We need a new social contract

What is meant by the term “social contract”?

The concept of a “social contract” dates from the Age of the European Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was meant to enshrine basic human rights and to curb the abuse of political power. The leading thinkers of the time set out to model a just and well-functioning society with clearly defined rights and obligations of citizens and rulers. Citizens would agree to submit to the authority of the state, if the state in turn respected and protected citizens’ rights and maintained the social order.

What is wrong with that?

There is nothing wrong with such an agreement. The problem is that the industrial revolution ushered in a whole new economic model – capitalism – which completely changed the power structure of society. It’s no longer just governments threatening individual freedoms. People running huge corporations and financiers controlling vast fortunes are now just as powerful as governments. Since they essentially control the economy – the liveblood of society – they are arguably the dominant powers in industrialized countries. And economic and financial power corrupt just as much as political power.

What do we need?

The economy is supposed to provide the goods and services society needs, and to fairly distribute the money to pay for these things. Instead, capitalist economies controlled by powerful corporations provide whatever makes a profit, even if their offerings are worthless or even harmful. They control the wealth distribution in society by setting prices and employees’ wages, and by helping themselves to the bulk of the created wealth. They get away with avoiding taxes, money that should be available for financing social programs and infrastructure. Capitalism has even brought life to the brink of extinction by corporations’ contributions to the climate crisis.

Individuals are no match for corporate power. We need governments to protect society against economic abuses. Only governments can pass the necessary laws and regulations, and only governments can enforce them. We cannot allow big business to be above the law. We need to define not only what governments and ordinary citizens can do. We need a new social contract that also defines the rights and obligations of the business world.

Should voting be mandatory in the United States?

I recently came across a Democracy Paradox podcast on how to make voting mandatory in the United States. The podcast guest was Miles Rapoport, one of the authors of the book 100% Democracy. The Case for Universal Voting. A transcript of the podcast titled Voting reforms and ideas about voting can be found at democracyparadox.com.

Rapoport made the point that democratic governance should involve every citizen, not just those most motivated to vote. He claimed that the most motivated voters hold the most extreme views, and that recruiting current non-voters would reduce political extremism. His main motive for pushing for mandatory voting seems to be his belief that non-voters are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican; make those people vote, and Democrats will form the government.

The thought that democratic governance should involve every citizen is a noble sentiment, but it is rather unrealistic. I would think that non-voters are too indifferent and disinterested to pay attention to what goes on, hardly a qualification for participating in public affairs. It would actually be more sensible to restrict the voting right to people who can at least demonstrate a basic knowledge and understanding of what constitutes a functioning society.

Obviously citizens have to have a say in public affairs, or we would soon lose our freedom. We have our say by voting, by deciding who will govern us. For this system to work, the voters need to agree on what constitutes a functioning society, what works and what needs fixing. We need to be familiar with the issues that matter, and give some thought to what needs doing. What sense does it make to let people participate in making important decisions if they are clueless and unqualified?

Unfortunately, life has become so complex that it is difficult to be as well enough informed as we should be. We need to know what issues are important and give some thoughts to these matters. On many subjects we need to rely on expert advice, information that may be over many people’s heads. Many voters cannot even tell who can be trusted in an age where fooling and manipulating people is a major industry. More than seventy million Americans voted for Donald Trump again in 2020!

People would likely object to losing the right to vote. Remember though that the voting right is quite different from fundamental “inalienable” rights like the rights to liberty, to due process of law, to freedom of expression et cetera – rights that guarantee our freedoms. The voting right, on the other hand, simply gives us a small say in who will govern us. I don’t mean to belittle this role. It is, in fact, important enough that it should require certain qualifications. Where else in life can you participate in decision-making without some proof of competence?

A system restricting the voting right to qualified citizens shouldn’t be a source of worry. Better informed citizens likely make better decisions at the polls, resulting in more competent and less corrupt governments. Non-voters would benefit just as much in this scenario as those allowed to vote – they live in the same society after all. Better governance should convince them that their loss of the right to vote was actually a gain.

Would the ruling class ever agree to such a reform? Politicians are probably even less inclined than voters to accept this, especially if their main interest is getting reelected and enriching themselves. For them the only thing better than not being answerable to an electorate is to deal with ignorant voters who can be easily manipulated. That suits the billionaire class too. The more pathetic the electorate, the greater the political power of the oligarchs.

I see no viable alternative to representative democracy – citizens electing the people who will govern them. But for the system to work, voters need to give some thought to the issues at stake. This is not an easy task in an age of ever increasing complexity, a cacophony of conflicting claims, and a sea of lies and misinformation. Rather than informing us, this kind of ‘discourse’ is more likely to turn voters off politics.

We need credible independent organizations who can explain the important issues we face, who present the possible solutions and the necessary actions, and who can do this in ways that the average citizen can undertand. Voters need to know what they must focus on, and they need to be able to recognize when they are being conned. Not everyone will listen, and not everyone can be persuaded even by reasonable arguments, but those who are willing to listen will make better choices at the ballot box.


“100% Democracy. The Case for Universal Voting.” E.J. Dionne Jr., Miles Rapoport

Could a better knowledge of prehistory guide us today?

I just came across a glowing review/summary (1) of a book titled The Dawn of Everything. A New History of Humanity by Graeber and Wengrow (2). The authors apparently present a new understanding of the lives of early humanity, insights that they believe today’s societies could learn from. According to the authors every conceivable variation on centralization, coercion, hierarchy, violence, agriculture and urbanisation already existed in the past. The shape of societies – hierarchical or not, authoritarian or free – is therefore not foreordained by our technology or living arrangements. We should be free to choose to be equal or unequal, coercive or free, warlike or peaceful, able to create our own destiny.

Can we really learn all that much from prehistory? I have my doubts. Human nature may not have changed greatly, but humans have greatly changed life on earth. And those changes have drasticly altered the balance of power in society. Scientific and technological developments have given the ruthless and power-hungry extraordinary power and wealth, and they are using that power to shape society in their own interests. Not only has the gap between the weak and the strong grown dramatically, but at the same time life has become too complicated for many people to meaningfully participate in public affairs. How would a better knowledge of prehistory help us build a freer and fairer society?

Rather than looking to the past for advice we should make every effort to better prepare all members of society to become informed and engaged citizens and voters. Our future depends on how successful that effort will be.

I don’t expect too much from this book, yet I’d still like to get the authors’ arguments in their own words. The subject matter, our societies and our future, is too important to simply dismiss any new ideas offhand. I am waiting for my library copy to arrive.


(1) Cory Doctorow, The Dawn of Everything, https://doctorow.medium.com/the-dawn-of-everything-6b74b658b986

(2) David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything. A New History of Humanity.

Why do so many people oppose COVID-19 regulations?

A sizable proportion of the population refuses to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even though vaccination is free. Many people refuse to wear masks or follow social distancing rules. Refusal to abide by these rules has even led to violent clashes. Masks and social distancing are meant to stop the spread of the virus. Vaccines are meant to prepare the body’s immune system to fight the virus should we become infected. Surely, all this makes sense.

I can understand why some people might doubt the effectiveness of the vaccine or be worried about side effects. Most of us aren’t medical experts. We are in no position to judge a vaccine’s safety or effectiveness; we have to depend on professional advice. The question is which experts can be trusted. People are understandably leary of believing vaccine manufacturers since there is a clear conflict of interest; the more people get vaccinated, the greater Pharma’s profit. But why do so many people distrust the advice of health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the health professionals at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19?

The opposition to mask-wearing or social distancing is even harder to understand. You don’t need to be an expert to see that these measures make sense and can do no harm. You may have seen demonstrations of saliva droplets coming out of people’s mouths as they exhale, sneeze or cough. These droplets can then be inhaled by others. Saliva droplets from an infected person are likely to contain virus particles.

Wearing a mask helps block your droplets from spreading and possibly being inhaled by someone else. Your mask will also help filter out other people’s virus-laden droplets if you get too close to someone who is infected. In other words, your mask will help protect both you and people you encounter. Social distancing will further lessen the risk of infection.

Wearing masks and keeping one’s distance from others surely isn’t asking too much; it should be common courtesy. It is preposterous to insist that these simple safety measures violate your human rights. There are laws against drinking and driving and against speeding, because they endanger others. Try claiming that those laws violate your human rights!

If you cannot trust official sources like the CDC and want to “do your own research” forget about social media. Follow people who actually know what they are talking about. You might start with Scientific American, a magazine that publishes relevant articles by knowledgeable authors written in a language that a lay audience can understand.

If you are a bit more ambitious you can go through medical journals like The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine or the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their covid-related articles are freely accessible. You might not be able to follow all the authors’ arguments, but you should at least be able to understand the summeries of their results and their conclusions.

Of course, the virus mutates and some of our current knowledge will become obsolete. We don’t know yet how dangerous the new omicron variant will turn out to be. It may be more or less transmissible, our current vaccines may be less effective against it, or it may be more lethal. But we can be sure that mask-wearing and social distancing will also be protective against this variant. And vaccination is still protective against the current dominant strain, even if we cannot be certain about its effectiveness against new variants.

So, do us all and yourself a favour and abide by the rules, wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others, even if you have been fully vaccinated. Remember that even the vaccinated can still get infected and can pass the virus on. And do get vaccinated! Experts agree on the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines; the advantages of vaccination outweigh any likely side effects. Don’t count on your immune system alone to get you through this pandemic. Most people’s diets aren’t exactly great and a poor diet compromises your immune system, the system that is supposed to fight the infection.

There are now also a number of drugs against this virus in the pipeline. Let’s hope that they will turn out to be effective.

The right to good health is a human right

The right to good health is a right enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration is a statement of principles rather than a binding obligation; the United Nations cannot force any signator to pass these rights into law. Thus the United States does not recognize good health as a human right, to Americans’ detriment.

There are two aspects to achieving and maintaining good health, self care and medical care. Obviously the state cannot ensure everyone’s health, nor can states provide protection against every possible cause of ill health like genetic risk factors or unhealthy lifestyles. The right to health must be understood as a right to a standard of living conducive to health and well-being, and to health care access regardless of one’s ability to pay.

Let’s focus on medical care. So, what if there is no legal right to good health? There surely is a right to good government. We expect governments to provide necessities like public education, infrastructure, environmental protection etc. Good health is surely just as important. Shouldn’t this justify the creation of a public health care system?

The typical objection to a call for public health care is that it would cost too much – “who is going to pay for this?” The simple answer to that objection is that countries with publicly funded health care systems spend half as much on medical care as the U.S. and yet have better outcomes. Private sector medical care is profitable, and patients pay the price. In fact, in the United States medical debt is the single largest cause of personal bankruptcies.

Of course, the right to a living standard conducive to good health is just as important as the right to medical treatment. Healthier living conditions will actually reduce the incidence of lifestyle diseases and therefore the financial burden on the health care system. But that is a topic for another post. Let me leave you with this thought:

“A health system is the most visible and tangible expression of a society’s concern for the welfare and well-being of its citizens.”

Capitalism or socialism – are those our only choices?

Do we really have to choose between capitalism and socialism? If you listened to American political debates (before “the virus”) you’d probably think so – if you can call all that sloganeering and name-calling a debate. What are these terms supposed to mean, and why all this acrimony?

The term capitalism is defined as an economic system driven by profit, in which trade and industry are controlled by private owners rather than by the state. This pretty well describes the economies of today’s industrialized nations. Conveniently, this definition doesn’t say anything about ethics, about what capitalists can and cannot do to make a profit; it practically sanctions profiteering and exploitation.

The term socialism once meant ownership and control of industry by the state. Today the word has largely become a meaningless slogan, a dirty word smacking of communism (U.S.S.R. = Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). If it has lost all meaning, why is this term still around? Because any demand for economic reforms can be dismissed as socialism, and equating socialism with communism is a very effective tool for deflecting any criticism of capitalist abuses. Add to this a general distrust of governments, and even people struggling economically will fall for this trick.

What is wrong with our beliefs?

Obviously all wasn’t well with our economic system even before the current pandemic, or we wouldn’t have had these arguments. There is unprecedented and unjustifiable inequality in capitalist societies. There is ever greater unearned wealth at the top, while the middle and working classes are struggling. Many full-time jobs are disappearing, and workers have less and less job security, fewer benefits and inadequate wages. There is inexcusable scarcity in the midst of plenty.

Too many people are fooled into attributing today’s (very unevenly distributed) wealth to the capitalist system’s drive for profit and to a fictional free market. Of course, the drive for profit will maximize the Gross Domestic Product – companies will want to sell as much stuff as possible – but the GDP is hardly an indicator of societal wellbeing. It simply measures economic activity, whether it is useful and fairly compensated or not.

The dramatic rise in material wealth isn’t due to the drive for profit. It is the result of (largely publicly funded) scientific advances and to the powerful new technologies based on this knowledge – provided that those technologies are used responsibly and for society’s benefit. Technologically advanced societies should be able to provide a decent living standard for all.

What we got instead was an unheard-of level of inequality. Technology gave rise to wealthy and powerful corporations. Money and power attract the greedy and unscrupulous who grab as much of that wealth as they can get. Money is power, and that power can be used to hijack the political system and further entrench wealth and power. Instead of a decent living standard for all we ended up with an economic system that brought us to the brink of ecological disaster.

So what is it to be – capitalism or socialism?

Rather than arguing over the pros and cons of “socialism vs capitalism” we need to ask what is wrong with our existing economic system, and how we can fix it. Like it or not, these changes require government interventions in the economy. It is governments’ role to outlaw economic activities that are harmful, and only governments can enforce those laws and regulations. If you don’t trust governments – an understandable sentiment – remember that we elect our leaders. It is up to us to participate in public affairs, to choose our representatives wisely and to send the incompetent and/or corrupt ones packing. We need to be informed and politically engaged citizens. Only a functioning democracy can have a fair economic system.

Capitalism isn’t an economic system that optimizes the common good. It is a system in which the most determined and the most ruthless have hijacked the political system and are plundering the world. Why would profit seeking, an inherently selfish motive, maximize the common good? As the economist John Maynard Keynes supposedly put it: “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.”

A new coronavirus – what a start to the new decade

What a start to the new decade! In a mere matter of weeks a new virus, the so-called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), spread across the globe. The most common symptoms of infection are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Most people develop only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. In others it can lead to severe respiratory distress, an illness designated Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19). There is obviously no vaccine yet against this new virus, nor have any existing antiviral medications proven effective against it in randomized controlled trials. Right now we depend on our immune systems to save us if we catch the virus. Of course, our best defence is to avoid becoming infected in the first place.

How dangerous is the virus?

Covid-19 has already claimed more than 200,000 lives worldwide. Since we do not know how many people have become infected – we simply haven’t been able to conduct the necessary tests – we don’t know yet what percentage of infected people died or how many got seriously ill but recovered. What we do know is that people with preexistng medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, or chronic respiratory disease are at increased risk.

Sensible preventive measures

The virus is mainly transmitted through aerosol droplets spread by sneezing, coughing, or even just talking. These virus-carrying droplets can remain airborne for several hours and be inhaled by others. They can also land on surfaces like door knobs, railings, or shopping carts where the virus can survive several days and can be picked up when we touch them. If you then touch your face the virus can enter your system through your eyes, nose or mouth. From there the virus can pass through the windpipe into the lungs. If you were out and about it is therefore important to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based disinfectant as soon as you can.

The best way to avoid becoming infected is to avoid crowds. This has of course become mandatory in many places where people are told to stay home if at all possible, where schools are closed, all but essential businesses are shuttered, and sporting events and concerts are cancelled.

Wearing masks in public has also become mandatory in many places, but your mask isn’t meant to protect you; it is meant to protect others from you. If you become infected you can shed high concentrations of the virus from your nasal cavities well before symptoms develop, i.e. well before you yourself know that you are a carrier. Your mask is meant to prevent or minimize the spread of the virus you may not even know you are carrying.

Strenghtening your immune system

Since we depend on our immune system to fight the virus it makes sense to try and strengthen it as best as we can. The non-profit Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, an organization focusing on safe and effective nutritional therapies to fight illness, recommends the following supplement regimen for supporting your immune system:

  • 3,000 mg vitamin C per day in divided doses
  • 2,000 to 5,000 IU vitamin D3 per day
  • 20 mg Zinc per day
  • 400 mg Magnesium per day
  • 100 mcg Selenium per day

Of course we are told that we can get all the micronutrients we need from a healthy diet. But if a healthy diet were the norm we wouldn’t have a thriving junk food industry. Supplementation isn’t meant to be a quick fix. Supplements are meant for the long haul to support your health, and they are affordable and safe. A healthy immune system is the best defense against any invader.

What happens if you do become infected?

As the acronym SARS in SARS-CoV-2 implies, the virus can wreak havoc if it gets into the windpipe and down into the lungs. The wind pipe (the trachea) splits into two branches (the bronchi), one for each lung. The bronchi divide into smaller and smaller branches, ending in tiny air sacs. These air sacs are surrounded by very tiny blood vessels called capillaries. When we inhale the air fills the sacs and oxygen is transferred to the capillaries. Bound to hemoglobin in red blood cells, the oxygen then gets distributed throughout the body.

If the lungs become infected and inflamed, these air sacs fill up with liquid and eventually can no longer transfer oxygen to the capillaries. At this stage you will have difficulty breathing and need to seek immediate medical attention. While medicine has no proven cure yet, hospitals can support the lungs and in extreme cases provide mechanical breathing with ventilators to keep the patient alive until the immune system (hopefully) gets the better of the virus.

What is being done now?

Literally dozens of research groups are in the race to develop a vaccine against this virus. In fact, the first small-scale trials with volunteers have already begun. Still, it is difficult to foresee if and when a working vaccine will become available or if it will provide long-term immunity. The more rapidly a virus can mutate, the more often a new vaccine may be required.

Since antiviral drugs are also needed and time is of the essence, attempts are made to repurpose drugs that were proven safe and effective for other diseases. At the beginning of May the FDA announced that the Ebola drug remdesivir can be administered to critically ill hospitalised Covid-19 patients. Preliminary results from a government-sponsored study showed that remdesivir shortens the time to recovery. The drug will still have to undergo the usual randomized controlled trials before final approval for this virus.

Another candidate is the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. It has a 50 year safety record, has already been shown to kill the Covid-19 virus in vitro (in the test tube), and in small tests in France more than half of Covid-19-infected patients tested negative six days after treatment. The drug works by lowering inflammation, but it too will require randomized controlled trials before final approval for this disease.

The use of convalescent plasma is another avenue that is being explored. The blood of people who recovered from Covid-19 should contain antibodies against the virus. Injecting their blood plasma into seriously ill Covid-19 patients should help them fight the disease. Preliminary results are promising, but proper clinical trials are still needed to be certain of success.

Intravenous vitamin C therapy, possibly in conjunction with medications like corticosteroids, is another promising approach. Vitamin C has antiinflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral properties. It is known to be effective against acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The therapy has already been successfully applied against Covid-19 in China as well as in some Americal hospitals. Vitamin C dampens inflammatory immune system overreactions. The advantage of this approach is that it would be useful against any virus.

Where can you find credible information on the subject?

You can find reliable and regularly updated information about the coronavirus on websites of public health organizations or medical journals like:

Articles dealing with the cornavirus are freely accessible in these publications.

Take care and stay safe!

Is there an alternative to Capitalism?

I happened to come across an interesting blog by George Monbiot. The post that caught my attention was titled “The problem is capitalism” and the subtitle was “It is a weapon pointed at the living world. We urgently need to develop a new system.” (1). Of course, I share the writer’s concern. If we don’t change our ways, this ‘weapon pointed at the living world’ will sooner or later bring on an ecological catastrophe and threaten our very existence. The question is how to change course before it is too late.

What does the term ‘capitalism’ mean? It can simply be defined as ‘an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state‘. For all practical purposes the term is a label for the economies of the industrialized world.

What is the problem with capitalism?

Capitalism isn’t a planned economic system. It is the kind of economy that naturally develops in free and technologically advanced societies. People can use their ambitions, knowledge and entrepreneurial talents to build companies, and technological developments have led to the creation of large and powerful corporations. We can thank this combination of entrepreneurship and technology for our high standard of living. Unfortunately, technology can also be misused for power and profit, leading to the serious problems we face today.

The larger a corporation becomes, the richer and more powerful the people owning or controlling that corporation will be. Money and economic power buy political clout, which in turn can be used to further increase economic power and wealth. Big corporations can get favourable laws and regulations, tax breaks, and subsidies. They can influence the very agencies that are supposed to regulate their industries. Corporations that are successfully sued for criminal activities may pay hefty fines, but the people running those corporations typically get away scot-free. There is no effective deterrent against corporate irresponsibility and crime.

What new system could we devise to replace capitalism?

Any new economic system would surely also have to be part of a lawful democratic society. We would still need to outlaw harmful and unacceptable business practices and be able to enforce those laws. Yet, that new system wouldn’t change human nature. We would still have corrupt and incompetent politicians and irresponsible business leaders. So, how could we expect different results from any new economic system?

What is missing from this picture? We are missing – the citizens, the electorate. Politicians – our representatives – are supposed to govern. We – the electorate – are supposed to choose our representatives wisely and vote the corrupt and incompetent out of office. This is how democracy is supposed to work.

Of course, it isn’t enough to just go and vote. We have to be informed voters. That’s easier said than done in this age of fake news, misinformation, and manipulation. And here is the opportunity – in fact the need – for a new system, a system that provides the voters with objective and unbiased information on issues that matter. We need public discussions led by experts free from conflicts of interest, public meetings where people can get together to debate the issues, and other ways to inform, encourage and engage the electorate. Of course, not every potential voter can be reached, but it only takes a small number of informed and engaged citizens to make a positive difference (2).

The cure for capitalism isn’t a new economic system. It is an invigorated democracy.


(1) The problem is capitalism, George Monbiot The Guardian April 25th 2019 https://www.monbiot.com/2019/04/30/the-problem-is-capitalism/

(2) The ‘3.5%’ rule: How a small minority can change the world, David Robson, BBC Future 14 May 2019, http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190513-it-only-takes-35-of-people-to-change-the-world

On our responsibility to future generations

I just read an article titled “Why we need to reinvent democracy for the long-term” (1). The piece is part of the BBC Future series on “what really matters in the broader arc of human history and what it means for us and our descendants”. The author of the article is rightly concerned about our growing global ecological crisis and the threat this poses to future generations. His idea of avoiding a catastrophe – his proposed reinvention of democracy – is to create a political office dedicated to representing the needs of the yet unborn.

The author’s concerns are well founded, but I don’t think much of his proposed solution. We are well past the point of only worrying about the future. The ecological crisis is already here, harming us and our children and grandchildren. Yet we keep adding to the problem, and today’s politicians seem powerless to put a stop to it. How likely is it then that the creation of a political office dedicated to the welfare of future generations would make any difference?

The ecological crisis was largely brought on by irresponsible corporate behaviour. Inconvenient scientific findings were dismissed as scaremongering, and industry regulations were fought tooth and nail. The people controlling huge companies are powerful enough to manipulate the governments that are supposed to regulate them.

We do need change, but tinkering with the system –” reinventing democracy” – won’t help. We all need to participate in public affairs. We need to recognize what is important, be able to tell fact from nonsense, and know when we are being manipulated by vested interests. We need to vote, and turf corrupt and incompetent politicians out of office. This is how democracy is supposed to work.

I think that creating an informed and politically engaged citizenry would be the most useful and necessary political “reinvention” for our own sake, and the best legacy we can leave to future generations.


  1. Roman Krznaric, Why we need to reinvent democracy for the long-term, BBC Future Series 19 March 2019 http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190318-can-we-reinvent-democracy-for-the-long-term

On the future of our food supply

I just read “Food in the anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems” (1). The article deals of course with the exact opposite – our lousy diets and unsustainable food systems. That our diets are unhealthy should be no secret. That our food systems are in danger of collapse, and that there is a pressing need for action, may not be so obvious – for most of us the closest contact to our food sources is the grocery store.

The EAT-Lancet Commission, an independent body of experts from a number of countries and different scientific disciplines, was formed to come up with scientifically sound solutions to these problems. This Lancet article (1) summarizes the committee’s findings and recommendations.

Their dietary recommendations should be familiar from food guides. Their model diet mainly consists of a variety of plant-based foods, uses unsaturated rather than saturated fats, allows modest amounts of seafood and poultry, and limits the consumption of red and processed meat, sugar, and refined grains.

To ensure viable and sustainable future food production systems the committee determined safe upper-limits for agricultural greenhouse gas release, biodiversity loss, land-system use, freshwater use, and nitrogen and phosphorus use in fertilizers. These safety limits must not be exceeded if we want to have a viable future.

The EAT-Lancet Commission considers these measures necessary, doable and effective. The question now is how to implement them – how to accomplish the “21st century great food transformation”, as an accompanying editorial (2) puts it.

The dietary recommendations are realistic and flexible enough to be compatible with various tasty cuisines, including the highly regarded Mediterranean diet.  Of course, we have our ingrained eating habits, fast food is convenient, or we may lack the necessary cooking skills. Still, health concerns should be motive enough to take these dietary recommendations seriously. Our health is our responsibility, and nutrition must be a prime concern.

Making changes to the food production systems, on the other hand, can be expected to be more difficult. Current food business practices weren’t the results of a lack of knowledge; they were adopted because they were profitable. Corporations have no incentive to change; in fact, we can expect them to fight any measure that would cut into their profit, damn the consequences. Think of the “tobacco wars”.

Unhealthy diets are bad enough, but continuing harmful agricultural practices would sooner or later have catastrophic consequences for all of humanity. How would we grow any food at all if we used up all the groundwater, or if irresponsible insecticide use killed off all the pollinators? Let’s hope the people responsible for the damage realize that they would perish with the rest of us, and change their act before it’s too late.


  1. Willett W, Rockström J, Loken B, et al, Food in the anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems, The Lancet, Vol. 393, No. 10170, p 447-492 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31788-4
  2. Lucas T and Horton R, The 21st century great food transformation, The Lancet, Vol. 393, No. 10170, p 386-387  https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)33179-9