Covid-19: an epidemic revealing an ecological and societal crisis

Tribune. The year 2020 will have been marked by the first epidemic translation of the planetary ecological crisis. If we are not careful, other epidemics will follow because the same causes will produce the same effects. We know the impetus, namely the extremely rapid transmission of a coronavirus, a virus that has crossed the species barrier and whose emergence is linked, in particular, to human influence over natural spaces, to the loss of biodiversity and the wildlife trade. The wildlife trade has increased fivefold over the past fifteen years, despite the warning from the 2002-2003 Sars epidemic in Asia.

Throughout these last twelve months, the Covid-19 has acted (and continues to act) like a huge black hole absorbing all the informational material to leave room in France only for the daily count of the number of deaths, of places available in intensive care, hydroxychloroquine or vaccine. No more Hezbollah, conflicts in Yemen, Syria or Libya, refugee camps, migrants on their frail boats, global warming, Iranian nuclear power, pension reform, but a planetary reality engulfed in the gravitational field of the Covid-19. Until saturating our mental and spiritual universe. No more sport, no more culture, no more bistros, no more restaurants. Nothing else. That the confusion and the fear, the excitement and the switch in a terribly anxiety-provoking and indeterminate reality until the arrival of a vaccine.

No space for reflection and critical distance

As if the event we are experiencing had escaped our radar and our familiar reading grids, while bringing us closer to the planetary catastrophe so dear to “collapsologists”. Who could have imagined, at the start of 2020, the planetary runaway of which we were going to be the main dazed protagonists? Who could have guessed that entire territories would be confined, cities deserted, activities of all kinds interrupted, elections postponed, political and health officials, sick or confused, improvising, day after day, responses that are too often incoherent or inappropriate?

Read also “The coronavirus crisis is an ecological crisis”

Something seems to have gone wrong, there, suddenly, in this beautiful mechanism of globalized flows, free trade treaties and the international division of labor, mass tourism and travel. low cost. At the heart of an era already marked by so many localized upheavals, repeated crises, and other climatic, stock market, technological, media or political booms …

But with this first planetary ecological crisis, it is as if the runaway had rocked our little blue planet on a scale and with an intensity never before observed. From the runaway of continuous news channels to that of immune defenses (cytokine storm); from the proliferation of articles published in scientific journals around the Covid (up to 292 per day!) to the surge in public and private debt; the runaway political decision concerning the marketing of drugs (such as remdisivir, paid at a high price to the Gilead laboratory, and which will prove ineffective) or vaccines (such as Pfizer / BioNTech, first arrived on the market market) to the agitation of social networks around hydroxychloroquine or Raoult, everything seems to converge and accelerate to leave no space for reflection and critical distance.

Pauperization of our public health system

We have known since Paul Virilio or Hartmut Rosa (1) that our world is accelerating, from crisis to crisis, from rupture to rupture, from degradation to degradation. But with Covid-19, we have entered the era of global and planetary systemic phenomena, the immediacy and immediacy of real time, on a world scale, plunging us into a generalized state of emergency: emergency health, safety, economic, social and climatic. All it took was one virus, for our planetary megamachine to jam, for growth to collapse, for stock market prices to panic, for poverty and precariousness to explode, for geopolitical balances to be profoundly altered and that we were discovering, what we didn’t want to know, the vulnerability of our world-system, and the fragility of our Western societies.

Read also Hartmut Rosa: “We are not living the utopia of deceleration”

What provisional lessons can we draw from this observation? First, there cannot be lasting solutions without calling into question the ideology of the “Zero stock and just-in-time”, of time management and piloting by the indicators which have largely fueled the life of our institutions (private or public) since the 80s. With the health result, the impoverishment of our public health system, which has been defective in the face of the repeated attacks of the pandemic in its preventive and curative aspects.

«One Health»

However, in France, we continue to eliminate beds, while the health crisis has shown the importance of staff and well-endowed services! The second message is ecological and should make us reconsider our place among the living. Because we have to admit it, our system has never ceased to degrade living conditions on Earth, without regard for humans as for animals, minerals or plants.

Care must become the object of a general policy and the principle of all future action. The approach «One Health», which considers human, animal and environmental health together is a step in the right direction. We cannot ignore our dependence on the Earth and the geophysical conditions of all existence. The lesson is valid for today and for tomorrow. If we were to forget it, once again, in too much of a hurry to close the Covid-19 parenthesis, then the pandemics of the future, associated with the loss of biodiversity and global warming, could be much more dramatic with an even greater impact. on our human societies.

(1) Speed ​​and Politics And of Paul Virilio Acceleration d’Hartmut Rosa.

Alain Coulombel is the author of Chronicle of a planetary runaway, to be published mid-January, at Libre & Solidaire. Eric Caumes is the author ofHealth emergency, Robert Laffont, 2020.

Alain Coulombel national spokesperson for EE-LV


Eric Caumes professor of infectious and tropical diseases


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