Do you remember that end-of-the-world atmosphere during the first lockdown? A large part of humanity was under house arrest, and in many places nature was reclaiming its rights. Ecologists call this strange phase of our history the ‘anthropause’, especially in reference to the collapse of air traffic in the spring of 2020: global energy consumption fell by 6% last year. Like many people, I said to myself, “this is it, the industrialised nations are finally going to change their ways of doing things, to review their relationship with nature”.
One year and four million deaths later, I am less optimistic. Of course, the wilderness will have gained some respite, but beyond all the human tragedies, the ecological balance of the pandemic will be negative. Locally, successive confinements have facilitated a relaxation of environmental standards in the name of maintaining production, and the lack of controls has encouraged fraud. Industrial agriculture, deep-sea fishing, logging and construction have gone into plundering mode, while the state, bogged down in crisis management, neglects the surveillance of protected areas and has given up on respecting the environmental code. This same state is losing sight of the ecological transition, while public opinion is ready, and is severely repressing alternative attempts. At the European level, decision-makers remain unmoved, as illustrated by the recent debates on the Common Agricultural Policy and fisheries: while the modalities of agroecology and fisheries ecology are well known and would allow for the necessary transitions towards more environmentally friendly practices, the recovery plans support ecologically and socially damaging operating modes. On a global scale, it is now clear that the pandemic will exacerbate poverty and the already scandalous inequalities between social groups and nations. It is anticipated that the crisis will push at least 150 million more people into extreme poverty and worsen the status of women, particularly in urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
As we sink back into a consumer frenzy in the wake of deconfinements, and as our economic systems pursue illusory and deadly growth, ecological research reminds us that everything is linked: environmental destruction, health and economic crises, and social tensions; with dizzying global geopolitical consequences.
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