Questions & Answers: «COVID-19: The decade after»

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Christos Zografos (Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona) and Eeva Furman (Environmental Policy Centre of the Finnish Environment Institute) answers some of the questions from the participants


How can social movements for sustainability push chagements in degrowth policies?Javier Zarzuela

CHRISTOS ZOGRAFOS (Pompeu Fabra University): I think that some collectives do that already. There are several avenues. One is by trying to influence institutional politics through making suggestions for adopting specific public policies. See here for an example. A more direct way of pushing for change can be through grass-roots initiatives that explicitly call for degrowth at a more ‘local’ level, such as the Barcelona-based initiative on Decreixement Turistic. Making inroads for collaborations with political parties is also another important channel, and although this has not been advanced considerably, some parties have at occasions adopted the term – see here for an example with Podemos in Spain.

Similarly, campaigns aiming at central elements of growth society which produce adverse socio-ecological impacts, such as consumerism, are another tool – see here for examples of campaigns and municipal government initiatives to ban advertising in French cities.

Another channel is through forging alliances between degrowth and other crucial social movements whose principles and aims degrowthers share – see here for an example with feminism. Here you may also find a more comprehensive list of ways in which degrowth combines in social movements to push for change.

When it comes to transformation, social movements need to consider where resistance to change comes from and why. My view is that beyond material interests (which are of course crucial), a central and challenging aspect of transformation is social imaginaries. Economic growth is a central element of what most people think that is socially necessary for reaching a ‘good life’. This partly explains not only the invisibility of its negative effects but also popular objection to questioning it. Opening up debates in as many public and private spheres as possible about the extent to which that association between economic growth and good life is certain, and illustrating the possibility of living lives with lower consumption, smaller footprints, democratic decision-making, and less inequality is necessary for starting to challenge established imaginaries of the good life. That’s why contrary to a popular belief that degrowth as a term is a political non-starter, I think that the term is good precisely because it is provocative: from the outset, it directs discussion towards talking about what is really desirable in life, the implications of desire in those societies and beyond, and how desire is constructed in materially-abundant societies.


Can we return to the same economic, social and health situation after the crisis caused by the coronavirus?Marta Alandi

CHRISTOS ZOGRAFOS (Pompeu Fabra University): Not sure if I understand correctly this question. If the question is whether returning to the pre-covid situation is desirable, then I think the answer is “no”, to a big extent for all those reasons as concerns inequality that I presented in the webinar. But if the question is whether it is possible to return to the same situation, then the answer is probably “yes”. I’m afraid that my view is that it is possible to return to ‘business as usual’, a situation where e.g. care for climate impacts, its victims, and vulnerabilities is not prioritised, and instead support continues been given to unsustainable activities. Unfortunately, it is possible to continue living in a world of inequality. And there are those who flag that there is an additional danger that more authoritarian styles of politics may emerge to ensure that such a situation is possible. The question perhaps then is for how long? How long before either natural limits or social unrest kick in and start menacing much more (than e.g. covid has done) those who are more privileged, and possibly see a change towards more radical, yet necessary transformations. The warnings are there and are dire: climate science for example, has made clear that limits are fast approaching, and that we only have 10 years to change course. But listening to the warnings is always (and should always be) a political decision. And it’s still far from clear whether momentum for a substantial change in course will gather any time soon.


What about the medical humanitarian actors? What is their role in interlinking global environmental change and emergencies? How can they contribute to the 2030 agenda without losing operational effectiveness in such pandemics? | Maria Ten

EEVA FURMAN (Environmental Policy Centre of the Finnish Environment Institute): The Agenda2030 gives lots of space to contribute, even act. there are easy answers and then there are some very rough ones which are difficult to make just for. As I mentioned, injustice has glown all over the world and it is not a question of salary only but also in social issues such as who gets health care, education etc. The third dimension, in addition to monetary and social injustice is political injustice, which means who decides how things are carried out. These issues give much space for humanitarian actors to think about. The other dimension that I was thinking of was the children. It has become clear that childhood, early childhood, or even during maternity are the most crucial for the rest of the life. If things go wrong in this stage, plenty is lost and the other way round, you can have a major impact to the future by dealing with the early stage. This is nothing new for people working in medication, but the new scientific knowledge talks about the cognitive skills. All this requires health, but also nutrition, safe social circumstances etc. These two came to my mind here where a major impact can be made.


If we protect biodiversity, we protect health because it helps distribute the viral load among the different species and among the individuals of those species; it also reduces contagion …The only way to buffer infections, so that they do not become global and lethal, is to surround ourselves with healthy, functional and species-rich ecosystems. Why aren´t humans acting properly about this? I think that politicians and decision makers are bottlenecks | Alberto Martínez Villar

EEVA FURMAN (Environmental Policy Centre of the Finnish Environment Institute): Alberto, this is a very good question. I identify two major answers. one is the understanding. Despite all the knowledge we have from science, it is not yet well understood how biodiversity is important on all levels. the point with microbiota is that also here the same population ecological and systems ecological theories work: if we have diversity, the various “species” control each other and do not let any species to dominate, including the viruses and bacteria. This already is difficult for many to understand. What makes it even more difficult to understand is that the various levels of biodiversity are interlinked, so that the diversity on macro level (eg. mammals) are linked with the diversity of micro level (bacteria, viruses). And this is what builds the importance of ensuring large ecosystems with the functions (control/relation of each other). But why this is so difficult to communicate to decision makers takes us to the second answer. You do not want to believe something which requires you to change your lifestyle, business strategy, national economy. There are many countries and businesses that are getting major revenue of the unsustainable stage; yes, there are many countries leading the list. So for these institutions, although they see the risk from viruses affecting their entity negatively, the risk of losing the revenue is higher. Now this is where the change may take place. if no cure for Covid-19 is not found in a long time, the risk of getting revenue from efficiency, geographical concentration and neglecting the losers, may grow too big and the resilience thinking becomes more appealing even for businesses. Then the ecosystems resilience is also on the agenda. Let’s hope this happens.

Other questions answered during the event

Does resilience refer to human or ecological resilience? | Tadhg MacIntyre 

It refers to a situation, where both ecological and social resilience are strengthened; the social sphere depends on ecological goals and vice versa and so does resilience.


Is the DEGROWTH being seriously considered? common global action plans possible for it? | Victoria Polanco

Degrowth is one part of the transformation, but when thinking globally, we have countries, communities and people in different situations so it cannot be the only approach; actually many countries need sustainable economic growth.


After the pandemic can we be sure that we will face is new normal or a better world ? what if there are virus diseases that are also endemic globally, what do you suggest if that happens? Should we already have social capital with these experience? | Sanusi

I see that we need to change our relationship with nature. This means that we cannot aim a situation where we can control everything but rather accept that we will be threatened now and in the future from nature and the way we can best manage is to raise our resilience. Take care of our heath and immune tolerance, change our behaviour and how we produce, share and consume.


How can we negotiate with the powerful actors who finally are the ones to take the decisions? I mean researchers know all these for decades, but we have not fueled the change at the level it is necessary for a radical change, what finally needs to deal with power relations. | Antonio Chamorro

One way is to enhance science, which makes financial flows transparent; where do the revenues go. Presently this is a black box. The second issue is dialogue and co-creation; there are many businesses which are taking the new strategy to move forward. Approaching those which cannot make step forward is also a why, they can do something to compensate their negative impacts.


Can we achieve the 2020 agenda after the covid-19? | Marta Alandi

I tried to emphasise in my talk that the covid-19 is not a hinder but rather a possibility. The situation was very worrying already before covid-19 but if we tackle the core societal systems and transform them by using interconnectivity the four levels, it is possible. But finally this is a political choise.


The relationship of this pandemic with the mistreatment of the environment is clear, so we need a greater awareness of all humanity and at all levels. What else can we do to make politicians react? | Blanca Díez de Tejada Guevara

As scientists our role is to identify the interlinkages, identify those with power and then co-create with societal actors, including politicians, major changes in our systems towards sustainability. This sounds theoretical but it is quite practical. You bring together all actors, including those with power, the winners and the losers, that deal eg. with food and nutrition. You talk about the identified interlinkages, talk about power and how the negative interlinkages finally threaten even those with power and how a new, functional way of producing sustainable and health food is possible and how it brings wellbeing to all. Companies are needed more than ever; we all need food and we all need jobs. We need politicians and policymakers to understand what kind of steering is needed in short and long term to help the transformation to happen. This same can be done with energy, urbanization, economy, commons and wellbeing. How you transform these, together.

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