Last week Ebola made it to the United States. It was only a matter of time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts a “worst-case scenario” of 1.4 million cases (worldwide total) by early 2015.
Other Ebola outbreaks have happened in rural villages and were relatively easy to contain. But this day was inexorably coming when an outbreak would spread into urban areas, making it much more difficult to contain. So why wasn’t there a UN plan in place for exactly this kind of situation, with mobile hospitals and protective suits ready to deploy? There doesn’t seem to have been any contingency plans ready to handle a health emergency of this scope. So far most of the foreign aid workers are nonprofit groups like Doctors without Borders, and these people must be getting exhausted. The U.S. is deploying 3000 troops to Liberia, but this effort will take weeks or months before making any difference.
In my mind this event has exposed the fundamental weakness of our current global governing systems. The world is interconnected now. More and more problems are global. We can’t say any longer that, for example, this Ebola outbreak is just West Africa’s problem. It’s our problem too. One person gets on a plane and the virus is here.
And Ebola is just one example. Climate change is another. Syria is another. Allowing the Syrian civil war to fester allowed ISIS to gain power.
My husband tells a great fable: Imagine a rubber lifeboat, afloat in the middle of a vast ocean. The boat is filled with passengers, each one representing a nation of Earth. The boat’s rule is that each passenger has the sovereign right to do whatever he/she likes in his/her seat. If a passenger wants to take out an ice pick and start poking holes in the boat, that’s her right. But everyone in the boat—that’s all of us—will go down together.
We live on a small planet in a sea of darkness. We better learn to start thinking of ourselves as the same people, as citizens not of the United States or of Liberia but as citizens of Earth, recognizing that my interests are yours and vice versa. If I hurt you I hurt myself. We’re that connected now.
It’s time we developed a global governing system with true power. The UN was a good beginning, but it was deliberately made weak so it couldn’t interfere with the business of most nation-states. We need a real world government.