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OPINION: Stop the Panicked Fearmongering; There Is Hope Ahead

The meaningful exchange of truly diverse ideas and perspectives has withered over recent decades. We need to foster and promote critical thinking and constructive discussion. Our new Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, an international coalition of politicians, business leaders, public intellectuals and cultural commentators, will help ensure a broader range of perspectives can be heard globally.

Consider the world’s response to the COVID pandemic. A panic-stricken lockdown orthodoxy far too soon took hold, and those whose policy proposals deviated quickly were labeled “COVID deniers.”

The obvious downsides to universal lockdowns were ignored by those striving to garner credit for simple-minded immediacy of response. Thus, we saw increases in income distribution and wealth inequalitywidespread loss of employment, substantive declines in spending, and general deterioration in economic conditions; severe declines in mental health and wellbeing, delayed and diminished access to healthcare, and record high levels of domestic violence. The education of children was particularly affected. School closures, on average, robbed children of more than seven months of education, which could end up costing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings.

We need to have a serious conversation about our manner of response before the next crisis to ensure that the cure is not much worse than the disease. Consider the alarmist treatment of climate change. Campaigners play up fear while neglecting to mention that reductions in poverty and increases in resiliency mean that climate-related disasters kill fewer people. Over the past century, deaths have dropped 97 percent. Heat waves capture the headlines. Globally, however, cold kills nine times more people. Currently, higher temperatures are resulting in 166,000 fewer temperature-related deaths annually.

Fear-mongering and suppressing inconvenient truths are pushing us dangerously toward the wrong solutions. Politicians and pundits call for net-zero policies that will cost far beyond $100 trillion while producing benefits a fraction as large. We need to discuss honestly the costs and benefits to find the best solutions.

We also need to conduct a more mature conversation about how to better help the poorer half of the world. The United Nations promises everything imaginable through its Sustainable Development Goals. But promising everything without prioritization is no plan at all.

We must zero in on the most efficient solutions first. More than 100 economists and several Nobel laureates working with the Copenhagen Consensus have identified the most promising and effective SDG targets. We could, for example, virtually eliminate tuberculosis, which needlessly still kills more than a million people yearly, for an additional $6.2 billion a year. We could invest $5.5 billion more in agricultural research and development in low-income countries to increase crop yields, help farmers produce more and consumers pay less, and reduce the number of hungry people by more than 100 million annually.

There are a dozen areas where much could be done for comparatively little money. We could efficiently and quickly boost learning in schools, save mothers’ and newborns’ lives, tackle malaria, make government procurement much more efficient, improve nutrition, increase land tenure security, turbo-charge the effects of trade, advance skilled migration, and increase child immunization rates.

These 12 sensible and implementable policies could save more than 4 million lives yearly and generate economic benefits worth more than a trillion dollars for an outlay of $35 billion a year for the next seven years.

The new Alliance for Responsible Citizenship forum can help us positively envision the future. We can focus on what is truly important and attainable, initiate and reward a more nuanced global discussion regarding the problems that will always beset us, and look forward confidently to a world more abundant, laden with opportunity, sustainable and hopeful.

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