This article is a translation from a publication dated March 28 2020 by Amélie Poinssot, from Mediapart.
Airplanes locked on the ground, sharp drop of the industrial productions, … the coronavirus crisis shows effects never observed about the quality of our environment.
The world economy is stopped. Only considering the French scale, the Paris Airport traffic dropped by 70 % the first week of the lockdown, the Orly airport (internal flights) is clocked down until March 31st at least, major parts of the Industry activity is on stand-by (Airbus and it’s supply chain are completely closed for a few days, before a partial restart expected, several production units of Renault, PSA, stopped their production, Naval Group sharply dropped it’s activity,…).
One of the consequences of the coronavirus crisis is even noticed from Satellite Pix like the Chinese sky, cleaned after two months from carbon dioxide emissions ; For Europe, the change of the quality of air atmosphere is clearly identified over the Italian’ Pô lowland. Even in Paris. According the the independant NGO analysing the air quality –Airparif- , the emissions of carbon dioxide over the French capital dropped by 60 % during the first week of complete lockdown.
Temporary stop before the growth of industry activity re start even stronger than previously or a unique opportunity to re shuffle our production system? As informed a short while ago in Mediapart, the appearance and propagation of the coronavirus are linked with the scheme of unbridled growth, as being the basement of global exchanges. The management of the Crisis by leaders capable of taking radical decisions to face the danger approaching the population, is bringing them to a certain determination… can’t we learn from this and attack directly with the same emergency the deep reasons of this Pandemic?
Shortly after a first astonishment form active Militants, after a week a lot of them are questioning themselves about the real meaning of this crisis and the impacts in terms of their fight, the ecological policies, and the new behaviors to implement. Some of them are thinking it is too early to take any conclusion yet, others fear the return to consumerism after a return back to “normal life”, others finally whom immediately took action to synchronize logically their day to day new life with their long term fight.
Momal, is one of them. Shortly before the lockdown, this young woman member of Extinction Rebellion Paris area joined some friends in a squatting where the is living with 10 other people now. Together, they managed to pursue they collect of unsold foodstuff which they distribute to homeless people in their area. “we do not do long distances to avoid being arrested, she says, but we collect of a lot of food”. Usually sandwiches under original packaging, coming from mass consumption of urban workers for their lunchbreak. They also manage to supply them with water as most of public toilets are shut down.
This thirty-year-old lady living in Paris over a decade, decided not to come back to her native countryside origin area, while she could. For her, it was crucial to start being useful in her actual environment. But this decision was not obvious at first. “the first reaction was fear. When being in a survival mind set, this is an obvious individual reaction. This is why I have some doubts that a global awareness of what is happening. I fear that a shrink to small groups, family circles, while it is not linked at all with outside”.
She claims had started fighting two years ago. She has been active with the “Yellow Vest” and afterwards on the Climat strike movement. “but it is extremely complicated to think global and at the same time ask youself: what people need? Even for the ones like me being aware, it is a deep effort to have a global thinking nowadays. Inevitably, our thoughts are bringing us back to some individualism”.
Facing the worldwide economic slowdown, Momal secretly hopes: “it will be difficult of Political people to further lie to people, and let them believe it is not possible to slow down the Economy. People do see now that the leaders have a possibility to act”. And this could, she believes, bring more people in movements like Extinction rebellion.
“The coronavirus pandemic shows us that a political volunteerism is possible”, observes Aurelie Trouvé, speaker of ATTAC. But the “whatever it costs” of Emmanuel Macron shall not limit itself to this. The “Whatever is costs” is necessary for the ecological urgency. The transition is not a sum of individual small behaviors. It is not only necessary either a question of budgeting. It is a combination of political choices, democratically decided, bridging green energy developments together with implementation in free public transportation, together with the slowdown of investments on fossil energy investments or on the 5G implementation.”
In short, this has nothing to do with the reduction of contamination we observe since the beginning of the lockdown. “We shall not deceive ourselves on the reduction of contamination, reinforces Clément Sénéchal, the spokesperson of Greenpeace France. As long as the infrastructures will remain as they are today, as long as nothing is done to reduce the use of individual vehicles, this reduction will not be significate. The greenhouse gas’ reduction needs a structural change. The mass production automotive plants on temporary shutdown nowadays will restart. The real subject is how to prepare an Economical ecologic transition together with a social one. It is not to create a social crisis by the sharp stop of the Production.”
The 2008 exemple
Believing that this Crisis can create an awareness, a collective mobilization and a political action remains difficult. For the time being, active members of social movements observe that the Pandemic brings: Massive destruction of hospital services, drying financing of the public fundamental research and development … The spread of the COVID-19 focus the attention on the poor involvement of Public affairs for these fundamental Public Services and invite to act locally and horizontally.
« One think is now obvious: the solution will not come from upstream, write Pierre Dardot, the philosopher and the sociologist Christian Laval in le Club Mediapart. Only insurrections, social movements and citizen transnational coalitions can impose it to the States and the Capital.”
With the lockdown, the paradox of not being able to visit its relatives and weak persons around us, a lot of landmarks are shacked. “Until now, we were thinking that material solutions were available for all, comments Clément Sénéchal. But this time, like for the climate change, we realize that we need to discipline ourselves, we need to change our behaviors, and go to more sobriety. All the people working on a food industry supply chain and the healthcare personal are at the front line.”
Difficult to be happy about the stop of the worldwide economy when it is not coming so quickly and disorganized as it is today/ It is increasing the inequity between workers – between the managers able to work on home office, the auto entrepreneurs forced to stop their activity for a few weeks. The small retail shops will have a severe difficulty to overcome this period, while a lot of people will risk to cross unemployment.
“This crisis shows the fragility of the liberal economic system: it is not ready to swallow a Pandemic, continues Clément Sénéchal. We are missing Medical equipment, screening tests… While this type of large scale virus will become more and more available. It is like we fight for in the Climate negotiations: it is necessary at the same time to act towards the source of the problem (greenhouse gas effect, preserve the biodiversity- and adapt ourselves to the new conditions. We need a Welfare State ready.”
Include the Governmental actions into this double paradigm, making sure that the answer is not only conjectural. François Gemenne, Director of the Obervatoire of Migrations of the University of Liege explain in a series of tweets that despite the positive impacts to the environment now, the Pandemic may be catastrophic for the climate on long term.
Will the Public Powers continue to subsidize the fossil energies and the air industries? Will the capitalism raze up as it always did –this time with massive recovery plans as they were decided a few days ago in Germany, USA and Canada? Or are we going to determine the essential needs to build up a new system?…
« the re start may need to come with massive injection to the financial markets, like it was done in 2008, notice Aurélie Trouvé, the ATTAC spokesman. From our point of view, it is not obvious that this is what is necessary. It is needed to completely re-think the European monetary policy. It is necessary to implement a implement a system with the condition to bring the ecological and the social transitions together. And it is necessary to allow direct loans from state members to local authorities, without being obliged to be linked with the financial markets.”
The Le Green Deal, announced a being the new Alpha and the Omega of the European commission, could be implemented to implement such Policy. But obviously, the Leaders do not make the link yet. Earlier this week, Andrej Babis, the Czech prime minister declared that “Europe should forget the Green Deal and should focus rather on the coronavirus”. The discussions around the two main pillars of Ursula Von Der Leyen’ program, the President of the Commission have been postponed. The two pillars where however focusing on essential domains linked with the presence of the coronavirus. It is the Biodiversity dossier ad the strategy of “from farm to fork” (believed to facilitate a food production respecting more the environment).
The 2008 financial crisis remains in everybody’ mind. Avoid to repeat the same mistakes, avoid to let the neoliberalism ideology being pushed back again, lock the Presidential rhetoric. “ this crisis, without equivalence since 1930, steps the end of a word” said Nicolas Sarkozy the French President at that time.
If the French President Emmanuel Macron announced a before and an after coronavirus – “we will need to learn from the time we cross, question the development model where we stand for several decades and showoff it’s weaknesses.” He declared while announcing the measures taken on March 12th-, however nobody is fooled: this radical change will not come from this government.
After 2008, one of the learns from European level on the financial markets’ runaway was to decide in the banking system a separation between the Deposits and the Affairs. A directive had been prepared by Michel Barnier, European commission member to the interior market and financial services under the Juncker mandate. It was definitely closed in 2017. The major Banking bankruptcy remains entire.
At this stage and to the minima, the pandemic and it’s economic and social consequences highlights an awareness on the extreme dependence of our economic system from the international food supply chains, especially from China, which we don’t control.
“This fundamental question, together with the link between the illness and the lost of biodiversity seems fortunately to be brought back, estimates Laurent Standaert, Head of redaction at the Brussels’s Green European Journal. These points are usually considered superficially. Meanwhile, the link between an emerging virus transmitted from the animal to the humans and the concreteisarion of our environments are now established.”
For this Brussels’ inhabitant, this pandemic offers an ecological politic paradigm. It’s bringing indeed two messages touching fundamental elements of this way of thinking. The first is the Resilience one: our system needs more autonomy, and shall avoid to be exposed to exterior factors, it must find its resources in its own ecosystems. The second one is the subsidiarity one; facing the large scale effects, States are not able to control the system by themselves, the is an inertia in the decision process, it is necessary to come back to a local scale to react fast enough. Decentralization and reorganization at local level seem to be key for surviving.
“On short term, it is difficult to sell this vision from a political point of view: we are in the crisis management, says Laurent Standaert. But when we will be between the crisis and the end of the crisis, even if it is far away now, we will be able to demonstrate that there is a possibility to bring a new green industrialization of Europe, with a diversification of our Production, while reducing our dependency from outside. We will be able to demonstrate that between the number of dead linked very year with contamination and the number of dead linked with the coronavirus, there is a huge difference. The idea to implement a condition inside the safety package will progress. In any case we will not be able to do like in the past.”
In 2016, World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that that 4.2 Million people in the world died earlier then logically due to ambient air pollution they breathed (heart and cardiac, breathing and cancer diseases).
From now to the end of the crisis, « a massive work of education and information on the sources of what is going on now” will be necessary estimates the Brusselois. And this while the eco consumer profile, or eco fascist is progressing quickly: the crisis of the coronavirus by closing borders inside the European union, in the same way the State Members locked themselves when the Iraqi and Syrian immigrants arrived in 2015, does not bring optimism… Without an international coordination, it is impossible to progress on the Climate situation and in preserving the Biodiversity.
The Climate negotiations where already hazardous since the Paris Agreement in 2015, have been seriously damaged with the pandemic. No change during a lockdown and borders closing period to respect the planed agenda of the European discussions until the next conference in Glasgow expected next winter. And in France, Citizen convention for Climate expected to be a reference in terms of democratic experience and promising for the future changes, is stopped de facto. The final working weekend planed on April 3-4-5 is postponed to an unfixed date.
However, it’s in the heart of the crisis that new ways can be created. The spokesman of French farmers Union (confederation Paysane), Nicolas Girod admits that the circumstances are not helping for a reasoning. “For the time being, we manage emergencies. From the early steps of this crisis we realized it was an opportunity to rethink the food production model, the food transformation chain and the supply chain. Facing the difficulties, we have the handle with the open space and open market direct resells, we must avoid falling into the dependency from the retailers, to the opposite, we must go to a re localization.”
It is true for the short term as well as the longer term. The challenge is that high since the productivity farming models were developed in the major developed countries since the 60s are responsible of the deforestation and the collapse of the Biodiversity on this Planet, which favor the emerging of new viruses similar to the COVID-19. And is part of the global shipping explosion…
Facing this, the Conf’ is in favor of a de-globalization with a small scale logical approach : « the Food production must adapts itself to the resources of the territories. We shall stop putting in competition the farmers around the world and help the financial interests”, adds Nicolas Girod.
Same analysis from Aurélie Trouvé. « The current situation imposes us to think seriously about the re localization of our Productions, food and Industrial. We need for that an ambitious plan at States level, liked with the territories and the local orgnisations. Like it was established after WWII, but not in a productivity mind logic. We must do it in a logic to make the transition and creating jobs.”
Four other leaders of ATTAC (Maxime Combes, Geneviève Azam, Thomas Coutrot and Christophe Aguiton) are also calling for this re localization as a « survival condition » of our economical, social systems and for their population. “It is time to slow down the flows of capital and goods, and reduce the toxic sector for the Biosphere (fossil energies, chemicals, agro-industry, electronics, …)” they published in Le Monde, national French press last Sunday.
The thinking is launched but the work is massive. Not taking the opportunity of the propagation of the COVID-19 to re shuffle a system which showed once again the damages as well as it’s vulnerability would look like a major missing opportunity.
This article reflects our approach at Slow life farm, and why we decided to start this journey. Slow life wording is intentionally used to counter react to the idea of fast growing economy and the need to adapt the localization of production to the needs of the territories and bringing the social impact while housing in eco-lodges is needed and supporting by all meanings the local positive initiatives around each individual production center.
Networking these small scale productions centers in a global network using the same auto developed label (green Belt / Slow Life whatever you call it) will make the difference as we cannot expect this to be brought by State level or by Global organization levels; we need to take the lead by ourselves.
At least we can’t take the risk to wait for Authorities to be proactive, and can only count on ourselves.
Be safe and healthy and think about all this.