Wednesday, June 17, 2020
New Book Alert: Pandemic Aftermath: How Coronavirus Changes Global Society by Trond Undheim; Thought Provoking Book Presents Various Intriguing and Frightening Future Scenarios
New Book Alert: Pandemic Aftermath: How Coronavirus Changes Global Society by Trond Undheim; Thought Provoking Book Presents Various Intriguing and Frightening Alternate Future Scenarios
By Julie Sara Porter
If 2020 will be remembered for anything (and there is a lot of competition for news this year), it will be as the year that the entire world was stopped by a pandemic. The Coronavirus pandemic will be talked about for years to come and may change the world as we know it, forever.
In his book, Pandemic Aftermath: How Coronavirus Changes Global Society, Trond Undheim, discusses the pandemic and how it could affect our future. His book is thought provoking and even frightening as he offers different potential scenarios that could be our future from here on out.
In the first couple of chapters, Undheim offers some historical background on how previous pandemics changed the societies in which they were encountered. For example, The Black Plague led to an increase in Anti-Semitism (because the Jewish neighborhoods had less casualties because of their isolation and cleanliness rituals), increased workload but less people to do it, and more violence as weapons like the longbow, crossbow, and chainmail were in use.
Many technical advances like metal cookware and the printing press can be traced to aftereffects of the plague as labor saving devices.
Undheim also writes about how past pandemics were passed. For example, with the 1918 Influenza pandemic, he offers various reasons why the illness spread as it did. Scientifically, it was a newly discovered infectious stream that caused the immune system to turn in on itself. Politically, it began during WWI and officials were afraid of bringing public attention to influenza in fear it would bring down support for the war effort. Logistically, more nurses were needed on the front so there was a nursing shortage on the home front. Psychologically, officials refused to account for a second wave, feeling that it had been beaten, so let their guards down when it came through. Geographically, because of increased industrialization and urban density. (Sound familiar, almost spookily familiar? It should.)
Undheim also gives us a timeline of the Coronavirus pandemic from Covid-19's discovery in Wuhan Province, China in December, 2019 to the almost complete shutdown of the entire world by late April-early May with worldwide cases reaching 2 million with the death toll reaching 125,000 by mid-April. (The number is now 7,931,193 diagnosed cases with 433,655 confirmed deaths according to the Coronavirus Update statistics) Even though, we just lived through it, it is still mind boggling to read how quickly this virus spread from one person to 2 million worldwide in less than four months. It's one of those events that future generations would have a hard time processing and believing that it could have happened. But it has happened and is still happening. (There is also a strong possibility that it will continue to happen with a second wave hitting various countries in Asia and Europe, with the U.S. maybe getting hit before the first wave is even finished.)
Superspreaders also led to the virus getting out of control. The official definition is "a person infected with a virus, bacterium, other microorganism who transmits it to an unusually large number of other people." Undheim cites several examples such as a religious gathering of over 1,000 people in South Korea, the Champions League Soccer Match in Italy, the Biogen management meeting in Boston, New York City commuters, and a wedding in Uruguay in which 44 people were infected, as early cases of superspreaders. At the time this book went to publication, certain current events hadn't yet happened. It would be interesting and horrifying how recent events like the relaxing of Covid-19 guidelines, people openly defying the guidelines by going to places like the Florida beaches and Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks, the Black Lives Matter Protests, and Trump's June rally and West Point Graduation Speech, will affect the overall total of cases. (In fact many of the states which saw defiant beachgoers have already reported an increase of cases by the time of this review.)
While many claim that Covid-19 was an unforeseen event, many futurists warned in advance that such a pandemic was likely. As early as 2005, the WHO/European Workshop said that "a pandemic level alert was 6", suggesting that a worldwide pandemic was likely. In 2006, the UK Office of Science and Innovation (OSI) wrote a government scenario report on infectious diseases and said that one could occur "within 10-25 years in the future." (14 years, right on schedule!)
After the H1N1 epidemic, many scientists and researchers and others issued dire warnings about the likelihood of another pandemic. From the Rand Company, to the EU's health department, to Bill Gates said that a pandemic could come "in the foreseeable future." Even the New York Times issued a warning on the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic that "we are not ready for the next one."
Undheim also offers fictional and nonfiction books and films that dealt with possible outbreaks. The idea of a world wide pandemic was far from unheard of. (Indeed this Reader even remembers a Top Ten YouTube List from 2015 as well as an episode of Adam Ruins Everything from 2018 which discussed illnesses. Both mentioned the chilling possibility of a supervirus that currently known antibiotics, vaccinations, and medicines would not be able to stop.)
However, the majority of these scenarios were criticized as smaller in scope mostly affecting the immediate area and not the world at large and with only a few tactical challenges that didn't cover every scenario. Undheim believes that we "failed to see the scale and impact of this pandemic-all of us collectively failed."
He cites ways that could be improved to prevent, track, and recover from outbreaks including shared information between governments and a more informed populace that is better prepared.
The highlights (if such can be described about a book discussing such a grim topic) of this book is the possible scenarios that Undheim envisions for the world within ten years. They are almost science fiction scenarios because they require speculative thought. All of these scenarios have both good and bad aspects to them. The five possibilities are:
The Borderless World-In which world leaders achieve full true globalization. The world has one government based on the United States and United Nations(with six branches: judicial, executive, legislative, scientific, environment, and religion), one country, and no borders. Technology, science and innovation are widely accessible to the point that children admire these innovators. Vaccinations improve life and air purification systems and synthetic crops improve the environment. A global medical ethics committee helps challenge medical restrictions from before, so healthcare and medicine are available to everybody. (In fact life expectancy increases to 120.)Education is available online so college is affordable.
Consolidation helps improve the world economy. Various industries are improved upon because borderless travel makes an easy spread of goods and commodities. Food and Retail service workers are looked upon admirably (Being an essential workers definitely deserves praise). Media and Communications are available through neural links.
Hygenic rituals are practically required and people are spread out so cities aren't as large. Many work from home and no one takes public transportation. Physical touch is forbidden and large groups are outlawed. Movies and sports are only available online, but do not reflect different places (there was even a sports void for three years. Imagine, quel horreur!). There are also huge infringements on civil liberties and individuality. Most sinisterly, population control is implemented and experts are finding ways to get the lifespan lowered to 100 or 70.
Nation-State Renewal-The opposite of a borderless world is one where there are tighter restrictions between borders, countries, and nations. Borders are closed and people stop traveling long distances. Contact with more than 50 people is forbidden or outlawed.
By 2030, 8G mobile broadband makes work and entertainment from home necessary and preferred. Healthcare and other basic services are also delivered to doors within minutes. Since flying is restricted and autonomous driving is a thing, augmented reality is how people visit friends and family. Augmented reality allows people to attend sports virtually, until people can attend again in person in the late '20's. Block chain is used for investor trading and personal shopping.
Cyber security is a problem, because international distrust is at an all-time high. Some countries are also holding on to certain technologies like precision medicine, nanotechnology, and others in exchange for larger pieces. In fact, tighter borders keep technologies from reaching certain countries.
Many countries fall in the years after the crisis. The United States goes bankrupt, because of the absence of public based health insurance. China is the main world power and they help rebuild many of the African countries, making them powerful as well. Scandanavian countries went through a depression, but secure individual rights and liberties towards their citizens and prosperity has slowly returned by the later decade.
Because of increased borders, nationalism is high. Germany has a return to such a government (who do not wish to be called Nazis because they believe that they are different-for reasons) and has emerged as another global superpower alongside China. Smaller nations have also broken from larger nations: Catalonia from Spain, Walloon from Belgium, Northern Italy from the South, Siberia from Russia, Guangdong from China, Kashmir from India, Hokkaido from Japan, Khmers from Vietnam, Asir from Saudi Arabia, and Bali from Indonesia.
Travel is such a difficulty and so restricted that people only congregate with locals causing nationalism to be a big issue (and racism, Antisemitism, and other prejudices no doubt). Finance is restricted, so larger countries have more than smaller ones. Education took a downslide because not every country is able to practice educational reform. Commodities and services are localized and nationalized. Government services are relied upon, but mocked. Some manufacturers from wealthy countries stockpile goods, so they build underground or under ocean storages to keep them(rather than share them other countries). Larger countries saw the control of oligarchies. Defense has increased because each nation assumes the others want what they have
Two Worlds Apart-This scenario separates rich from poor. The top 0.01% live in separate cities and existences from the lower 99%. The rich live in their own sterilized communities called Clean World away from the Dirty World, where everyone else lives. Not the old wealthy places like Beverly Hills, Gagnam, Kensington, or the Upper East Side. No, no those are for the upper-middle class and former upper class. The super elite wealthy live in their own enclaves and their own world apart from everyone else.
It began (surprise, surprise) in the United States when the government puts procedures to protect members of Congress, the Senate, Supreme Court, and the White House. They are put in a quarantined area around D.C. to work from home with hotels and apartments changed into living quarters. They build a wall around the enclave. (Hey, Trump got his wall!) They grow their own crops and cattle and keep services inside. Other governments are so pleased with this experiment that they follow suit. All government and financial centers wall themselves in.
Various vaccines have failed during their trial runs, so the elite create their own enclaves in resort areas and real estate properties where the wealthy live and run their business ("It's a hybrid of Disney World and Martha's Vineyard," Undheim predicts). AIs determine intelligence, education, and beauty to determine who can get into these enclaves. Naturally, objections particularly from human rights protestors and people who were wealthy but not enough are raised.
Coronavirus waves spread through Dirty World as many of the working class, minorities, those in poor health, those that live in urban areas, and the impoverished are almost wiped out by the third wave. Rural communities by the fourth wave.
The wealthy enclaves have the latest in technology like 3D printers, while the poorer ones have to make do with sharing devices like one printer in a neighborhood. Forget about poorer areas having good data capacity, only business districts have that. However those in Dirty World have access to a Corona Update App to tell them when the next outbreak and lockdown will occur. Augmented reality, Blockchain, Nanotechnology, quantum computing, and autonomous driving are realities in Clean World. CRISPR gene splicing keeps children from catching Coronavirus or other viruses. While Clean World keeps the technology to themselves, secret scientists and tech experts are sharing it with the Dirty World residents to give them a chance of advancement and survival.
All industries have to serve two entirely different groups of people and have to adjust accordingly. Healthcare services have to serve people who get advanced medicine and gene editing and another requires public health services. Finance is concentrated on Clean World, but the good news is that credit histories in Dirty World are gone. Higher education is of course only restricted to Clean World. Personalized medicine under development are unknowingly tested on residents of Dirty World. Travel and transportation are not big because people stay in their worlds. Commodities are largely owned by Clean World and dispersed sparingly in Dirty World. Government is efficient in Clean World, but run like a bureaucracy in Dirty World, which tries to help as many people as they can. Nonprofits no longer exist because they can't afford to help Dirty World and most of Clean World doesn't care. Staying alive is the main concern.
Dirty World doesn't have a lot of resources. They live in the abandoned houses but are little more than house sitters with nothing of theirs to put in. Many academic and cultural people still live in Dirty World, but are exploited and treated poorly. Some innovators still exist and stronger friendships are maintained on Dirty World. There is free will, but protesting bigger issues isn't as important as staying alive. Dirty World is a struggle, but Clean World is sterilized to the point of apathy and ignorance.
Hobbesian Chaos-Survival of the fittest at its worst. Besides the Coronavirus, similar related and unrelated events happen including wars, invasions, famines, and environmental disasters that led to further problems. Rule of law ceases to exist and clans and ideological movements fall in its place as people fight for resources. The world governances have collapsed. Local warlords and organized crime loot the still wealthy neutral countries like Switzerland.
Various tumultuous events happened at once to contribute to the chaos along with Covid-19: A hurricane called Armageddon in the U.S. and restricted ways to restore things because of, you guessed it, Coronavirus, a resurgence of Ebola in West Africa that made its way to France, grasshopper storms in East Africa that created famine, an overall World Food Bank shortage, the weakened ozone layer spreading to Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Australia, and the Mafia and other organized crime outfits returning and becoming one large international supergroup.
Technology was severely limited only to the elites. Many couldn't keep up with the faster data connection upgrades. Avatars are used for escapism and for online voting. Falling states couldn't stop voter fraud, identify theft, or other cybercrime. Failed infrastructure could not admit autonomous driving. Blockchain only stalled the inevitable economic collapse. CRISPR was only used for criminal families. Nearly everybody had to commit some form of cybercrime to survive.
Theoretical research for quantum computing and nanotechnology is postponed to focus on immediate survival. Robotics took over some jobs, so some people have attacked technology blaming it for the massive unemployment. All synthetic biology is put off to study vaccines and investors lost interest.
Exhaustion and depression characterize the first three years with people becoming numb to the increased death tolls and bad news. Protests are muted (in this scenario, obviously not in reality). Many dictatorships falter by keeping statistics down on Coronavirus or in denial that it existed. Many failed states and central governments that had problems to begin with are exacerbated by the crises. By 2023, the Fragile States Index spreads to 100 people.
The Wall Street markets never recover from the economic crisis. Oil prices are extremely volatile going up and down from $50 to $15 back up to $50 a barrel. Regional terrorist groups including a re formed Al Qaeda in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the Real Texans in Texas seized control of the oil reserves. Oil pipelines have been under attack or taken over by different bodies.
Religion lost hold because of being unable to meet in gatherings but schisms continue. Hate speech against Muslims in particular continues. Small revolutions spring up against government bodies that were no longer trusted, if they ever were. Germany's far right government took control over the EU market. The former Christian Democrat government is compared to the failed Weimar Republic before the Nazis. The U.S. economy falls after a ship which was used to control the Strait of Hormuz was shelled, but not before the crew fell victim to Coronavirus. Coronavirus death tolls increase with Africa getting 30%. Boko Haram has a lock on South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other terrorist and regional breakout groups weaponized and seized power.
Healthcare was brought down because of the warlord infighting that made getting medicine difficult. Bigger countries managed to weather the crisis financially in some cases. Most colleges went broke because of low endowment and declining enrollment numbers. Warlords control many of the local schools and use them to educate children under their agendas. Travel became a necessity but was harder because of the competing areas. Air travel is no longer in use because of frequent attacks. Commodities markets aren't traded except from the barter economies of cartels. Wars over resources are fought and consumer confidence is at an all-time low. Services are no longer done. If you wanted it done, do it yourself. Communication is also limited. Manufacturing survived but quality control is non-existent. Media is strictly local. Food is eaten solely for survival. Conglomerates are controlled by warlords. Nonprofits exist to help people outside of the warlords' control.
Resorts, monuments, and scenic places are gone so tourism is as well. Warlords build their own defense. Technology has some pockets of innovation, but it is wide spread and not in wide use. The Internet is down so mass communication is lost.
Status Quo- This offers little change and that things will go on as always.
Vaccines developed 18 months after the virus was identified. The worldwide population either became immune or became vaccinated.
Governments are the same, still fighting and still jockeying for position. Only by 2023 did countries like Russia, Britain, and Germany get an increase in population. Science has gone up with life sciences and medicine but others have not fared as well, carrying many of the same innovations from the past decade. Governments put tighter surveillance to monitor Coronavirus.
Many technologies just improved or enhanced older technologies such as the 3D printer, but 6G has been delayed until 2035. Augmented reality helps online education. Autonomous driving is readily in use by 2030. Over 500 provided CRISPR services help with genetic editing and increasing longevity. Governments mandate cyber security enhancements by 2029. Robotics have maintained some services, but personal robots are declined. Virus work uniforms roll out by 2027. Synthetic biology is mostly kept in the U.S. VR games is used in flight simulators, construction projects, and games.
Many lost their jobs after the pandemic ended, never to return. Some never returned to the workforce because of changed jobs, PTSD, illness, and death. The transfer of the virus crystalizes the difference between rich and poor as poor people were more likely to get it. Start up companies become popular because they help people work in small groups.
Travel bans kept the virus from spreading in large numbers. They were so successful, that they were implemented until 2024.
Social distancing is still in wide use and lockdowns are frequent from mandatory to voluntary. That uncertainty has impacted insurance companies and consumer confidence, severity of other diseases, and stress.
Commuter restrictions and reduced hours help lessen the spread on public transportation. City wide stay at home orders and curfews are implemented. New York even implements an alphabetical commuter list. (Names starting with A-H can enter during certain hours and so on.)
Rules changed for every day life. Parties lessen only to a few intimate friends and family members. Some people begin to feel uncomfortable in a crowd and never return to social activity. Anxieties have increased because of the fear and uncertainty on multiple levels.
People have a new found respect for carers, health and service professionals. Sporting events remained restrict for years afterwards and media is solely consumed online. Online church services make worship possible.
A Corona passport is created for people to travel. Certain countries are put on permanent travel bans. Social inequalities continue. Human psychology stays the same. People want things to go the way they were before. Healthcare got a boost and stockpiling medical supplies are important. Financial industry bounced back after a consumer demand has increased.
Education continues online and in person. Snow days no longer exists because learning continues online. Travel is having difficulties because people are confused about which places are restricted. Staff also does temperature and wellness checks before travelers board their flights. Even though service workers were praised, their lifestyles didn't change and they remain low paid.
Commuter travel ended so remote work has increased. Real estate changed because people are uncertain about moving to rural areas with fewer hospitals. Manufacturing has rebounded as demand increases. Food services became more home focused since many restaurants closed. Defense continues as before as many countries still distrust each other.
The scenarios offer many interesting possibilities to the future (looking forward to that 3D printer, augmented reality, and 8G.) Some are more likely than others. If nothing else, the current fight over Confederate flags and statues, a Confederacy that no longer exists, mind you, with people bellowing "Southern Pride" and "Our History," tells us that not many would be willing to accept a Borderless World. Others such as Nation-State Renewal, Status Quo and Two Worlds are closer to potentially happening in real life.
It is interesting to note that Undheim's suggestion for the Two Worlds scenario began with Washington's government putting a wall around itself when shortly after the book's publication, Trump indeed barricaded the White House. However, it was because of fear of BLM protestors not the Coronavirus.
Speaking of Black Lives Matter, since this book was published before the protests regarding the deaths of Ahmoud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and George Floyd, the book doesn't mention what impact they would have on the pandemic or specifically how they would play in the subsequent social conflcts. Would they fit in the Two Worlds, revealing the schism between races as well as social class, or would the results be something like Hobbesian Chaos, creating a chain reaction of further escalated violence?
Undheim does a commendable job of weighing the various options never saying which is preferred. (In fact all have good and bad points. Even the dystopia in Hobbesian Chaos suggests stronger individuality and closeness to friends and immediate family members.) Of course not all factors are revealed. For example, some mention the people openly defying regulations even calling the Spring Break foolishness "The Florida Massacre" in one possibility, but not how they effect many of these scenarios long term. These actions show more of a forced return to status quo to stabilize the economy and out of sheer frustration from people defying the regulations, rather than the gradual one envisioned in the Status Quo scenario in which people returned to normal after they were told and were still filled with anxiety afterwards.
Undheim occasionally stops his account of the scenarios to give us individuals that live within them including a scientist recognized for his work in the Borderless World, A woman in the Nation-State Renewal concentrating on her stolen childhood, a man from Clean World going slumming in Dirty World for fun, a Norwegian girl in Hobbesian Chaos freezing, hungry, and fearing the Russians who killed her father, and an announcement of the end of the WHO during Status Quo. Each one shows what it's like to live in these world, making the scenarios more personal. (In fact Undheim should consider a second career as a science fiction author.)
While Pandemic Aftermath offers tantalizing possibilities for the future, it is the present that is the book's real concern. All or none of these may come true depending on our actions today. The virus needs to be treated and people need to be medicated, but they also need to recognize their own involvement and responsibility in preventing its spread and saving our future.