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Towards Planetary Health: From Pandemic Epicenters to Global Environmental Risk Models

Thu, August 30, 2:00 to 3:30pm, ICC, E3.4


This paper examines a contemporary scientific displacement in anticipatory research on emerging infectious diseases: one that displaces the search for the geographic points of viral emergence, or what I have elsewhere called 'pandemic epicenters', with the construction of planetary-scale models of environmental risk. Until recently, emerging disease preparedness programs and research projects largely involved 'virus hunting' in humans and animals, as popularized by the work of Nathan Wolfe, for example. Today, however, pandemic preparedness research is moving from the surveillance of 'viral traffic', towards the modeling of the ecological bridges and highways along which this viral traffic moves; and from the molecular study of viruses in the biosafe laboratory toward the mathematical and visual simulation of landscape features, species interactions, and economic developments. Intersecting with calls for planetary health and the Anthropocene, these models--once rooted in regional or national scales--today often highlight the risks of human-driven environmental change at a global scale, such as growth of livestock populations or expansion of plantation agriculture. In the process, modelers are refiguring humanity as a planetary actor whose future health is threatened by its own actions. Focusing on the micropractices through which models are built and their modes of visual representation, this paper analyzes the historical and technical foundations of this reflexive humanitarian configuration of global health.