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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.”
Here’s what’s coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Crisis in the Middle East. Who can end the latest violent spiral between Israel and the Palestinians? We talk to two former
negotiators, American Aaron David Miller and Jordanian Marwan Muasher.
Then: COVID comes to the Ecuadorian Amazon, and we get a fascinating report from the ground.
And Ana Luz Porzecanski the American Museum of Natural History joins us about the vital role of indigenous communities.
NIALL FERGUSON, AUTHOR, DOOM: “THE POLITICS OF CATASTROPHE”: We are not very good as human beings at thinking about disaster.
AMANPOUR: When disaster strikes. Author Niall Ferguson talks to Walter Isaacson about the politics of catastrophe and the curious collision of
disease and conflict.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Israel says it’s launching 80 military aircraft to target militants in Gaza. But this is also what’s happening on the ground, a massive explosion
after an Israeli airstrike hits a 13-story residential tower.
The building collapsed, this after Benjamin Netanyahu, trying to hang on to his job as prime minister, as the opposition tries to gather together a
governing coalition, has vowed to step up attacks against Hamas, while Hamas is threatening to turn the Southern Israeli city of Ashkelon — quote
— “into hell.”
And rocket fire killed two Israelis there. The dramatic escalation includes Israeli airstrikes on Gaza last night that killed these 28 Palestinians,
including 10 children, according to their officials.
Now, the last time there was such an ominous level of violence was back in 2014. This round has been simmering for weeks over Israeli threats to evict
Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem and closing off the area around holy sites where Muslims gathered to mingle and eat after
sundown during Ramadan. That’s in Jerusalem.
The violence is a symptom. And my guests tonight have personal experience with what it takes to address the root causes of this conflict.
Aaron David Miller has been one of the U.S. peace negotiators over four administrations, and Marwan Muasher served as Jordan’s ambassador to Israel
and later as foreign minister.
Welcome to the program.
Let me first start by asking both of you — Aaron, I guess you first because of the leading role the U.S. has taken in negotiations — is there
any role, constructive role, immediate role, that this current administration can take to get both sides to call it off and to quit it and
to stop this violence?
AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think there is.
First, let me say it’s an honor to be on with Marwan, a longtime friend and colleague, and, of course, with you, Christiane.
The question is not whether there are any things that the United States can do. The question is whether or not the United States is willing and able to
And, right now — I have been singing this tune for the last several months — getting inside the head of this president, I think, if he — if he — if
you were inside his head, he would say — and he’s almost come close to saying it — that there’s simply no foreign policy issue out there or
combination of policies that is of a greater danger or destructive capacity to the future of the American republic than all of the three or four crises
that I confront at home.
And they have made their foreign policy choices accordingly. Iran is a key issue, because they would argue to you, Christiane, that Iran is the only
issue that could create a major confrontation that could cause rising oil prices and falling markets and weaken one of the president’s priorities,
which is domestic recovery.
The question, of course, is, where does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rank? And, at the moment, it ranks very low. So, we could come up with any
number of creative, sometimes very tough-minded ideas that the administration could embrace.
The question is, will they? And, so far, it seems to me that they’re highly risk-averse, even in the face of this — of this intensified conflict.
AMANPOUR: And, meantime, scores of people, or at least several dozen, have been killed.
And it looks like it’s following a pattern that we have seen too often in the past.
So, Marwan Muasher, let me ask you. That is pretty depressing to hear Aaron David Miller say that. And you have also been in negotiations. And I didn’t
mention that, of course, your country, Jordan, is one of only two Arab countries that made peace with Israel in the 1990s. Now we have the Abraham
Accords. But, nonetheless, it’s a longtime peace partner of Israel’s.
What do you think perhaps the king of Jordan or others can do on the Palestinian side, if there’s anything to be done, to de-escalate?
MARWAN MUASHER, FORMER JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Christiane, I think it’s important to realize that, for the last 30 years, we have been trying
to find a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, under what was termed as the Oslo framework and a two-state solution.
That has not materialized. And, in the meantime, we have forgotten that there are people under occupation whose human rights are being violated on
a daily basis. This latest escalation started because the Jerus — Palestinian Jerusalemites were being evicted from their homes, to be
replaced by settlers.
The issue of human rights, the issue of rights for people under occupation, can no longer be ignored while we wait for a political solution that might
not come in the foreseeable future.
I think the king can play a very positive role here. We are, after all — we do have the responsibility, under the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty,
for the holy places in Jerusalem. And, as such, I think the king can play a big role in not just de-escalating the conflict, but it’s about time that
we realize that, while we look for a solution, I think Jordan can play a role in making sure that the international community does not forget the
rights of people under occupation while we look for a political solution.
AMANPOUR: And, Aaron, to you about the — certainly the political hullabaloo going on in Israel right now, after four elections over two
years, and still no concrete government in place, as I mentioned, coalition trying to be cobbled together, Benjamin Netanyahu trying to hang on and
really sort of — I don’t know.
This latest is sort of goes through to form, really. But here’s what Giora Eiland, who a former Israeli national security adviser who you probably
know, said to “The New York Times”: “We were not careful in Jerusalem. At a very delicate time towards the end of Ramadan, they gave Hamas and the
militants in Gaza the motivation to do what they did.”
So he’s talking about what Marwan just said, the threats to evict Palestinian families from East Jerusalem, the closing down of the areas
around the Damascus Gate around, Jerusalem and the holy sites, where Muslims like to gather as sun goes down during Ramadan. And then, of
course, we have got the stun guns and grenades inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Do you think he’s right, Giora Eiland, that they also played it badly?
MILLER: I mean, Giora Eiland is going to forget more about Israeli policies, both for good or ill, than I’m ever going to know.
But, by and large, I think he is right. I think you had a series of triggers. And Marwan is correct too in stating that the backdrop for this
is 50-plus years of Israeli occupation, a divided — right now, a dysfunctional Palestinian national movement, some of which is prepared,
continues to say they’re not ready to give up the gun, and is ready to use high-trajectory weapons, and a sense of hopelessness and despair.
Marwan and I may disagree on many things, but I don’t think we disagree on the fact that the idea of a political solution anytime soon that meets the
core needs of Israelis and Palestinians and a conflict-ending solution.
Let’s be clear. It’s not cynicism. It’s just reality. That is not going to happen.
And, frankly, I think the situation in Jerusalem was badly handled. The decision, which lacked no precedent, to essentially close that plaza in
front of the Damascus Gate, which is critically important, particularly during Ramadan, the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, which have been ongoing —
they were suspended in 2009, and now they’re back.
One of the things the United States could do would be to demand of the government of Israel that the evictions not should be suspended or delayed,
but canceled. The fact that someone has a right to do something, legal right, does not make it right, or to end housing demolitions.
There’s much that an administration could do, if it wanted to do it. But here again lies the problem of priorities. Governing is about choosing. So,
yes, I think the Israelis were careless and, to a large degree, irresponsible.
I’m not underestimating the difficulties of Israeli police and experienced and a chief of police new to his post. But I think there were other ways
that this would have been handled differently under another Israeli government where the lights were on.
The lights haven’t been on with a full, formed, fledged government of Israel with a budget for the last two years. So, yes, that’s certainly part
AMANPOUR: And, also, obviously, the attorney general — I think it was the attorney general — in any way, the Supreme Court in Israel, who was meant
to rule on this, on these evictions, they have delayed that ruling. So it’s not happening right now.
But I want to ask you also, and Marwan, obviously, Jerusalem — the Jerusalem Day march was also rerouted because it was clear that that was
going to cause pandemonium yesterday. And there was reports of gangs of Israeli settlers chanting “Death to Arabs” during marches through
Now, the U.N. special rapporteurs of human rights in the territories, they, of course, have condemned this kind of settler activity, particularly for
provoking violence. They say — quote — “The immediate source of the current tensions in East Jerusalem are the actions of Israeli settler
organizations, whose stated aim is to turn Palestinian neighborhoods into Jewish neighborhoods.”
So, is that the goal, Marwan? And for people who might not understand the sensitivity, particularly of East Jerusalem, in terms of a final peace
accord, can you explain why this is such a flash point?
MUASHER: This is just the latest incident, Christiane, in a — in decades of what Israel has been trying to do, yes, is de-Palestinize Jerusalem and
bring in Jewish settlers.
This is a form of ethnic cleansing. This is not new. It has not just been happening in the latest round. It has been happening since the occupation
began in 1967. Today, there are 250,000 settlers in East Jerusalem alone.
When you talk about a two-state solution, how on earth are we going to separate the two communities, when there are 250,000 settlers in East
So, what we have seen continuously is a symptom of the problem, because nobody wants to deal with the problem itself, which is called the
occupation. The simple truth is, if you are — if the international community is serious about a political solution, then the occupation has to
If the occupation does not end, and there is no two-state solution, then what discourse do people have, other than to demand their rights? And I
think we are already seeing a shift in the Palestinian attitude toward — towards demanding equal rights in the areas they live in.
Today, when we are talking about incidents like George Floyd in America, we cannot talk about rights in the United States, for example, alone for all
communities without talking also about the rights of Palestinians under occupation.
We cannot wait — and I want to emphasize this point again and again — we cannot wait for a political solution to the conflict before the
international community starts addressing the rights of people under occupation.
And, yes, Israel should not be exceptionalized. It should not be held to a different standard than the rest of the world. There should be one
yardstick in dealing with all countries of the world. And that right stick has to be rights-based.
AMANPOUR: In the meantime, we have — it’s quite unusual not to hear from Benjamin Netanyahu.
I just want to play — I need to just play something, Aaron, because I need to put the Israeli government view forward about what happened in
Jerusalem, and then we will talk to you.
Here is Mark Regev.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK REGEV, SENIOR ADVISER TO ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We thoroughly respect the holy sites of all faiths. We wouldn’t send our police onto the
Temple Mount unless there was a severe provocation, unless there was a threat to life.
We understand the importance of the mosque for the global Muslim community. We respect that. The mosque is running independently by the Waqf
authorities, the religious Muslim authorities. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it’s going to. be Israel will scrupulously uphold the status quo.
But just as you have had extremists, unfortunately, doing violent takeovers of mosques in other countries, in the Gulf as well, as you know, Becky
(ph), we couldn’t stand for it here, just as no one would stand for anywhere.
AMANPOUR: Aaron, what do you make of that?
MILLER: I mean, look, it’s the government of Israel speaking for the government of Israel on these issues.
In my judgment, the Israelis are not holding up the status quo. There have been any number of actions that they have taken over the past three or four
weeks, particularly on closing the plaza at the beginning of Ramadan, and allowing a man like Itamar Ben-Gvir access to incite.
That’s not smart thinking. It’s not rational thinking. It’s driven by politics. And, frankly, so much of the behavior and attitude on both sides
are driven by politics. I would only add one thing to Marwan’s notion.
The issue of rights is extremely important, but I have long given up any hope whatsoever that somehow the vaunted international community, which has
virtually ignored a human tragedy, largest single refugee flow since the end of the Second World War, in Syria, so many other examples of the
international community unwilling or unable to unify.
This conflict is not going to be resolved by the international community’s sudden awakening and transformation, that it is — it’s going to decide to
suddenly redeem Palestine. I don’t think there’s a single member of the 193 nations that sit in the United Nations today that is going to make the
redemption of Palestine a central feature of their foreign policy.
MILLER: I look at the Arab reaction, with exception of the Jordanians. I don’t think — think the silence is deafening.
MILLER: And the OIC, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, issued a very tough statement.
But you look at the UAE, the Saudis, the Moroccans, the Bahrainis — the Egyptians are — I think, are busy trying to broker and defuse some sort of
But I just don’t see that.
MILLER: In the end — and you may think I’m naive or wrong — this conflict will be resolved, or not, based on the decisions, painful though
they may be, that Israelis and Palestinians will take, with the support and perhaps at times pressure of the mediator.
AMANPOUR: OK. All right.
So, let me, finally, then ask you, Marwan, because, again, you have seen — we have seen this tragic movie so many times before, and exactly the same
way it unfolds each and every time. And Aaron just talked about the provocation and the incitement by that gentleman.
So, I want to cast your mind back to the second intifada, when Ariel Sharon, prime minister, went on to the Temple Mount, and close to Al-Aqsa,
et cetera. And, anyway, that devolved into the second intifada.
Do you think that this has the potential to be another intifada? And, also, do you think Israel is going to maintain — well, continue what many will
call a disproportionate response?
MUASHER: Yes, I think so.
I think we are dealing with an Israeli government, Christiane, that is not interested in ending the occupation, that is not interested in a two-state
solution, that is not interested in a credible, in a viable Palestinian state.
I agree that the Palestinians and the Israelis are the principal actors to reach a settlement. But while they try to reach a settlement, the
international community cannot stay silent about violations of human rights.
We are not asking the international community to solve the conflict. We are asking the international community not to stay silent when violations of
human rights are — happen. They did not stay silent in what has — what has happened in America or anywhere else in the world. Why should they stay
silent in what had happened — in what happens in Palestine?
I’m afraid, Christiane. I’m afraid. I’m very pessimistic about the chances for a political solution. And I’m afraid we are facing a situation where
there are two legal and separate systems inside the territories that Israel controls today, which is the legal, textbook definition of apartheid.
That is what the international (AUDIO GAP). If a political solution is not effected that will produce a two-state solution, we are going to be faced
with a far worse alternative than what we face today.
AMANPOUR: Dark days, indeed.
And we thank you for your perspective, which is born of literally decades of negotiating and trying to shepherd this process to some kind of peaceful
resolution for all sides.
Aaron David Miller, Marwan Muasher, thank you for joining me.
And we turn now to the pandemic. And, this time, we’re going to look at how it’s affected the lives of indigenous communities in the Amazon.
Indigenous leader Nemonte Nenquimo is one of the most prominent activists, and her American husband, Mitch Anderson, is co-founder of Amazon
Frontlines, which supports many indigenous nations across that area, especially trying to protect them against the COVID virus over the past
And that involves using plants from the forest, which is their special medicine Cabinet. Mitch and Amazon Frontlines shared this footage with us.
And correspondent Arwa Damon narrates the report.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When COVID first started to spread widely around a year ago, Nemonte Nenquimo, a
Waorani leader in the Ecuadorian Amazon, was warned.
NEMONTE NENQUIMO, INDIGENOUS ACTIVIST (through translator): My parents told me that COVID would come to the Amazon and that the only way to save
themselves was to isolate deeper in the forest.
DAMON: It was a warning based on the community’s past experience, with the arrival of American missionaries in the late 1950s.
NENQUIMO (through translator): During the first contact upon the arrival of the missionaries, they brought the sickness of polio, and thousands of
people died. Especially children died.
DAMON: But the Amazon is not what it was back then. So much of it has been destroyed. There is seemingly no way for indigenous populations to escape
the encroachment, the diseases of the outside world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We are now living that nightmare again with COVID.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Our territory is being contaminated. Our lives are threatened.
DAMON: Nemonte, who goes by Nemo, is one of the Amazon’s top activists, winning a key battle against the oil industry to protect hundreds of
thousands of acres of Waorani land and was named one of “TIME”‘s most influential people in 2012.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We are providing for the world. That’s important. This struggle is not only for the Waorani people. It’s
What’s happening to the world is the sickness that comes from destroying it. Capitalism, governments contaminating the air, polluting the water,
oil, illegal logging, huge companies that brought this contagion.
DAMON: Mitch Anderson’s is Nemo’s husband.
MITCH ANDERSON, AMAZON FRONTLINES: You can see that road down there. About 90 percent of all deforestation in the Amazon happens around the roads. If
you can see down here, that’s the — it’s base of an oil operation. This is what Nemonte and the Waorani are fighting against.
DAMON: Mitch has spent a decade-and-a-half supporting the rights of indigenous populations across the Americans, with his nonprofit
organization Amazon Frontlines.
ANDERSON: So, there’s the Waorani village of Teweno. You can see it sort of beyond the — beyond the fog.
All right, so here’s the approach, a blurry landing strip here. All right, this is always the sketchiest part here. But we should be good.
Here, the Waorani are going into their big pharmacy, the forest, their gardens here, and thinking about how to — how to treat each of these
different symptoms and how to make new combinations, how to innovate their old knowledge of the forest to combat this novel — this novel virus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This is Cat’s Claw.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): There are different varieties for diarrhea and for the fever.
DAMON: Linda Enkere (ph) is the community promotora, the health expert. Her knowledge does not come from books or schools, but is one that is
passed down from the elders generation to generation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Before, we didn’t consume this tree, but we began using its bark after the arrival of the coronavirus. Now
it looks like a squirrel has eaten the bark.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We realized this tree is useful because tapirs eats its bark. We learned from them how to scrape the bark.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): How does it smell?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Strong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If you want to survive, you have to drink it. It’s really bitter. You must drink it all without breathing.
After drinking it, you will feel like your heart is dying. But then your lungs will be relieved.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This one is for opening the lungs. All this you see here, you have to gather it all to boil, to
vaporize and to drink it. It comes out strong, like a really strong remedy.
Right now, I’m doing steam therapy because he still feels dizzy all the time. He still has symptoms from COVID.
DAMON: Their remedies have not been scientifically tested, but medically proven or not, they have used these plants to survive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): If we didn’t have this knowledge, there would have been deaths. We live off the jungle. We can’t
live without it. This jungles gives us life, the air we breathe. It gives us medicine. It gives us everything.
ANDERSON (through translator): What’s that for?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): For coronavirus.
ANDERSON: Pretty much everybody in the village came down with COVID-19 all at the same time. And Nemonte had really bad symptoms of headaches and
chills and fever and started having trouble breathing.
Daime (ph) and I were making a tea. That was a special vine that we were rasping to make a tea.
(through translator): Is it going to make us strong?
DAMON: What’s at stake here is not just the forest itself and how it works to balance our planet’s climate and atmosphere, but also the knowledge, the
lessons that living in harmony with nature can provide.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The elders like Oman and like the older women have knowledge from long ago. Every plant that you see,
every liana that you see, they experimented with it, cooked it, bathed with it, and ingested it. And they got strong and they survived.
I think it’s really important that they teach us and our children, so that we can have this knowledge and continue practicing it.
ANDERSON: There’s definitely a feeling here amongst indigenous communities across the Amazon that the big lessons haven’t been learned and that
industries and the government are going to double down on old models of extraction and fossil fuels and mining in order to stimulate a global
economy that has never benefited the indigenous communities and the local communities, and is going to essentially accelerate the imbalance, the
climate crisis, and ultimately lead to new pandemics down the line.
NENQUIMO (through translator): We have known our plants for many years, centuries. The plants saved us. That’s why we indigenous people want to
continue to protect our jungle, our medicine, our traditions.
The whole world, the human societies are stepping on Mother Earth. But we have to respect her, and we have to start building a better planet, a
AMANPOUR: Arwa Damon there.
Now, the U.N. has warned more encroachments into our natural world will lead to more pandemics in the future. Healthy ecosystems are key to
protecting us from sickness. And indigenous communities play a vital role, as we have seen.
For more on this, I’m joined by Ana Luz Porzecanski.
She is director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
And welcome from New York.
So, it’s so good to be able to talk about this with you. And, you know, some figures are quite sort of stark. I think it’s the indigenous people
make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population but protect 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Talk to us about the urgency with
which — what has to you know, what we’ve just seen has to be protected.
ANA PORZECANSKI, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR BIODIVERSITY AND CONSERVATION, AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to be on.
Thank you, Christiane. And this is — I think the importance of these natural environments cannot be over stated and the Amazon, in particular,
the largest by far tropical rain forest on our planet is extremely important. It plays major role in water cycles. In fact, it creates the
water, maintains the water that makes life possible in many of the cities in South America and the agricultural regions there. And it plays a major
role in stabilizing the global climate.
It also is home to 30 million people and at least probably 2 million of indigenous peoples and traditional peoples that live in the forest and
sustain these forests and protect these forests in most cases. And I think it’s important to also understand that the — these environments provide
massive amounts of food, of raw materials and of compounds that are beneficial to us that we use in medicine, life sciences and many more. And
it is all really facing unprecedented threat.
I would like to emphasize that this report beautifully illustrates the importance of these — of biodiversity of these natural ecosystems to our
wellbeing, to our health. Like the (INAUDIBLE) that were pictured there, about 4 billion people on the planet depend on natural products for their
health care. I’m happy to say more as well.
AMANPOUR: Let’s just talk about — you know, let me — I just want to about that, drill down on the health care because I think, you know, we —
they called the forest, I think, what, the world’s natural pharmacy.
AMANPOUR: What specifically would people, you know, react to or rather, you know, recognize in terms of medicines and cures? And particularly,
we’re living in a pandemic.
AMANPOUR: So, give us some specifics that is so vital.
PORZECANSKI: Yes, absolutely. Our pharmacy really — our pharmacy’s toolkit is based in nature. People may not realize this but about 50
percent of the most common prescriptions are based on natural compounds or inspired by natural compounds. About 70 percent of cancer treatments, drugs
for cancer treatment, are either derived from compounds in nature or inspired by them.
And many of our familiar medicines like aspirin, like analgesics, anesthetics, steroids, painkillers and many more, antibiotics like
amoxicillin, penicillin, all of them are derived from natural organisms, from fungi to microorganisms, plants and animals. And if you had a COVID-19
PCR test lately, then you have a bacterium to think for the enzyme that made the DNA copying and the test possible. So, these really can’t be
overestimated how much we depend on nature for our health and wellbeing.
AMANPOUR: And conversely, when nature is attacked, it could cause disease. I spoke to the great naturalist, Jane Goodall, about year ago just as, you
know, pandemic was really getting under way. And she spoke about what the U.N. said, as we said that, you know, more encroachment will create more
pandemics. Let’s just play what she said to me about the current one we’re in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANE GOODALL, PRIMATOLOGIST AND CONSERVATIONIST: Well, the thing is this we brought this on ourselves. A pandemic like this has been predicted.
We’ve had epidemics galore and it’s because we have disrespected the natural world and the animals who live there. And we cut down forests,
animals are pushed closer together, some of them are pushed to cooperate and things in the nearby villages. This gives an opportunity for the
viruses and bacteria to spill over from the animal host to human.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Ana Luz, to her point about, you know, destroying the forest. I mean, the numbers are terrible. Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon was up
about 43 percent about in April when compared to the same period last year according to the National Institute for Space Research. And 5 million acres
of primary forest has been lost across the Amazon in 2020.
Can that be restored? Is there anything that one can do to persuade people like the leaders of Brazil and others to stop doing this? Is there a
negotiation to be had, a deal to be done?
PORZECANSKI: I think this should be really high priority for all governments and including our own, frankly, who are in negotiations with
these nations. And the reason is that the Amazon is vast and — but it — as I mentioned, it plays a really key role in regulating our climate
because it stores vast amounts of carbon in its trees, its biomass and its soil. And also, it is constantly absorbing and releasing carbon. And
whether it absorbs or releases more really depends on the climate, it is embedded into and the forestation.
And sadly, and very alarmingly, it seems that it is shifting from really — from absorbing to releasing a little bit more. This is extremely alarming
because all of our client projections, Christiane, rely on the Amazon and the forests being carbon sinks, being absorbers of carbon. And if we lose –
– if this happens, if the forest, in addition, becomes drier, it becomes a feedback loop on itself instead of a virtuous cycle where the forest is
maintaining itself by recycling its moisture, it begins to become drier. And then, as it loses moisture, it loses more tree stems and more forest.
It could switch — really shift into a different mode and become a drier Savannah. And this would be catastrophic, really. It would reduce
biodiversity radically, all of that medicinal potential we were just talking about, all of that disease buffering that the forest provides,
because when you have healthy ecosystems the viruses and bacteria and pathogens remain in their natural ecosystem and the host remain there as
opposed to creating bridges to humans like Jane Goodall was saying. And we could lose many of the services of the forest, like pollination. We know
that crops do better when they’re near forest fragments, for example.
AMANPOUR: Well, we are really so grateful, Ana Luz Porzecanski, for your explanation and then we got to see this report. The U.S. is currently
trying to negotiate a multibillion-dollar climate deal with Brazil to try to get it to stop deforesting and we’ll just keep watching this and hoping
that — you know, that sensible heads will prevail. Thank you so much for being with us.
Now, our next guest says that we are getting worse not better at handling disasters like the pandemic, for instance. Historian, Niall Ferguson’s, new
book, “Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe,” sets 2020 into wider context and asks why many countries initial responses to COVID were too slow. Here is
talking with Walter Isaacson about how we got here and what he thinks the next big disaster will be.
WALTER ISAACSON: Thank you, Christiane. And Niall Ferguson, welcome to the show.
NIALL FERGUSON, AUTHOR, “DOOM: THE POLITICS OF CATASTROPHE”: Thanks, Walter.
ISAACSON: You know, this book has a very jarring beginning, you’re talking about doom throughout history. And you were at Davos at the World Economic
Forum in January of last year and you’ve been traveling around, you’ve been traveling to Asia. And yet, you also had a sense that this pandemic was
going to get bad. You were talking about it there when everybody else was ignoring it. And then you ended up getting sick.
In retrospect, tell me what were you thinking then and, you know, what should you have been thinking in terms of the networks you were traveling
FERGUSON: Well, one of the themes of doom which is a general history of disaster is that we are not very good as human beings thinking about
disaster. We struggle a bit with the probabilities and we struggle a bit with the frequency of really big disasters. And as individuals we struggle
because of cognitive dissonance to modify our behavior rapidly. And I wanted to be very frank about that kind of dissonance in my own life back
in January and February.
I was traveling a great deal, beginning, in fact, in Asia. I was in Hong Kong and Singapore in Taipei right at the beginning of the year and then I
went off to Europe to the World Economic Forum and then came back to the U.S. And I was aware from early on that there was a significant probability
that this new mysterious coronavirus in Wuhan was going to be the cause of a pandemic but it was difficult to adjust my behavior accordingly.
I was very self-conscious when I got hold of a mask about wearing it on planes in January and February because you would get some strange looks.
And, of course, if you were wearing the mask, it made people wonder if you were actually very sick. And I can remember wearing it and then sort of
embarrassed taking it off. Embarrassment is a powerful force in the determination of human behavior, especially if you’re British.
And it took me a while to take the decision to stop the travelling, and, in fact, to move my family to a very low-density area of the United States,
Montana. And I look back and I think, was I a super spreader? You know, was I one of those people who was actually spreading the virus? And I’ll never
know, Walter, because there was no testing available at that time in the U.S. I’ll never find out if I actually would have tested positive right at
ISAACSON: In your book you describe how science will make many advances like two steps forward in figuring out how to do vaccines or to treat
diseases. And yet, society then takes a step back because we get more networked. Explain how that dynamic played out this time around.
FERGUSON: Well, historically, that’s certainly true. One of the reasons the great plagues in history happened, for example, in the time with Roman
Empire was precisely that communications for trade and other purposes were at new highs because of the expansion and integration of the Roman Empire.
And you get a similar story actually in the 14th century when the worst of all pandemics happens, the Black Death. That’s because trade routes and
pilgrimage routes really connected really large parts of Eurasia and made sure that once a pathogen got to Europe it was pretty quickly all over
Europe and all across the British Isles.
In our time, what happened was that at some points in late 2019, a new coronavirus began to spread in the City of Wuhan and Hubei Province
problems. And for weeks, the Chinese authorities, for reasons that we’ll remember from the movie, “Chernobyl,” covered it up and discouraged doctors
often quite aggressively from talking about it. And in those fateful weeks, Chinese families were traveling not only over China but all over the world
because of the approaching Chinese Lunar New Year. It’s a peak time of travel from China to the United States, January. And it wasn’t until
January the 23rd, long after this virus had spread to most parts of the world that the Chinese authorities imposed a lockdown.
So, I think this illustrates a really key point. We tend to think of our battle with disease as something which is one in successive medical
breakthroughs by brilliant scientists. And that is part of the story, no question about it. But at the same time, because we’ve been globalizing the
world really since they 18th and 19th century, time of empires, we’ve made ourselves more and more vulnerable to a novel pathogen. And that, I think,
is the big takeaway of COVID-19, that we didn’t have circuit breakers in place quickly to turn off flows in case of a novel pathogen.
And only those countries that acted really, really quickly like Taiwan, for example, were able to get a handle on this. Those of us who remained
basically open, United States and the United Kingdom, ended up being hit very hard indeed.
ISAACSON: The economist, Amartya Sen, says that democracies prevent famines. Do you think democracies are inherently better at preventing
pandemics as well?
FERGUSON: Well, that was the question that I began to ponder. There never had been a kind of general history of disasters. But I’d certainly read of
Amartya Sen’s work of famine years ago and have been persuaded of his central point that famines are not really natural disasters, that they
happen because for a variety of reasons, political systems fail to respond to localized a regional shortages.
And then I find myself wondering, well, if democracy is good at famines, shouldn’t they be good at all forms of disaster? And it turns out the
North, or at least, they’re capable of screwing up certain kinds of disaster quite badly. If you stop making a distinction between natural and
manmade disasters and recognize the old disasters of certain common properties, I think what you notice is that actually democracies can be
quite myopic because for some sorts of disaster you have to prepare long- term and you have to make costly investments ahead of the disaster. And quite possibly, if you’re successful, the disaster won’t happened.
And then where is the payoff? I mean, I learned this from Henry Kissinger, a man we both studied. Kissinger’s problem of conjecture, which he
formulated in the 1960s, before he really been in government, was that there are asymmetric payoffs if you’re a Democratic leader because it’s
easy just to kick the can down the road, take the line of least resistance and hope to get lucky. But to take the decisions that would properly have
prepared the United States for a pandemic rather like taking the decisions that would properly prepare the United States for climate change is bound
to be expensive.
And politicians don’t like things that are really expensive, which is of course why the new administration has bought this theory of modern monetary
theory and basically, is acting like he can spend without ever having to pay for the things that it’s spending on.
So, I think democracies have a bigger problem than maybe Amartya Sen’s theory famines implied. Also, if you look at wars, one of the central
failures of the 20th century was Britain’s failure to deter Germany from attempting two major and risky bids for power in Europe. And I wonder if
the United States is in the process of making the same mistake with respect to China. Because if you ask me what’s the next big disaster, I don’t it is
imminent climate change disaster, I think it’s imminent conflicts between the U.S. and China. Because, ultimately, we’re not really deterring the
Chinese from an increasingly aggressive policy especially towards countries like Taiwan.
ISAACSON: Well, do you think that a cold war with China is inevitable and perhaps even desirable?
FERGUSON: Well, I think it’s begun. So, it’s kind of after the fact to discuss whether or not it’s inevitable. I think it’s been going since at
least 2018. And by the way, I think the Chinese know this because whenever I say this to any Chinese representative, they don’t disagree.
The thing about the cold war is that it’s preferable to hot war. And our choice is not between cold war or kumbaya cordiality. China’s clearly
challenging the United States in pretty much every domain, a much as the Soviet Union did beginning in the late 1940s. And we don’t really have a
choice to be in some kind of fraternal friendship with them anymore.
The question is how do you deal with this Chinese challenge in ways that avert World War III? That’s really what cold war strategy was about,
preventing escalation to a full-scale superpower conflict which would be catastrophic for the world. And I think that’s the argument for cold war.
The alternative is that we stumble into a hot war maybe over an issue like Taiwan. And that’s why I think one of the key lessons of doom is that the
disasters that you need to worry about are wars and especially totalitarian regimes. After all, the biggest cause of excess mortality and of premature
death in the 20th century was not natural disaster, it was manmade disaster in the form of totalitarian regimes and the wars that they started or
ISAACSON: I was struck in your book about there’s two types of grand dooms we’ve faced over the centuries, one are wars and the other are great
pandemics, and sometimes they go together. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that in the Peloponnesian War, Pericles survives but he’s killed
by the plague. To what extent do wars and plagues go together? It happens then, it happened in 1918, it even happened in some ways during the Black
Death of the 14th century.
FERGUSON: That’s right. I mean, not only is plague a major actor in the Peloponnesian Wars, (INAUDIBLE) describes it, and it’s one of the most
vivid descriptions of a plague and also the earliest. But we also find that in the 1340s, the facts of a devastating play, which was killing 40 percent
of the population of most European countries didn’t get in the way of the 100 Years War between England and France, which got going in that same
1918 and 1919 was the worst plague of modern times with something like 39 or 40 million deaths, which would be 160 million in the 2020 population, it
began on American army bases as far as we can figure out and was spread initially by troop ships crossing the Atlantic. The thing about wars is
that armies march on their stomachs as Napoleon famously said, parasites, pathogens, viruses travel on their backs. Armies are great super spreaders
in their way in many wars if you think back through history comes to an end not because of the defeat of one side or by the other but because both
sides are exhausted by disease. That happened regularly in in European history, in the 17th and 18th centuries.
And it wasn’t really until the 20th century that we began to be able to defeat disease so that armies could keep fighting. But even if you look
back at the end of World War I, which we tend to attribute to the military success of Britain and its allies, the United States playing a key role,
it’s quite possible that the reason the German army collapsed in the summer of 1918 was that their ranks were being ravaged by the Spanish influenza.
ISAACSON: As you say, in the summer 1918, we come out of World War I and we have this huge pandemic. And then shortly thereafter, we have, I guess,
I’d call of ideological pandemics, you know, bolshevism and Russian backed communism and the spread of authoritarianism, even Nazism starts to rise.
Are those connected?
FERGUSON: I think they are. And one of the themes of a book I wrote about 10 years ago, “War of the World,” was that there were two plagues at the
end of World War I, the Spanish Influenza, as it was known, and the plagues of the mind of which bolshevism was the first to get going. But fascism
wasn’t far behind.
So, I think if we look at our own experience, we can see something rather similar where the virus caused its contagion but at the same time, there
were contagions of ideas, ideas which included conspiracy theories as we’ve already discussed but become contagion of the mind that caused the great
protests of last summer was somewhat familiar to my historian’s eyes.
When you think about it, it was kind of strange to have mass process in hundreds of cities on the issue of police violence and race relations
following the murder of George Floyd. In the midst of a pandemic to be protesting about that issue was strange. And I think there was something of
that hat medieval mood of expiation in the process of last summer that you saw in the 1340s when penitent flagellant orders marched around Europe
flogging themselves in the hope of warding off divine vengeance. If you look closely at the protests of last year, there was all kinds of religious
So, I think often in times of plague there’s an urge for expiation to kind of confess one’s sins. Most of the. protesters last year were white and
they were protesting against their own or their own past racism.
ISAACSON: But you’re not trying to compare the racial protests of the past year to some of the stranger penitence of the middle ages, are you?
FERGUSON: Well, there are clearly enormous differences and the issue is a real one clearly. Just, I think, one has to bear in mind that the scale of
these protests and the intensity which people felt last year probably would not have occurred in the absence of the pandemic as well as in the absence
of the lockdowns. One has to remember that there is a connection here.
In time of pandemic, there’s a psychological toll even for those who don’t become ill or only mildly sick, and that psychological stress was greatly
increased by the drastic measures that we took. Remember, we missed the opportunity for early detection and early action. And then, in mid-March,
we decided, oh, no, we’ve lost control. Let’s lock everything down. That imposed a heavy psychological toll on the population on both sides of the
Atlantic. And I think it wasn’t surprising that after a certain point the pressure cooker rolled over.
ISAACSON: Well, the title of the book is “Doom.” Does that mean you think that we are doomed to repeat these things or is there some way these
lessons might help us prevent the next crisis, the next problem we face?
FERGUSON: Well, we can’t prevent crises and disasters, they will continue to befall us and they’ll do it at inconvenient and unpredictable intervals
that will catch us out. And one of the lessons of the book is, I’m afraid there’s no cyclical theory of history that will help you forecast the next
pandemic or for that matter, the next enormous earthquake in California or the next super volcano in Montana. There are any number of disasters that
could befall us. And unfortunately, we can’t have probabilities because they just not that easy to anticipate.
But what we can do is be better responsive. We can be quicker on our feet when disaster strikes. And that’s really why I wrote this book even before
the pandemic was over. It’s not really book about the pandemic, it’s a book about how we deal with disaster as a species. And I think if we got worse
at that, and I do think we’ve got worse at that in many western countries, then we need to learn some lessons because the next disaster won’t
necessarily be the one that we’re preparing for.
Huge amounts of effort go into discussing and preparing for a climate change. This is the number one issue. It was the number one issue at Davos
back in January 2020 when the pandemic was beginning. I don’t play those risks. But it’s not the only form that disaster can take in the next 50
years. And indeed, I suspect there are a lot more faster acting forms of disaster out there that we should worry about. Just think of the recent
attack on the Colonial Pipeline, a cyberattack probably by a Russian group that’s paralyzed the transmission of a crucial source of energy across the
East Coast of the United States.
That’s a trailer for one of the next disasters we’re likely to face. Because in the events of a major conflict with China, there’s no question
that one of the things the other side will do will be to try to attack our critical infrastructure through the internet.
So, my general view is, let’s prepare not just for the one crisis that we think a lot about, let’s not prepare for the wrong disaster, let’s try to
be generally paranoid and ready for anything, because disaster in human history just takes many forms. I think there’s more than four horsemen of
the apocalypse by my count.
ISAACSON: Niall Ferguson, thank you so much for joining us.
FERGUSON: Thanks, Walter.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for now. You can always catch us online, across social media, on our podcast, anywhere. Thank you for watching “Amanpour and Company” on PBS and join us again tomorrow night.