Epistemic Status: intended to answer this question, other considerations came up. Figured I should ask the forum rather than throw the question away, as it seems like it could be important to think about. <3h research done on even framing this question well, not claiming at all to have an answer.
The main reason not to be worried about existential risk from naturally-occurring pandemics is 'it hasn't happened yet'; humans have been around for a long time, and even ignoring anthropic problems, there don't seem to have been many near-miss events.
One reason this argument might not hold is based on three claims:
- Most pandemics are zoonotic, particularly emerging pandemics
- Humans interact with animals more than ever before (currently ~7x as many animals are slaughtered daily as in 1960)
- Humans interact with animals in very different ways than ever before (factory farming involves close animal-animal contact and human-animal contact)
If the rate of zoonotic 'near-miss' events is increasing, we may be undervaluing interventions specific to natural pandemics or interventions which would apply to any pandemic (relative to how we value interventions specific to man-made pandemics).
Some sub-questions I think might be useful, if research exists to answer them:
- Is the rate of zoonotic pandemics going up?
- What proportion of pandemics are zoonotic?
- How common are zoonoses in farmed animals?
- Are farmed animals more/less susceptible to disease than wild animals?
- Are there examples of near-miss/'important' pandemics originating in farmed animals?