideal, probability or, even, fantasy, COVID-19 has laid waste to almost all of them in a perfect storm of rising uncertainty, unpreparedness and inequality during “accelerating history” that too few leaders are handling effectively.

By way of introduction, five of the 32 assumptions identified to date[2] as ‘assassinated’ are presented below. The selection remains governed by my impression of the scope and duration of their impact.

Five Assassinated Assumptions

  1. Assumption: We humans learn lessons from past crises and, as a result, are thoughtful enough to prepare to be prepared for the next. The now thoroughly exposed start-state for PPE on 11 March proves that most governments had long-forgotten what was learned from recent past pandemics.
  2. Assumption: Our aged, disabled, and chronically ill are respected and acceptably well-cared for, in both the public and private domains. The continuing tragedy, especially disgusting in rich, developed countries everywhere, of tens of thousands of horrific, lonely deaths is an indelible stain on humanity.
  3. Assumption: Globalization had matured to the point there were too few points of potential failure to be of concern. COVID-19 freed powerful, inconvenient, long-ignored geopolitical realities to disrupt economics into chaotic, angry disarray. Buy, Be and Work Local is now the new ‘smart’.
  4. Assumption: ‘Education’ was in good shape with its needs, in good times and not, reasonably well and widely understood. COVID-19 has proved that teachers, students, parents, siblings, junior administrators, friends, janitors, cleaners, security staff, city and school bus drivers, school nurses, special and physical education teachers, child care operators and staff, maintenance workers, air quality support staff, contact tracers, and testing centre staff were not included in the assessment.
  5. Assumption: Essential workers are those who are the most educated, accomplished and influential. Those lucky individuals could have starved to death, or died if sickened, were it not for transport truck drivers, cashiers, shelf-stockers, delivery-drivers, personal care workers and trainee nurses. Unlike the NON-essential workers, the latter had no choice but to work as before because ‘working from home’ was neither a professional nor a financial option for them.

So What for Leaders?

The 21st Century is already demanding ‘leaders’ deploy unprecedented, extraordinary and sustained honesty, intelligence, courage, and foresight. If they fail to rise to the ‘occasion’ there is less than a 50/50 chance that much of humanity, whether as stakeholder or shareholder  will enjoy, let alone contribute to levels of human security that underpin and sustain fear-free, safe and dignified living, moving and working.

All leaders, today’s and their successors, have to acknowledge two facts. One: Wilful blindness to inconvenient truths will no longer be acceptable. Two: The ‘conventional wisdom’ that underpins how they lead needs an almost total re-construction. This project must result in the establishment of broadly accepted policies, ways and means that recognize 1) crises are happening more and more frequently in concurrent multiples, and 2) focussing all time and effort and resources on only one of two or more concurrent crises is at least unwise. The current global, if uneven, full-court press on COVID-19, which sooner or later will be down-sized from pandemic to emergency to problem as advances in health sciences, vaccine technology and and medical logistics gain traction, continues to provide the global warming crisis a holiday from the intensity and types of attention it urgently needs. Climate change consequences are already embedded as a decades-long wicked problem, as a force multiplier of all other wicked problems (including COVID-19, and, arguably, is already expected to be part and parcel of the cause and severity of the next health crisis.

Specific tasks for leaders include:

  • Improving the messaging. Words matter. Abandon calls for going ‘back’ to normal. Encourage going ‘forward’ to progress by appropriately shaping and managing threats and opportunities the future may hold.
  • Re-build trust. Establish new ‘conventional wisdom’ in ways and with means that can be understood[3] by all whom are led to be for a greater good.
  • Prepare appropriately. Learn to prepare for what will characterize much of the 21st century; the unavoidable arrival of two or more different, and differently demanding, concurrent or immediately consecutive crises. With COVID-19 and global warming combining forces, it is  to be hoped that the 2020/2021 global flu season and winter in the northern hemisphere continue to be mild. Impacts of severe geopolitical churn or natural events such as volcanoes and earthquakes are always threats with too few opportunities.
  • Introduce and implement policies and programs that appear more likely to foster human security than obstruct it. Interoperability and Leadingship are two such concepts. The former acknowledges the diversity of the planet and humanity’s desire for self-determination. The latter, increasingly deployed in the private sector, offers everyone with a contribution to make the trust-building confidence they need to know are eligible to present it, and, at least, to be listened to.
  • Engage on level terms with successors. Formally engage with and resource the young in time and in ways that ensure both, they have been helped to think deeply about not only what they may face as leaders and what might be done do, and welcome and encouraged them to inform existing leadership cadres what and how to do better.

Concluding thought, for all

Humanity at large needs to engage on human security. This mission unfortunately begins on a weak foundation, one that can be strengthened only if a number of things happen. Three are key.

One: After the pandemic calms to being only a problem, a significant proportion of the population of a majority of nations is willing (trust) and able (health and wealth) to experience a semblance of predictable normality in their lives. Two: The ‘story’ of the pandemic is so recorded, accessible, and acknowledged that humanity is much less likely to be so unprepared, uncollaborative and disputatious when the next pandemic threatens. Three: Existing international organizations have to greatly improve their performance, before gaps and weaknesses in every human security sector provide openings for the next pandemic, or widen and deepen in ways that foster a free-form, self-organizing geopolitical storm that might be managed by a new ‘leader’, China being the first to come to mind[4].

David Harries

Kingston, Ontario, Canada.  27 December 2020

[1] 27 December. The pandemic is, in effect, re-arming.

[2] The Essay, on 27 December, continues a work in progress with a first full document available on 20 January 2020.

[3] Understanding is a foundation on which to build trust.

[4] The latest news states China will overtake the US in 2028 as global economic leader.

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COVID-19 Reports: What Experts Expect & Propose

by Michael Marien 10/10/2020 0 comments

Published 1 Aug, 2020. 1st update 11 Sept, 2020. 2nd Update 10 Oct,2020.
Download as PDF here

The COVID-19 pandemic has already changed our world and is still underway with no end in sight.  The crisis will likely continue over several years, if not longer.  Some countries are beginning to slowly re-open after lockdown, while others are facing a sharp upswing in infections, e.g. Brazil, Mexico, India, and Russia.  In the U.S., infections and deaths in some states are declining, but increasing in most states. Overall infections and deaths in the world continue to rise–and this information is under-reported.  The IMHE (#3) projects 2.34m global deaths by 1/1/21, including 410,000 deaths in India and 363,000 deaths in the U.S.

A quick tech fix treatment or vaccine is unlikely, despite Operation Warp Speed by the U.S. government, to deliver 300m doses of a vaccine by January, and over 165 potential coronavirus vaccines in development worldwide (#46).  Most experts expect success by early 2021 at best, and then there are problems of global distribution (#47) and “anti-vaxxer” backlash, as well as “A Pandemic of Misinformation” (TIME, 3 Aug, p.27), including ignorant statements and policies by some political leaders that defy what the experts propose and aggravate our existential problems (#45).  These statements receive considerable attention, but what the experts expect and propose is not widely known, other than basic precautions such as masks and distancing.

Why focus on reports?  Because they are not only written by scientists and other experts, but by groups pooling their expertise.  Although not a flood of reports, there has been a steady stream since March, with the vast majority of the 66 reports identified here published in the past six months.  All of them are by groups with two exceptions (#18 & 35), and all are by experts, again with two exceptions (#23 & 55).

The reports are generally quite brief, clearly written, handsomely produced, and free online.  Epidemiologists and other public health experts explain how governments at various levels can best deal with the crisis, while social scientists and journalists consider the profound impacts on security and sustainability of individuals, families, communities, industries (airlines, schools, colleges, hospitals, sports, theaters, meat-packers, etc.), small and large businesses, state and local governments, and international relations.  Asterisks highlight the most important reports.  All reports have links to the original document; some also have links to organizations.

The 66 reports are in seven categories:

  1. Daily Data Reports (cases and deaths by country, and US states and counties);
  2. Scenarios (COVID-19’s course, global impacts, Sustainable Development Goals and COVID);
  3. General Overviews (global statistics, impacts on SDGs, COVID Commission, strategies);
  4. Re-Opening Society (four-phase roadmap, local metrics, schools, businesses);
  5. Special Perspectives (leadership, communication, testing, tracing, disinformation);
  6. Large Group Agendas (EU recovery, a new normal, healthy recovery, human security);
  7. Pre-COVID-19 Warnings (global health security index, preventing pandemics, climate).

Also see Highlights and the Organization Index following this page.  Most of these reports are by American experts.  Readers are encouraged to suggest similar reports from elsewhere (e.g. #26 & 27), especially Europe (#44 & 57), and to pass this “report on reports” on to political and health leaders who might use some of them to make a difference.


5. Forecasting Covid-19’s Course (Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 20, 14p). Three scenarios of world impact ranging from best to worst case.
9. Sustainable Development Outlook 2020 (UN Dept of Economic and Social Affairs, July 2020, 56p). Three scenarios to attain the SDGs after COVID: pessimistic, optimistic, and 2019 benchmark.
12. How COVID-19 is Changing the World (UN Committee for Coordination of Statistical Activities, May 2020, 87p). A “snapshot” of economic and social statistics from 36 organizations.
13. Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity (UN Sustainable Development Group, March 2020, 24p). A joint effort of 43 UN organizations responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.
14. The Lancet COVID-19 Commission (Jeffrey D. Sachs and five others, The Lancet, 9 July 2019). Seeks to speed up global, equitable, and lasting solutions worldwide, with several forthcoming reports.
17. COVID-19 Strategy Update (World Health Organization, April 14, 23p). Insights on the current situation, with national and international strategies for speed, scale, and equity.
24. Principles for a Phased Reopening During COVID-19 (Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, April 17, 23p). A framework to assess risks of likely transmission and nonessential business.
26. Where and When to Lift a Lockdown (Indian Institute for Human Settlements, April 8, 10p). Lists 40 essentials for India’s health systems, basic services, food, etc. and 10 priority activities.
27. COVID-19 Roadmap to Recovery (Group of Eight Australia, April 2020, 190p). A report by >100 researchers from Australia’s eight universities, exploring two basic options.
32. COVID-19 Back to School (National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia Univ, August 2020, 5p). Simply presented best practices as of summer 2020 to reopen schools.
35. Crisis Leadership for a Pandemic: COVID-19 (National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia Univ,,May 2020, 2p). A concise overview of principles learned from 9/11: Connect with a truthful message, Collaborate governments, and Create a web of multiple leaders.
36. Effective COVD-19 Crisis Communication (CIDRAP Viewpoint Part 2, Univ of Minnesota, May 6, 11p). Principles too often ignored: don’t over-reassure, proclaim uncertainty, admit mistakes.
37. COVID-19 Surveillance: A National Framework (CIDRAP Viewpoint Part 5, Univ of Minnesota, July 9, 14p). Ongoing and systematic collection/analysis  of data is key to public health.
46. COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation and Distribution (Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, August 19, 41p). An ethics framework for decisions on risk, equity, economic impact, and logistics.
57. Recovery Plan for Europe (European Commission, July 21, 7p). A major plan to help repair COVID’s economic and social damage, laying foundations for a more modern and sustainable Europe.
59. C40 Cities Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery (Global Mayors’ Task Force, July 15, 43p). Large-city mayors seek “a new normal,” a strong rebound, and the Global Green New Deal.
60. A World in Disorder (Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, Sept 2020, 51p). Second annual report on Lessons Learned and five Urgent Actions on leadership, global health security, sustained investment, etc.
64. Global Health Security Index (Johns Hopkins Health Security Center, et al., Oct 2019, 316p). Offers 195 country profiles, ranking them across six categories and 34 indicators; all countries are seen as poorly prepared.

COVID-19 Reports: Organization Index

I.   Daily Data Reports

    COVID-19 Map (Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center). A daily count of identified cases and deaths by country and by counties within US states. “Critical Trends” shows where COVID cases are increasing, mortality rates by country, and data about COVID testing and tracing.
    Also see: The CDC COVID Data Tracker for US data only and the WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard, with a daily and weekly count of confirmed cases and deaths by region and country, and a world map showing countries most at risk.
    Reported Cases and Deaths by Country, Territory, or Conveyance (Worldometer). COVID-19 is affecting 215 countries and territories, and two international conveyances.  This spreadsheet of countries reports daily on total cases, new cases and deaths, total recovered, and tests, cases and deaths/1m population. Note: In many countries there is underreporting due to lack of testing, suppressed information, and/or probable COVID-caused deaths at home that aren’t counted.
    COVID-19 Projections (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation/IMSE, Univ of Washington, Oct 2). Weekly updated global and country projections of COVID deaths and infections, with optimistic “universal mask” scenarios and pessimistic “mandates easing” scenarios. Also posts policy briefs and articles on COVID and public health. The Sept 22 projection of global deaths as of 1 Jan 2021 was 2.34m, with 1.7m if universal masks and 3.2m if mandates easing. For the US, the projection for 1/1/21 was 363,000 deaths (277,000 if universal masks and 428,000 if mandates easing). For India, the 1/1/21 projection was 410,000 deaths.

II.   Scenarios

    The Future of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned from Pandemic Infections (Michael Osterholm and 7 others, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, Univ of Minnesota, April 30, 8p). Part 1 of “The CIDRAP Viewpoint” series. The worst case is a fall 2020 wave larger than the spring 2020 wave; middle case is “peaks and valleys” into 2021;  best case is “slow burn” of ongoing cases but no further waves.   Note: The worst case of a fall 2020 wave has already been supplanted by a summer 2020 wave that Osterholm called a “forest fire of cases” that is not “going to slow down” (New York Times, 22 June, A6).
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    Forecasting Covid-19’s Course (Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 20, 14p). Commentary by the CSIS Senior VP on the pandemic as a “history-altering event,” with no “V-shaped recovery for major economies.”  Presents three scenarios: Best Case (U-shaped recovery), Worst Case (5-10 year vaccine timeline, collapse of global trade, no global leadership), and Mixed Case (fall 2021 vaccine, uneven recovery, China as leader).
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    What World Post-COVID-19? Three Scenarios (Atlantic Council Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, April 2020, 33p).  The pandemic presents “a substantial shock to the post WWII order, and the worst may be yet to come until a vaccine is widely distributed.  The recovery will likely be difficult and extended, and US global leadership is at risk.  The three scenarios: downward deglobalization, China as global leader, and optimistic multilaterialism.
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    COVID-19 Briefing Materials: Global Health and Crisis Response (McKinsey & Company, April 13, 91p) An extensive analysis with many charts and graphs, as well as scenarios on economic downturn vs. renewal and virus containment vs. escalation.
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    COVID-19: A Global Perspective.  2020 Goalkeepers Report (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sept 2020, 45p). Goalkeepers focuses on progress toward the SDGs, especially goals 1-6 on poverty, hunger, and good health.  COVID-19 has reinforced the fact that everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society, and the general public.  The report assesses the damage that the pandemic has done and is still doing, arguing for a collaborative response: “There is no such thing as a national solution to a global crisis.”
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    Sustainable Development Outlook 2020: Achieving SDGs in the Wake of COVID-19: Scenarios for Policymakers (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, July 2020, 56p). “The crisis has been unprecedented in its scope and scale, (but) has not affected all countries and all people in the same way,” and setbacks need not be permanent.  It is quite possible to move ahead towards the Sustainable Development Goals, and “even possible to convert the crisis into an opportunity for recovering better.”  A “Pre-COVID 19 benchmark scenario” from 2019 is provided, along with Post-COVID-19 pessimistic and optimistic scenarios.
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    Also see: Speaking Truth to Power about the SDGs by Jeffrey D. Sachs et al. (Sustainable Development Solutions Network, August 26 Working Paper, 10p), arguing against recent calls to change the SDGs and to lower ambition.  COVID-19 is “a very serious setback for the SDGs,” but does not put the goals out of reach.  “Indeed, the SDGs provide a framework for recovery from the pandemic.”  The goals are affordable and can be financed at the cost of about 2% of global output.  “Governments are currently spending vastly greater sums on responses to COVID-19.”  In view of the technical feasibility of the SDGs, experts and scientists should speak “truth to power” about what needs to be done.
    United States COVID Scenarios, January 2022 (Millennium Project/American Red Cross, Oct 2020, c.40p). Lively and extensive draft versions of a mixed (“American Endures”), a pessimistic, and an optimistic “Things Went Right” scenario, each with advice for Red Cross preparedness.
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    Pandemics—Lessons Looking Back from 2050 (Fritjof Capra and Hazel Henderson, Ethical Markets Media, March 2020, 8p). An idealistic scenario from 2050, looking back to the origin and evolution of the coronavirus over the last three decades, where there is widening human awareness of how the planet actually functions and the myopic policies that have driven inequality, poverty, pandemics, and rising social and environmental losses.  Today in 2050, economies have become regenerative and poverty gaps and inequality have largely disappeared, as well as the ideologies of money and market fundamentalism.

III.   General Overviews

    How COVID-19 is Changing the World: A Statistical Perspective (UN Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities, May 2020, 87p). “COVID-19 has turned the world upside down.  Everything has been impacted.”  New statistical records are being set on an almost weekly basis.  The CCSA has compiled “a snapshot of some of the latest information,” derived from 36 international organizations and assembled in four broad categories: economic, social, regional and statistical.  The best information available is necessary because “decisions made now and in the coming months will be some of the most important made in generations.”
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    Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the Socio-Economic Impacts of COVID-19 (United Nations Sustainable Development Group, March 2020, 24p). A  joint effort of 43 UN organizations describes global measures to match the magnitude of the crisis, and potential impacts for each of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
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    The Lancet COVID-19 Commission (Jeffrey D. Sachs and Five Others, The Lancet, July 9, 2019).  The Commission seeks “to help speed up global, equitable, and lasting solutions to the pandemic.”  A key aim is to enhance “awareness and adoption worldwide of successful strategies to suppress transmission.”  Holding its first meeting on June 23, the Commissioners are leaders in health science and delivery, business, politics, and finance from across the world.
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    COVID-19 Stimulus Measures Must Save Lives, Protect Livelihoods, and Safeguard Nature to Reduce the Risk of Future Pandemics (Josef Settele and 3 others, IPBES Guest Article, April 27, 3p). Built on the reports of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, warning that future pandemics are likely to be more frequent and spread more rapidly.
    COVID-19: Urgent Call to Protect People and Nature (World Wildlife Fund, June 2020, 21p).      Humanity’s broken relationship with nature comes at a cost, revealed in terrible ways by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Humans have increasingly encroached on the natural world, resulting in escalating contact with wildlife and new zoonotic diseases causing deadly pandemics.
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    COVID-19 Strategy Update (World Health Organization/WHO, April 14, 23p.). On the current situation, key insights, and national and international strategies.  “Countries must do everything they can to stop cases from becoming clusters and clusters from becoming explosive outbreaks.”  Speed, scale, and equity must be our guiding principles.  “COVID-19 is a truly global crisis” requiring global solidarity.
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    Responding to COVID-19: Priorities Now and Preparing for the Future (Augusto Lopez-Claros, Global Challenges Foundation, April 22, 5p). World Bank economist and co-author of Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions (Cambridge UP, Jan 2020) looks at global institutional arrangements that are needed to deal with the looming crises that are likely.
    Taking Stock: Where Are Geopolitics Headed in the COVID-19 Era?  (Atlantic Council Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, June 2020, 20p).  The pandemic is having dramatic effects on everyday life, global prosperity, international security, and geopolitics.  It is a transformative shock, and its negative effects on the global economy are a secondary shock.
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    How the World Will Look After the Coronavirus (Foreign Policy, March 20). 12 “leading global thinkers” offer their “predictions” on global political and economic power, e.g. reinforced nationalism and contracting of supply chains.
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    The Coming Post-COVID Anarchy: The Pandemic Bodes Ill for Both American and Chinese Power–and for the Global Order (Kevin Rudd, Foreign Affairs, May 6).  Former Australian Prime Minister and president of the Asia Society Policy Institute warns of reinforced fragmentation and a possible new Cold War.

IV.   Re-Opening Society

    National Coronavirus Response: A Road Map to Reopening (Scott Gottlieb and 4 others, American Enterprise Institute, March 28, 16p). Details in four Phases, provided by Gottlieb (former director of the US Food & Drug Administration) and others from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
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    Saving Lives and Livelihoods: Recommendations for Recovery (National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, The Heritage Foundation, June 15, 2020, 113p). Proposes a five-phase plan to combat COVID-19 and reopen America, following an “all of society” approach recognizing that recovery “must proceed expeditiously” and that success requires coordination among all levels of government, the private sector, and civil society, rather than a national or top-down approach.
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    Public Health Principles for a Phased Reopening During COVID-19: Guidance for Governors (Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, April 17, 23p). A framework for considering risks of likely transmission and assessing nonessential business. Decision-makers must make choices based on individual situations in their states, risk levels, and resource assessments.
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    COVID-19: A Frontline Guide for Local Decision-Makers (Nuclear Threat Initiative and Georgetown Univ Center for Health Science and Security, May 22, 4p). Provides easy-to-use metrics for phased re-opening and a Metrics Scorecard to assess progress.
    Where & When to Lift a Lockdown: What to Do to Enable a Transition to Normalcy (Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Delhi, April 8, 10p). Aromar Revi, the founder and director, lists 40 essentials regarding administration and coordination, finance and banking, health systems, basic services, food and agriculture, poverty and livelihoods, transportation, supply chains, housing and construction, and education, with priority to 10 activities.
    COVID-19 Roadmap to Recovery: A Report for the Nation (Group of Eight Australia, late April 2020, 190p).  An independent report by >100 leading researchers from Australia’s Group of Eight (Go8) universities, presenting two options: Elimination requiring restrictions for a longer duration at first and Controlled Adaptation by suppressing the illness to a low level  and managing it—“a signal of pragmatic acceptance.”   A third option of Herd Immunity was rejected at the outset.
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    Containment Strategies and Support for Vulnerable Households (IGC COVID-19 Guidance Note, April 2020, 9p). The International Growth Centre in the UK notes that policy responses in developed countries are not a good model for developing countries, which must weigh health risks vs. economic damage.
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    Work in the Time of Pandemic, Phase 1: Reopening America’s Businesses (National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute, Columbia U, May 2020?, 6p). A guide to Phase 1 reopening that is not a plan for full recovery (“a process that could take a year—or significantly longer”).  Covers asymptomatic carriers, diagnostic and antibody testing, contact tracing (the US may need 100,000 to 200,000 workers), and examples of reopening for nine types of businesses.
    Operational Toolkit for Businesses Considering Reopening or Expanding (Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, May 6, 14p). An “Instruction Manual” with a step-by-step Business Risk Worksheet and an Excel Assessment Calculator spreadsheet to attain a risk score and a modification score.
    Filling in the Blanks: National Research Needs to Guide Decisions about Reopening School in the United States (Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, May 15, 50p). Includes a 26p detailed Appendix on school policies in 11 countries: Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, etc.
  11. *SCHOOLS
    COVID-19 Back to School (Irwin Redlener et al., National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia Univ, August 2020, 5p).  Is it safe for my child to be in school?  “As opposed to what we thought months ago, children can carry the coronavirus, infect others, and become ill from COVID-19, although far less frequently and generally less severely than adults.”  New developments in testing, therapeutics and vaccines “may change everything,” but the considerations presented here are in line with best practices as of late summer 2020.
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    CDC Readiness and Planning Tool to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 in K-12 Schools (Centers for Disease Control, May 2020, 9p;   Checklists of guiding principles for lowest risks (virtual-only activities) and highest risks (in-person activities), promoting behaviors to reduce spread, maintaining healthy environments, and when someone gets sick.
    Note: CDC also offers guidelines for businesses and workplaces, child care, summer camps, youth sports, parks and recreation facilities, community events, first responders, shared housing, retirement communities, tribal communities, homeless populations, prisons and jails.
    Lives and Livelihoods: Assessing the Near-Term Impact of COVID-19 on US Workers (McKinsey Global Institute, April 2020, 10p).  “Up to one-third of US jobs may be vulnerable—and more than 80% are held by low-income workers.”  Also See: McKinsey’s COVID Response Center, with many reports, webinars, and articles on public health, economics, and human lives.
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V.   Special Perspectives

    Crisis Leadership for a Pandemic: COVID 19 (National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute, Columbia U, May 2020, 2p). A concise overview of principles learned from 9/11 by the former Assistant Chief of the FDNY: Connect (“remove information silos” with a message that is truthful and empathetic), Collaborate (across levels of government and with key stakeholders), and Create (“a spider’s web structure of multiple leaders working with each other to coordinate efforts”).
    Effective COVID-19 Crisis Communication (Michael Osterholm and 7 others, CIDRAP, U of Minnesota, May 6, 11p). Part 2 of The CIDRAP Viewpoint on principles too often ignored: don’t over-reassure, proclaim uncertainty, and admit mistakes (COVID-19  science is still in its infancy).
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    SARS-CoV-2 Infection and COVID-19 Surveillance: A National Framework (Michael Osterholm and 11 others, CIDRAP, U of Minnesota, July 9, 14p).  Part 5 of The CIDRAP Viewpoint focuses on surveillance—the ongoing and systematic collection and analysis of data—as “the cornerstone of public health practice.”  To have a meaningful impact, the data must be organized and analyzed in a thoughtful, structured way, with results “communicated regularly, clearly, and effectively to the public health workforce, policymakers, and the public.”
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    Smart Testing for COVID-19 Virus and Antibodies (Michael Osterholm and 7 others, CIDRAP, U of Minnesota, May 20, 13p). Part 3 of The CIDRAP Viewpoint states that testing is essential to confirm infection and contacts, guide patient care, prepare for case surges, and inform economic activity levels.  Smart testing is “the right test given to the right person at the right time, with results provided in a timely manner.”
    COVID-19 Strategic Testing Plan: Report to Congress (S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, May 24, 81p). A plan to assist states, localities, and tribal organizations in understanding COVID testing for both active infection and prior exposure, including hospital-based testing, laboratory testing, mobile-testing units, testing for employers and other settings, etc.  Covers testing goals, increasing testing capacity, resources for testing, and mechanisms for responding to future pandemics.
    Pandemic Resilience: Getting It Done: A TTSI Technical Handbook for States and Municipalities (Harvard Global Health Institute and Harvard Center for Ethics, June 30, 66p). A handbook by the 8-member Massachusetts Testing, Tracing, and Supported Isolation (MATTSI) collaborative.  TTSI seeks to enable a safe and free society by providing an end-to-end framework with scaled-up testing, rapid contact-tracing, and using assets and spirit of the regional ecosystem.
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    Contact Tracing for COVID-19: Assessing Needs, Using a Tailored Approach (Michael Osterholm and 5 others, CIDRAP, U of Minnesota, June 2, 9p).  Part 4 of The CIDRAP Viewpoint series, “based on our current reality and the best available data.”  Contact tracing is most effective early in the course of an outbreak, or much later when other measures have reduced disease incidence to low levels, e.g. it was “key in the late stages of the smallpox eradication program.”  It is most effective when  cases and contacts can be quickly and easily identified; less effective when contacts are difficult to trace (e.g. situations with airborne pathogens), the incidence of infection is high, or many infections are asymptomatic.
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    A National Plan to Enable Comprehensive COVID-19 Case Finding and Contact Tracing (Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, April 10, 15p). Argues for widespread testing and tracing, with examples from successful countries.
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    COVID-19 Evidence Network to Support Decision-Making (McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, n.d., 2p). Seeks to help those supporting decisions by finding the best evidence available, reducing duplication, and coordinating synthesis and tech assessment.  Provides a guide to evidence sources, a rapid-evidence model, and seven principles underpinning the “COVID-END” network.
    INFORM Covid-19 Risk Index (European Commission Joint Research Centre, June 6, 29p). An adaptation of the annual INFORM Epidemic Risk Index on 189 countries at risk from health and humanitarian impacts of COVID-19.  Countries are assessed on Hazard and Exposure, Vulnerability, and Coping Capacity.  Top-rated countries are in northern Europe; highest-risk countries are in central Africa.  Also See: the 2019 Global Health Security Index (#64), published several months before the COVID-19 pandemic, with essentially the same findings.
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    Ad-funded COVID-19 Disinformation: Money, Brands, and Tech (Global Disinformation Index,  July 8, 2020, 3p). COVID-19 disinformation has real world harms to public health (claims about magical solutions and disinfectants), specific groups (Chinese cover-up Jewish elite, Aryan immunity) and public order (police state, vaccine mind control, WHO, bioweapons).
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    Interim Framework for COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation and Distribution in the United States (Eric Toner and 17 others, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, August 19, 38p + 3p Executive Summary). The COVID-19 pandemic will continue for the foreseeable future, but widespread vaccination could hasten its end.  “At least 165 candidate vaccines…are in development worldwide,” and there is hope that one or more will soon be shown to be sufficiently safe and effective to achieve emergency use authorization.  When it is authorized, it will initially be in limited supply.  A plan is needed for how to allocate and distribute this limited supply.  This report offers an ethics framework for decisions, considering medical risk, public health, equity, economic impact, and logistics.
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    An Ethical Framework for Global Vaccine Allocation (Ezekiel J. Emanuel & 7 others, Science, 11 Sept 2020, 1309-1312). Once effective COVID vaccines are developed, they will be scarce.  Allocation among countries raises complex issues among three groups: the COVAX facility led by WHO and GAVI, producers committed to a broad and equitable distribution, and national governments seeking priority.  The authors propose a “Fair Priority Model” as a common ethical framework to reduce duplication and waste.
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    NIAID Strategic Plan for COVID-19 Research, FY2020-FY2024 (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, April 22, 10p). NIAID, headed by widely-known Dr. Anthony Fauci, describes four research priorities: improve fundamental knowledge, support development of diagnostics, test therapeutics, and develop safe and effective vaccines.
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  15. WASTE MANAGEMENT                                                       COVID-19 Waste Management Factsheets (UN Environment Programme, June 19, 6p).  Masks, gloves, gowns, and other protective equipment produced by hospitals, healthcare facilities, and individuals can be infected with the virus, leading to public health risks.  Nine 1-2p Factsheets are available.
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    COVID-19: Potential Impact on the World’s Poorest People (UN World Food Programme, April 2020, 13p).  Warns that “the depth and breadth of hunger will increase worldwide,”  due to disruption of food supply chains, loss of income, and the locust plague in Northeast Africa.
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    Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition (United Nations, June 2020, 23p). Before the pandemic, >820 million people were identified as chronically food insecure, with 135 million people categorized as crisis level or worse.  That number could nearly double by the end of 2020.  Moreover, as of late May, “368 million school children were missing out on daily school meals on which they depend.”
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    The Economic Impact of COVID-19 Lockdowns in Sub-Saharan Africa (International Growth Centre, May 2020, 17p). Lockdowns are likely to make the savings of about 30% of the population essentially vanish, removing all resilience capacity to future shocks.  Poor performance of COVID social protection programs suggests that expansion will do little to mitigate impacts.
    COVID-19 Crisis Through a Migration Lens (World Bank Group and KNOMAD, Migration and Development Brief 32, April 2020, 37p). The economic crisis induced by COVID-19 could be long, deep, and pervasive for migration.  Lockdowns, travel bans, and social distancing have reduced economic activities.  Migrants face the risk of contagion, xenophobic discriminatory treatment, and loss of health insurance coverage, wages, and employment.  Migrant remittances, expected to drop by around 20% in 2020 to $445b, provide a lifeline to poor households in many countries.  Foreign direct investment could fall even more, by 35%.  The report describes regional trends in migration and remittance flows for six world regions.
    COVID-19’s Impacts on America’s Infrastructure (American Society of Civil Engineers, May 2020, 14p). The US has been underinvesting in infrastructure for decades, and “the COVID-19 pandemic has made a difficult situation worse”. Many US infrastructure systems are supported by user-generated revenue, but airports are now virtually empty, commuters are staying off roads and away from transit, and municipal and state budgets are stressed under unprecedented demands, with less support for parks, schools, etc.  Infrastructure investment should be a centerpiece of the immediate response and long-term economic recovery.
    Global Catastrophic Risks 2020 (Global Challenges Foundation, July 13, 54p). The Annual Report states that COVID-19 has “catapulted catastrophic risks and their governance into the global consciousness…If ever there was an argument for enhanced global cooperation, this is it.”  But there is a serious risk that attention to climate issues will dramatically decline in the face of the acute consequences of the pandemic.  Or this crisis could be a turning point, giving rise to a greener future as many countries re-build economies towards sustainable modes of production.  Succinct overviews are provided here not only on pandemics, but catastrophic climate change, ecological collapse, weapons of mass destruction, an asteroid impact, a supervolcanic eruption, and artificial intelligence, notably autonomous weapons.
    COVID-19: A Gender Lens.  Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and Promoting Gender Equality (UNFPA Technical Brief, March 2020, 8p).  Warns that pandemics will worsen existing inequalities for women, girls, and other marginalized groups, especially because women are 70% of the vulnerable health and social sector workforce.
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VI.    Large Group Agendas

    Recovery Plan for Europe (European Commission, May 26/July 21, 7p). On May 26, the EU proposed a major recovery plan to help repair the economic and social damage by the COVID pandemic, kick-start European recovery, and protect and create jobs.  On July 21, EU leaders agreed on the plan and the financial framework for 2021-2027 to harness the full potential of the EU budget, “laying foundations for a modern and more sustainable Europe.”
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    COVID-19 Rapid Response Solutions for Cities Report (SDSN Youth, August 26, 41p). During the month of May, Local Pathway Fellows sponsored by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network worked on proposed solutions for urban challenges resulting from COVID.  Each of the 20 solutions was developed by a group of 3-8 fellows from different cities around the world.  Topics include shutdowns or decreased services on mass transit, sanitation among homeless populations, collection of increased biomedical waste (see #49), safe resumption of public spaces for recreation, etc.
    C40 Cities Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery (Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, July 15, 2020, 43p). COVID has caused immense suffering in our cities, exacerbating a wider social and economic crisis that has wiped out 400 million full-time jobs in the second quarter of 2020.  It has exposed the stark inequality in our cities and our world, and laid bare the need “to improve resilience, strengthen data-driven government, and revive multilateralism.” Climate breakdown and the breach of other planetary boundaries threaten to be even more severe.  “We must forge a new normal.”
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    A World In Disorder: Global Preparedness Monitoring Board Annual Report 2020 (GPMB c/o World Health Organization, Sept 2020, 51p).  The second report of GPMB, stating that “COVID-19 has taken advantage of a world in disorder,” the pandemic is “far from over,” the “lack of leadership is exacerbating the pandemic,” and “it is well past time to act.”  Describes six Lessons Learned from COVID-19 and five Urgent Actions to strengthen the current response.
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    In Support of a Healthy Recovery (Healthy, May 26, 9p). A letter to G20 leaders and their chief scientific/medical advisors, supported by 350 organizations (such as the World Medical Association) and >4,500 individual health professionals from 90 different countries.  Calls for adequate investments in public health and preparedness, a healthier society that addresses climate change and pollution, and healthy cities.
    Human Security for Public Health, Peace and Sustainable Development (Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Women Legislator’s Lobby, and World Future Council, May 24, 7p).  A “global women’s appeal” on International Women’s Day, expressing deep concern about impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and existential treats to humanity and the environment from climate change and nuclear weapons.  Calls for a substantial cut to the global military budget to better fund the UN and its SDGs.  The world has become better united to combat COVID-19; “let us build on that unity and be torchbearers for a better world embracing human security.
    Life After COVID-19: Decommodify Work, Democratise the Workplace (The Wire, May 15, Op-Ed).  More than 3,000 researchers from 600 universities issue an urgent call to heed the lessons of the pandemic and rewrite the rules or our economic life.  This Op-Ed was published in 33 “leading media outlets around the world,” including The Guardian and The Boston Globe.

VII.   Pre-COVID-19 Warnings

    2019 Global Health Security Index (Nuclear Threat Initiative, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and The Economist Intelligence Unit, Oct 2019, 316p). “Intended as a key resource in the face of increasing risks of high-consequence and globally catastrophic biological events.” Provides 195 country profiles and ranks countries  across six categories and 34 indicators, concluding that “national health security is fundamentally weak around the world” and “no country is fully prepared.”
    Note: This early warning, along with many others, was obviously ignored.  It proved to be largely on target, but understated by ignoring the importance of national political leadership.
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    Global Monitoring of Disease Outbreak Preparedness: Preventing the Next Pandemic (Harvard Global Health Institute, 2018, 109p). On strengthening public health capacity, innovations in  epidemic preparedness, rapid sharing of data, reinforcing risk analysis and incentives for action, strengthening global mechanisms, achieving sustained monitoring, and stakeholder participation.
    Pandemics in a Changing Climate: Evolving Risk and the Global Response (Swiss Re, Zurich, 2006, 27p). Prepared by students at Johns Hopkins University, succinctly warning that “Pandemic outbreaks can be economically devastating,” and that serious disease outbreaks are becoming more common due to population growth, globalization, increased mobility, and environmental and climate change acting as a “risk multiplier” by driving changes to vector ecology.

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This report is part of The Security & Sustainability Guide (, a project of the World Academy of Art & Science (
I wish to thank David Harries, Michael Sales, Bob Horn, and for alerting me to many of these important COVID-19 reports.  I am also immensely grateful to Friedrich Hirler for helping to put this survey together in a readily usable format.

M.M., 10/10/20

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Blog: What COVID-19 can teach us about Change, Acceptance and Dissent

by Friedrich Hirler 30/05/2020 0 comments

COVID-19 is the current focal point, not only of media and politics, but of our societies as a whole. Looking at how it reshaped so many parts of our daily life in such a short time, this crisis can provide us with valuable insights into the deeper workings of the interaction between politics and people, between the government and the governed.

A lesson in patience

At this moment in time governments are testing the patience of their citizens, corporations, entrepreneurs, and institutions in many ways. The individual is represented with a narrative of looming danger and justified fear, with a set of measures that will alleviate this danger, and a set of instructions that are supposed to help us to navigate this crisis.  We were asked to stay in line with shutdown measures and restrictions to our liberties to commune, to commerce, to gather, and move freely. In short, to temporarily give up essential parts of our freedom. In response to this, conflicting tendencies are at work simultaneously in societies as a whole and in every individual within. Tendencies to cooperate and tendencies to dissent. Tendencies to act egotistical and tendencies of solidarity. Tendencies to believe and tendencies to distrust. We are all part of an experience, unknown in most living generations, at least in our pampered western realities. An experience that is defined by a feeling of helplessness, confusion, and lack of control.

Our governments are walking a thin line, must adapt to new information, must make tough decisions without knowing if they are right or wrong. We as a people make those same decisions whenever we decide to go along with them or dissent. So how do we make those decisions?

It appears to me that there is a tight connection between the perceived risks and the patience of the people, to oblige. To convey a risk accurately, or inaccurately, governments depend heavily on narratives – storytelling. Whether or not we believe them is defined by the legitimacy and trust they command. Creating a nation-overarching narrative has been achieved by many groups or governments in the past, often hand in hand with revolutionary change, nationalism, or war, sometimes all at once. I am not sure if there is any qualitative difference between fighting a pandemic or a more palpable opponent. After all, during the Cold War, very few people ever saw their enemies face to face. Their acceptance of the narrative did not depend on personal experience but on their trust towards the narrator and identification with their national community rather than their community of interest.

The lost power of national storytelling

The current state of our societies seems to be a very different one than even 20 years ago, making it increasingly difficult to unite the populace behind an overarching message. Homogeneity within a society seems to help with creating a unifying story, but our societies are becoming ever more fragmented, not so much along the lines of ethnicity but along political beliefs shaped by group think within ever smaller subcultures. While there seems to still be a slim majority of people willing to accept and trust the information provided by government institutions, fissures in those national homogeneities have been festering for a while now. Dissent towards government interference exists in many parts of society and political groupings, and it becomes stronger by the hour, amplified by the social and economic fall-out of the current crisis, but also by general anti-government sentiment and fear of a permanent loss of liberties.

False news, conspiracies, media mistrust and the hyperactive shit-show on social media, are concerning enough in ‘normal’ times, but become heavily erosive in times of crisis. The inability to reach across the aisle, to penetrate the attention bubbles of the political competitors and fringe groups, seems to leave the political system less able to deal with crisis situations that challenge the status quo and require decisive action. There is always the worry of upsetting the growing and loud fringe groups, a tiptoeing around different interest groups, and, especially in the US, a news media, that thrives on fanning the flames.

This erosion of the media, the mistrust towards any information provided by the “other side” and the self-referential social media bubbles many of us are trapped in, seem to play a vital role in this. It is sad to observe how family members, friends, or colleagues fall victim to social media algorithms that send them into a rabbit hole of conspiracy and mistrust. How, once in there, confirmation bias, and the mistrust towards any contradicting information makes it almost impossible to have a proper conversation. This is where anti-scientific sentiments thrive and ideas of anti-vaccination, flat-earth, illuminati, Jewish High-Finance, miraculous healing, and extremism of all kind, fester and reinforce a general feeling of ‘us against them’. And I do understand that finding a ‘hidden truth’ must be exhilarating. It can create feelings of community, empowerment, and superiority over the ‘sheep’ that don’t question the commonly accepted truths. And of course, there is value in questioning authority and practicing dissent, IF there are credible reasons to believe in malicious intent, not because people on the internet or media pundits told you so.
And while these fissures in the social structure of our societies have been visible before this crisis, they have been exaggerated in the current situation. A recent study looking into the anti-vaccination movement on Facebook in pre-corona-times warned that their fast growth outpaces that of the science-based groups. Their competent utilization of Facebook’s capabilities and their organic integration in the Facebook cosmos enables them to connect with individuals and convince them in a more personal approach. Institutional actors on the other hand often struggle with this kind of outreach. Dissent comes easily to people that don’t trust experts, science, and governments that (ideally) rely on them, to make informed decisions in the current situation. And all too often it is based on conspiracy theories, or political allegiance, and not on new information, scientific evidence, or even different moral valuations of the effects of countermeasures.

All this is not to say, that there aren’t good reasons to not blindly trust what you are told or to even question current measures. We should not forget that government action of the past plays a decisive role, in how it is judged in the present. There is good reason for mistrust, if politicians seem to value the interests of donors, lobbyists, and billionaires higher than the interests of the people, they are supposed to steward.

There is good reason for disappointment, especially for those, that know the injustices and rising inequalities of our current system. People fighting for systemic change know how hard it is to overcome vested interests, how much push-back there is to protect profits, conserve power, and maintain the status quo.

Populism and post-fact narratives

Donald Trump, similar to many “nationalistic strongmen”, seems like the perfect personification of this problem. He is a beneficiary of those fissures and unconventional information streams, that offer him an unfiltered stage. At the same time he is also the head of the government, that tries to put forward a narrative that convinces people to stay on board with current measures. His approach, or that of his administration, is self-contradicting and ineffective, at least to tackle the problem at hand. Conflicting interests within the office and the lack of a concise strategy besides ‘re-election’ seem to be the root of this. They use the changed media landscape to play on both sides of the court, but the gaping fissures won’t be closed by someone pulling from both directions.


Sadly, I cannot see an easy solution to these problems. The internet and social media have done so much for the democratization of information, education, and communication. At the same time it seems like they have not brought us closer together, but instead reinforced the ideological divides and isolated us in more fractured subcultures. Technology is mostly morally neutral, especially in its early days. We individuals need to learn and be taught to improve our critical thinking and question the information we consume online and offline. Questioning narratives isn’t harmful per se, but a necessary step to arrive at informed decisions. In times when anyone can represent themselves as a trustworthy source of information, and even the most fringe theories are able to reach a wide audience, we have to make sure not to swap a one-sided narrative for something completely baloney. We sometimes need to be content with the fact that there are experts and scientists that know better than us and rely on the scientific discourse to filter out fringe ideas. But this needs trust and effective science-communication, something that is lacking in big parts of the news-cycle, as well as academic circles.

It also calls for a tentative regulation of social media, and especially the algorithms that redirect our attention and shape our worldview would be a first step.  Kartik Hosanagar puts forward the idea of an ‘Algorithmic Bill of Rights‘ that would give us a degree control over this technology and hopefully enable us to share a more common truth.

Ultimately we can’t let the people in power of the hook. They need to own up to their responsibility. Political leadership plays a big role in building and restoring lost trust in state institutions. Increased transparency of government decision-making, campaign funding, and independent processes to increase the checks and balances of the political system are necessary to start this process. Public education needs to educate us to think critically and question narratives, while enabling us to identify reliable sources of information. Traditional news-media needs to find a way to jump off the bandwagon of attention-seeking politicians, celebrities, and pundits, to reestablish a space for proper discourse. We the audience need to stop fueling those tendencies by re-directing our attention towards the less sensational, by trying to understand other perspectives and by expressing tolerance towards opinions contradictory to ours.

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Blog: A Pandemic Plateau is False Comfort

by David Harries 05/05/2020 0 comments

Suddenly, and now for nearly two months, everyone on earth knows what the issue is: COVID -19. The massive majority of humanity were given no choice but to ‘know’ they had to do everything they could to deal with a deadly powerful and fast-spreading virus. Even the science deniers who ‘knew’ the virus was nothing to be concerned about – an almost identical group is denying humanity-driven climate change – were nevertheless forced to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort to demonstrate their genius in the face of criticism of their outlier-ism.

Now there is news of ‘a plateau’, of ‘curves flattening’, of defences being successful. There are still hot spots – Russia, Latin America and Africa may yet host hundreds of them. But more and more countries and their states and provinces are now planning and preparing for the winding-down of the restrictions that have attacked well-being, worsened inequality, hammered employment, ramped up domestic violence, and shuttered virtually every event at which more than a handful gathered.

This relaxation is not necessarily good news, and not only because of the few publicly known re-opening screw-ups; e.g. Georgia, USA, and the fast-fading of apparent early success due to national blindness i.e., Singapore which forgot about foreign worker dormitories. The most demanding and damaging times for the majority of people probably are ahead of ‘us’. Most sensible people know that opening a door that was rapidly and forcefully shut to prevent what is on the other side from escaping must be done much more carefully than closing it and with preparations in place that can continue to contain the ‘enemy’ behind.

The bad news about the immediate future is a combination of three facts:

  1. No one is sure what to do next, and then after next, depending on how successful ‘next’ is.
  2. Globalization is not only no match for COVID 19, but, as structured and operating until now, it both obstructs needed efforts to handle a global pandemic, and reinforces characteristics that make the pandemic powerful and fast-spreading. Globalization has been exposed by the pandemic as a rag-tag patch-work of disconnected and contradictory and sometimes conflicting, social, political, financial, ethical, technological and religious ways and means. The collective appropriateness and effectiveness of this patch-work in promoting a post-pandemic world is, most kindly, uncertain, and more realistically close to nil.
  3. Globalization also fails because there is no organization with a global remit or focus that has offered other than repeated and plaintive calls for cooperation and coordination; calls that not one of them has the wherewithal to tangibly answer. And as for states lead the struggle against COVID-19, the US and the UK, usual candidates and ranked #1 and #2 in Health Security in 2019, are, at time of writing, #1 and #2 in deaths from the virus.

What next, and after next, indeed? Is the genius –stable, or not – who knows what to in the wings?

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The Need for Sustainability in the Fashion Industry

by Iman Bint Abdul Wajid 05/01/2020 0 comments

The global fashion industry is one of the largest, most resource-intensive industries, and a powerful engine for global growth and development. In its current state, it also presents a danger to the planet, as it accounts for;

  • 4% of greenhouse gas emissions,
  • 20% of industrial water pollution,
  • 10% of global carbon emissions.

Additionally, textile dyeing is the world’s 2nd largest polluter of clean water. Furthermore, the clothes produced by the industry are discarded and the materials used are incinerated or sent to a landfill.

In short, the Fashion industry has a powerful and negative impact on our environment, and every actor in the value chain from producers to consumers bear some degree of responsibility for this outcome, and all need to be part of the change.

Some consumers and producers have started to accept this obligation: eco-friendly shopping is becoming increasingly popular along with a rise in the demand for more sustainable fashion. These emerging trends need to be encouraged on a global level to make brands and retailers become more accountable for their choices.

The first step is to raise awareness and encourage the momentum of change, otherwise, these encouraging developments could be another one of the many fads that consumers latch onto for a short period of time. 

Here is a sampling of some of the organizations driving change toward sustainability in general in the fashion industry.

Fashion Act Now

Fashion Act Now is a team of fashion insiders who aim to “radically challenge the industry’s environmental record.” Their work is built on the belief that “non-violent direct action and civil disobedience is a vital component to holding the fashion industry to account and calling for climate justice.” They focus on the “use of dialogue, research and campaigning” to “strengthen and inspire the work of activists around the world that are using non-violent methods of bringing about the change we need.”

Fashion Takes Action 

Fashion Takes Action believes that there is a disconnect between the consumer and the sustainable fashion movement and that there is a need to bridge this gap. As such, they aim to  “empower the next generation of consumers to make more responsible purchasing decisions when it comes to their clothes”.  Their work involves advancing sustainability in the fashion industry through “education, awareness and collaboration”.

Global Fashion Exchange

The Global Fashion Exchange takes a simple concept and uses it to promote sustainability: Bring a clean piece of clothing (or more) that’s in good condition to the Global Fashion Exchange, hand it over to the staff and then pick a garment from their stock. This is done as part of their desire to “empower brands and consumers to take action for a better environment”, working to “build communities, help brands get on the right track and create roadmaps that catalyze positive change.”

Sustainable Apparel Coalition

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has a vision of a future where the fashion industry stops producing “unnecessary environmental harm”.  As such, it’s working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel, footwear, and textile products around the world.” They developed the Higg Index, which is “a suite of tools that enables brands, retailers, and facilities of all sizes—at every stage in their sustainability journey—to accurately measure and score a company or product’s sustainability performance.”

The New Fashion Initiative

The New Fashion Initiative is raising “awareness of the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, through data-centered communications, educational programming and policy” in order “to lessen the environmental and social impact of fashion through collaboration, education and consulting”. As such, they work with “academics, designers, businesses, and other non-profits to bring sustainable solutions to a broken system”; helping them to collaborate, share research, and “convene in order to effectively address systemic issues.”

Global Fashion Agenda 

The Global Fashion Agenda believes that both brands and retailers in the fashion industry are at the centre of “securing comprehensive change and increasing the industry’s sustainability performance across the value chain to ensure that sustainability is a strategic priority”. As such, they are working towards developing a digital platform that helps both to “connect with innovators, for creatives to integrate sustainable practices into their design thinking, and for the industry to interact and share knowledge at-large.” They also advocate for policy change and “supportive measures that reinforce sustainability targets, establish circular systems and incentivize necessary change.”

In conclusion, these organisations and groups are working to educate the public so that they understand that there is a need to change. Only time will tell how successful their work is, or will be in changing long-established norms and habits by fashion consumers and producers. However, a movement toward a more ecologically conscious fashion industry is underway and  you can follow this movement  through the websites referenced here and through The Security and Sustainability Guide, which is tracking these important developments. .

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