Insights · April 28th, 2009

Thinking about the current Swine Flu epidemic and possible pandemic, a couple of thoughts. First, among the most asked question of me as a futurist speaker in the past several years has been, “Will we eventually be wiped out by a global pandemic or plague?” My answer is that this is possible, but nearly as remote a possibility as being wiped out by an asteroid. In fact, the asteroid scenario has a better chance of ending the human species on earth.

Why have I answered this way? Has the current situation changed my thinking? Not at all. What we see in the current epidemic is the ability of a new virus form to appear, but this happens on a regular basis. This is not new.

What is new is the global communication network that did not exist in 1918 or until recently. With just a few thousand total cases, and barely a hundred known deaths, the entire global community – government, science, health, travel, and so on – are mobilized. This is the reason a true pandemic is so unlikely today.

Of course rapid travel by jet plane means that a virus can be spread world-wide in a day or two, and that may be the case now. But, even before disease manifests in a given area, everyone is on alert, and scientists continue the around-the-clock global race to find mitigations, whether vaccine, or treatment, or whatever it takes. So again, the pandemic risk is small, if a pandemic requires thousands and thousands or millions of cases.

Watchfulness is wise. But consider this paradox: The Internet (and 24-hour satellite news) fan the flames of global panic even as they provide the communication tools through which the panic most likely becomes unnecessary.

Art & Society
Nikolas Badminton – Chief Futurist

Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

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