The Very Nature of the Pandemic is about Human-Environment Relations

Scientists have warned for a while that we overstep planetary boundaries, but our current economic system rests on and reproduces other boundaries

Scientists have warned for a while that we overstep planetary boundaries, but our current economic system rests on and reproduces other boundaries

The Very Nature of the Pandemic is about Human-Environment Relations

By Antje Bruns, Professor of Geography and Head of Governance and Sustainability Lab, Trier University, DE.
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Corona Essays

Iwan Baan
We Need to Reorganize the City
We Need to Reorganize the City
'Home' has rarely been more of a life or death situation
Manuel Toz
Pandemien vil sætte sig dybe spor
Pandemien vil sætte sig dybe spor
Engang troede vi, at vi var usårlige. At teknologi og videnskab havde fortrængt overtro og fordomme, og at fremtiden tilhørte den teknologiske nyskabelses vidundere
Justin Paul Ware
Pandemics & Architecture
Pandemics & Architecture
Through this text, teachers and students of the Master Emergency + Resilience at the Università IUAV di Venezia search for a common understanding of the health crisis that is currently facing our planet
Photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash
The Very Nature of the Pandemic is about Human-Environment Relations
The Very Nature of the Pandemic is about Human-Environment Relations
Scientists have warned for a while that we overstep planetary boundaries, but our current economic system rests on and reproduces other boundaries
Byen blev pludselig meningsløs
Byen blev pludselig meningsløs
Vi har i skrivende stund ramt fjerde (eller er det femte?) uge af samfundets nedlukning. Solen skinner, for foråret er ikke sat i karantæne sammen med alle os andre
The Corona Crisis and the Built Environment
The Corona Crisis and the Built Environment
Planning of the Utopian City
Photo by Vlado Paunovic from Pexels
Tanker i en forandret by
Tanker i en forandret by
TÆNK, at kunne værdsætte at gå en tur. Nu, hvor det meste af verden er lukket ned, føler jeg mig taknemmelig over, at det er muligt – solen skinner, dagene bliver længere.
Gillian Vann
Spring Doesn’t Pause
Spring Doesn’t Pause
I just finished walking my dogs in Central Park North where everyone keeps their distance. Occasionally, a bicyclist wearing a mask and gloves whizzes past on the road above
A Naked City and a Creative Lockdown
A Naked City and a Creative Lockdown
As a part of my job and the activities inside Lima’s municipality, I had the chance of circulating amongst streets and avenues of my native city, having complete freedom in times of curfew and social distancing
The Corona Curtains
The Corona Curtains
The „shutdown“ is a nightmare for any restaurant, biergarten, bar and comparable facilites that are depending on people meeting each other
Re:habilitation
Re:habilitation
It is without a doubt that we wake up to something new and shocking every day in 2020. Our project deals with the current pandemic that is taking the world by storm: the COVID-19 coronavirus
Tam Wai
Covid-19 and Cities
Covid-19 and Cities
The impacts of COVID-19 have only been felt for less than two months in North America yet the number of articles already declaring the end of the city as we know it is staggering
Photo by NOAA on Unsplash
Nye sammenhænge
Nye sammenhænge
Store samfundsforandringer, krige, pandemier, naturkatastrofer, teknologiske nybrud og politiske omvæltninger har før skubbet og udfordret, men også udviklet samfundet og arkitekturen. Det vil ske igen, og vi arkitekter skal tage et medansvar for, at verden ikke lukker sig om sig selv, men udvikles
Mac Bohme
Potential of Borders and Shared Cultural Infrastructure
Potential of Borders and Shared Cultural Infrastructure
We set the borders out as the first thing but no longer think about their lifecycle or how we treat them
Daniel Terry
Curated Apertures
Curated Apertures
A guide to placemaking in isolation
Painting by Madeleine Hatz, “Camouflage Painting”
The World’s Recovery
The World’s Recovery
The coronavirus emerged because an an-human ecosystem was penetrated by humans and rejigged for exploitation. Maybe it was just two guys with a pickup truck – with the same mind that drills for oil in the arctic and mines at the bottom of the ocean

The Corona pandemic disrupts everyday life in 189 countries of the world. It is a historic crisis, which travels around the world. It travels with people –and some studies say that it also travels with aerosols (small particles in the air). But it also travels with the capital flows whose continuity is now blocked, as David Harvey pointed out recently1. In the public discourse the pandemic is compared with the financial crisis in 2008 (relating it thereby to a worldwide economic recession), some speak of war (an interesting act of speech that serves to legitimize extraordinary means, including border closure) and others envisage and in fact look forward to the collapse of the capitalist world as we know it. Obviously, the framing and understanding of the current Corona crisis varies and some think of it in narrow ways, observing infection rates and doubling time, while others relate their crisis analysis to injustices and inequalities of our economic and social system2.

COVID-19 prompts us to pause as it disrupts our everyday life – the private one and our professional as lecturers and researchers. So what do we do with this un-welcomed pause? We suggest reflecting on the crises (in plural!). We reflect on them from different angles and perspectives, to embrace the ambivalences and see the connections: The virus itself is invisible, but the resulting emptiness of public spaces creates a weird presence around the globe. The virus connects places – no matter how remote they are – and jumps scales. It spread from some few places to the global level. It loves foremost dense, urban places and global centers, but some caught it in their skiing resort and brought it home; it does not respect national borders that are now nevertheless closed. Some say the virus leads to new solidarities on the micro level; yet it also reveals a shocking lack of solidarity between states in Europe and beyond. It shows how ill-prepared we are in our modern societies in which progress is measured as GDP. Now we learn that we are vulnerable too, our connected economies are fragile and we learn that in the end human well-being is the most important good.

Human well-being and biophysical systems are closely related. Earth System Scientists have warned for a while that we overstep planetary boundaries, but our current economic system rests on and reproduces other boundaries. These boundaries separate our world in the included and the excluded, the ‘us’ and the ‘them’, the West and the rest. Those who consume resources and emit CO2 and those who are landless and carry the burdens. Socio-ecological burdens and inequalities are the defining characteristic of the Anthropocene and the crisis is multiple, overlapping and reinforcing. Our consumption and production styles in the Global North are affecting ecosystems and livelihoods all around the world. To give an example from our research: The overfishing in the Gulf of Guinea is mainly driven by European and Japanese trawlers, and this leads to an increased consumption of bush meat in Ghana. Why? Because local fishing communities with small vessels and an even smaller outboard engine have very low catches and so they turn to other livelihood and protein sources. The consumption of bush meat is most likely responsible for Ebola and, as it seems also for Covid-19 that then travelled with the human hosts. We need to acknowledge that our imperial mode of living3 has far-reaching consequences.

To flatten the curve of the pandemic, economies were shut down. While the virus remains invisible, something else appears in satellite images from ESA: air quality improves in industrial regions that stopped or slowed-down production, transportation and traffic. This is a good (unintended but welcomed) outcome of this disruption, because emissions of aerosols are affecting lungs, making them even more vulnerable to diseases and leading to thousands of deaths due to air pollution. It also buys us some time (a few weeks perhaps) in mitigating climate change. These positive impacts on the environment and the promising solidarity between people can act as a positive utopia in this dystopic moment. Perhaps this is THE momentum for the much-needed transformation towards a low-carbon economy.

The social and the natural are inseparably intertwined, this is perhaps the central insight of the crisis looming for a while now: The World Health Organization has warned since 2001 on its website that land use change and urbanization, habitat degradation and biodiversity loss, climate change and demographic changes are posing cumulative risks to human-environment relations. “Worldwide, there is an apparent increase in many infectious diseases, including some newly-circulating ones (HIV/AIDS, hantavirus, hepatitis C, SARS, etc.). This reflects the combined impacts of rapid demographic, environmental, social, technological and other changes in our ways-of-living. Climate change will also affect infectious disease occurrence”4. Having this in mind, we should zoom out a little – not to distract from the suffering of those who are infected and ill, but to see the struggles and contractions in this era called the Anthropocene.

In the Anthropocene, we speak about a bottom billion that fail to progress; in the Anthropocene, 25 Million people are at risk of hunger in East Africa (yes, it is not in the news anymore but that does not mean that it has gone away: a locust plague is threatening livelihoods). In the Anthropocene, 485,000 people die from diarrhea per year. Other real threats in the Anthropocene involve the negative consequences of climate change, air pollution and resource grabs in the name of economic growth (our economies – not theirs). Critical scholarship must not overlook these connections; rather here lies our task to build alliances for a new transformative scholarship that creates new imaginations of a sustainable and just new normal.

First published April 1st in the digital booklet 'Crises in the Anthropocene through and beyond Corona, Undisciplined perspectives from the Governance & Sustainability Lab', Trier University, DE.

1http://davidharvey.org/2020/03/anti-capitalist-politics-in-the-time-of-covid-19/
2https://www.eventbrite.com/e/how-to-beat-coronavirus-capitalism-tickets-100840167656
3Brand, U., & Wissen, M. (2013). Crisis and continuity of capitalist society-nature relationships: The imperial mode of living and the limits to environmental governance. Review of International Political Economy, 20(4), 687-711.
4WHO (2003) Climate change and human health-risks and responses. Geneva.

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