Why it’s not possible to prevent the next major disease outbreak

Joseph Lambert
9 min readAug 10, 2020


Since the dawn of humanity, there have been many episodes where the human population decided to construct civilizations to great heights. In most cases, a civilization is an unsustainable settlement that is designed to carry more people than the settlement can actually support with regards to the habitats of other animals. As humans expand civilizations, they encroach upon other species’ habitats, which makes them vulnerable to disease outbreaks. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic that began in late 2019 in Hubei was primarily caused by the expansion of the province’s urban area between the late 1940s and the early 2010s. According to an analytic study made by Princeton University professor Andrew Dobson, the cost of reducing the risks involved with the next major disease outbreak can be $260 billion over a ten-year period.

However, despite the cost of preventing such a large-scale outbreak, the possibility of preventing any sort of this event from happening is extremely minuscule because of several factors involved with how civilizations work. Civilizations usually arise from the conversion of lands from those suited to nomadic hunter-gatherers to those suited for farming operations. Civilizations usually begin to form during stable and wet climatic conditions that can provide food for the entire population. As they expand, civilizations gain the ability to do a lot of commercial activities while expanding their military at the same time. In order to provide for such conditions to exist, the civilization’s currency must be debased over time; it is done first at a small rate, then exponentially until the intrinsic value of the currency reaches zero. Most civilizations, like the Roman Empire, usually had their currency backed by gold during their early days. As currency debasement occurs, a civilization will find it increasing impossible to pay its massive debt; therefore, it has to debase more currency than it has already debased. At the same time, the climatic conditions for a civilization to produce its own food and extract its own resources become increasingly unstable, which results in lower crop yields. During the era of the Roman Empire, the empire’s food production decreased beginning in the second century AD from drier climatic conditions, resulting in the Antonine Plague of 165–180 AD that heralded in the Crisis of the Third Century. In the ensuing crisis, the empire was forced to devalue its currency in an attempt to pay off its military debt. However, the devaluation of the currency caused too much currency to chase after too few commodities, resulting in a condition known as hyperinflation. The crisis itself did not only involve hyperinflation; it also involved a more serious plague known as the Plague of Cyprian that destabilized the Roman Empire’s ability to ward off foreign invasions and climate-induced famines that affected the entire population of the empire. The hyperinflation and famine combined created the conditions that led to an increased in localized production of goods and services, with walled cities and shorter supply chains becoming common. The empire would never recover from the Pax Romana period, which had established interconnected trade within the entire empire. The empire would split up in 395 AD and its western half would collapse in 476 AD, while the eastern half continued as the Byzantine Empire until its collapse in 1453.

As civilizations continue to expand, the acts of wildlife trade and deforestation both tend to increase, and the chances of a disease outbreak increase exponentially over time. Civilizations preceding the European colonization of the Americas have had disease outbreaks that were deadly, but the damage that was done to the environment supporting the civilization was much less and seemed to be temporary in nature. When the European colonization of the globe began in the early 15th century, the indigenous peoples of the Americas suffered from numerous diseases that resulted in their deaths. The diseases were brought to them by the Europeans, who participated in a program known as the Columbian Exchange, which brought agricultural settlements to what was then known as Dutch and British-colonized North American coastal areas that were located by the Atlantic Ocean. As the Americas began to be colonized, the pioneers began to be extinguished by the European colonizers, which culminated in the French and Indian War of the late 1600s and set the stage for industrialization to begin in most of Europe and North America in the mid-1700s.

In the beginning stages of industrial civilization, a system known as capitalism began to come into operation. Capitalism is defined as an economic system that is based on the private ownership of their means of production and their for-profit operation. When the United States began operations in 1776, the country was built as a direct democratic society that would become indirect thirteen years later. Over those years, the country progressed from a country of production into a country of consumption. Initially, its currency, the U.S. dollar, was backed by the gold standard at a 1:1 ratio. The currency was thus able to be exchangeable with gold for the same price. As the country expanded, however, it would wind up being unable expand while on the gold standard. In 1913, the Federal Reserve was founded in order to maintain a sufficient supply of dollars for the country to expand further. It used the reserve to fund the military and the country’s expansion that began with World War I and World War II, and concluded with a postwar expansion that resulted in high living standards and high economic prosperity. Twenty years after the federal reserve was founded, Roosevelt announced that he was abandoning the gold standard. The Bretton Woods Agreement that came into effect in 1944 brought with it the creation of a fiat monetary system that relied on currency debasement. After the war, more corporations began to come into existence in the country, rendering it more of an oligarchy, hence Corporate America was born.

As industrial civilization advances, indirect democracies become intertwined with corporations and begin to be known as oligarchies. After World War II, the United States announced a push for neoliberalism and utilized global commerce efforts in order to maintain its supremacy with the Soviet Union. In 1971, President Richard Nixon announced the closing of the gold window as a result of a Vietnam War-related economic shock that resulted in the 1973 oil crisis, setting off a downward trend of currency debasement that continues to this day. The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union led to a greater American-led push for globalization, which heralded in the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 and continued the economic prosperity of the country that began in the early 1950s until the Great Recession began with the subprime mortgage crisis betwen 2007 and 2009.

That year, a minor outbreak of a novel strain of H1N1 turned into a minor global pandemic that resulted in 13,000 confirmed deaths globally, while 150,000 to 575,000 died. The strain of H1N1 had an effective reproduction number of around 1 to 1.3, and had a fatality rate smaller than that of seasonal flu. Life would go on as planned for most people, but the 2009 H1N1 minor pandemic was the first of a series of three disease outbreaks that would eventually lead to the first major pandemic in 100 years. An outbreak of Ebola affecting West Africa between December 2013 and 2016 was caused by deforestation throughout Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone that took place during the previous two decades after those countries had experienced civil conflicts over dwindling forest resources. From December 2015 to late 2017, an outbreak of Zika virus affected Brazil, which had been also experiencing an increase of Dengue cases partially due to Amazon rainforest deforestation that was necessary to make way for economic development.

As the planet’s resources are extracted, the civilization expands, which requires the currency to be debased, which in turn expands the civilization more. Civilizations expand into the habitats of other species because of humanity’s potential as an established global superpredator. Despite this, however, the more a civilization expands, the more likely infectious diseases are able to spread between people. All of this can only be avoided for a short period of time before novel diseases begin to affect the global population. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began in late 2019, the world population was approaching the milestone of 7.7 billion people. In July of 2020, IHME reported that the global population would reach its peak of 9.4 billion in 2064 and would begin to decline shortly thereafter, reaching a level of 8.7 billion in 2100. The 9.4 billion figure was calculated without respect to the expected increase in infectious disease outbreaks from the 2020s onward, and as a result, it is unlikely that the population will peak at that number in 2064 and begin a slow decline. In fact, the “overshoot and collapse” phenomenon states that, as population of a species increases, they tend to overshoot the planet’s carrying capacity. Once they overshoot it, they spend a short period of time above the carrying capacity before they collapse at a quicker rate than the growth rate. The planet’s biocapacity for the human population is between 1.75 and 2.25 billion people. For most species, its population can only overshoot between 3 and 5 times the carrying capacity before collapsing at a faster rate back to sustainable levels. This is corresponding with the 1972 publication Limits to Growth, where Dennis and Donella Meadows, along with Jorgen Randers, predicted that the civilization would suffer a population collapse between 2030 and 2040 because of resource extraction. As resources get extracted, population, food production, and industrial production increase; between 2000 and 2016, population increased while food and industrial production stagnated, then in 2017 population growth slowed while food and industrial production, along with education and health services, began declining. This results in a population collapse beginning between 2030 and 2040. The population collapse slope is steeper than the growth slope due to degradation of carrying capacity and declines of the resources necessary to sustain the civilization.

The response to the 2008 economic crisis was the same response as any economic crisis that happened throughout all of history, which was to print more money. Printing money through quantitative easing can resolve an economic crisis in the short term, but can only debase a currency even further in the long term. The currency debasement responses to the 2008 crisis resulted in a rise of movements promoting anti-globalization and nationalism, which led to the election of authoritarian leaders and bosses between 2013 and 2018. For example, the elections of Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, Jair Bolsonaro and AMLO in 2018, and Boris Johnson and Jeanine Áñez (the latter who was appointed as president) in 2019 constitute symptoms of how the fiat monetary and corporate capitalist systems are used to buoy the public, and therefore promote how capitalist economies become catabolic and develop cronyism. This turns neoliberal plutocractic oligarchies into kleptocratic authoritarian anocracies. Such democratic backsliding has also happened in several countries that were affected by the Arab Spring protests and the European migrant crisis, along with the Hong Kong protests that have been ongoing since early 2019. The neoliberal democratic movement that was pioneered by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s resulted in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Chile, among some others, losing the ability to save up money for future crises; austerity measures took place in all of those countries that rendered healthcare and social welfare services inadequate to serve an expanding population. The austerity movements in those countries led to them becoming rich-poor societies, where high income inequality leads to high amounts of poverty. All of those countries were woefully unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic even though they had adequate healthcare systems, and all of those countries had no choice but to take the route of natural selection with quarantine in limited areas, as their constitutions prevent national quarantines from being handled in a mandatory manner. In fact, the economic aspects of the crisis came before the real health crisis effects began to be felt; the Federal Reserve had to restart quantitative easing in September 2019 in response to a spike in the overnight lending rates. Making the money printers go brrr in response to future economic crises, whether they are caused by infectious disease outbreaks, will eventually result in a situation where too much money is being chased after too few commodities, which will cause hyperinflation. The Dow Jones has lost 83% of its value against gold since 2000 even though its absolute nominal values have increased.

As more people get infected from infectious diseases, humans do not usually build up herd immunity via natural infection unless there are no mutations. In addition, the stream of novel diseases that awaits the human population starting this decade will decrease the global life expectancy and produce all the factors for a population decline. This is happening due to the extinction of numerous animals, whose destruction of their habitats play a role in expanding their civilizations. As the population of a civilization decreases from novel disease deaths, social unrest will continue to escalate into civil conflict, which will cause the extinction of more species. Once all the wild species are gone, the ecosystems that supported them will complete their collapses and will decertify, resulting in a release of more carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. The industrialization of our civilization will amplify those effects, sending the global temperature to 4 degrees Celsius or higher by the end of this century. The areas that humans can survive under these conditions will be greatly limited, and industrial civilizations cannot survive above 1.75 degrees Celsius since the planet would be rendered too hot to sustain conditions where commercial farming thrived. As a result, governments will collapse, citizens of countries will become all stateless, and crop yields diminish despite longer growing seasons. Brace yourself for the biggest global famine that will be coming at us within the next few years.