The corona pandemic from a sustainability perspective
The impact of the corona pandemic on mobility
The COVID-19 pandemic is producing substantial changes in the practices and experiences of mobility. But what does the COVID-19 crisis mean for migration flows and the transitions to sustainability?
The COVID-19 pandemic is throwing up stark dilemmas for mobility and migration everywhere. There are clearly a variety of migrant situations and experiences, ranging from low-income migrants in city slums through to international hyper-mobile highly paid workers. Refugee camps, internally displaced people, and asylum seekers are themselves in highly risky situations.
Yet the crisis also throws up alterative forces. A key question, for example, is whether the new places where migrants live enable coping and thriving through community action. Some initiatives such as the food distribution initiated by undocumented migrants in Barcelona to relieve hunger and food insecurity, already point in that direction.
What the COVID-19 pandemic means in the long term we cannot say. The idea of sustainability itself may be transformed, to focus on individual and collective elements of wellbeing, flourishing and community. The crisis inevitably changes the view of mobility and migration as part of that transformative story.
READ: Sustainability and the migrant experience in the COVID-19 crisis - by Emily Boyd and members in the MISTY project
The impacts of the corona pandemic on our future travel
A global pandemic has fundamentally changed not just how we travel, but our very way of living. Could the corona crisis be the start of a new cultural shift in how we behave and think about travel?
LUCSUS PhD, Sara Ullström discusses the pandemic’s impact on our future, based on her research project, Staying on the Ground – which studies changing public perceptions of flying and climate change.
“We are now forced to make very dramatic changes to our travel, which also means that we are creating new habits. Travel is linked to habit to a large extent, and I think this factor could play a role in creating long-term and lasting cultural changes. A big part is about realising that there are other ways to travel and meet each other that are not connected to flying.”
How can we be sustainable post Covid-19?
Of course, a global health crisis is not the answer to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the phenomenon should give us cause to reflect on the impact human activity has on the planet – including how we travel.
“There's just no way to have a safe climate and the business-as-usual plan with the aviation industry,”
Degrowth and the transformative potential of the COVID - 19
After observing the decrease in economic activities, air pollution and carbon emissions as a result of the lockdown measures during the COVID-19, some academics argue that such down-scaling can be considered as degrowth. Although the sudden, unplanned and chaotic downscaling of social and economic activities due to Covid-19 has some similarities with degrowth, this is not what degrowth advocates for, argues LUCSUS researcher Mine Islar.
The transformation that the Degrowth movement advocates is two-fold. On the one hand, global economy needs to downscale in its production and consumption in order to operate within planetary boundaries. On the other hand, the capacity of the public services and care infrastructure of our societies need to be upscaled.
In the aftermath of this pandemic, it is very important to invest in policies that center around the local economy, (re)production of life and the commoning of care. “
READ: Degrowth conceptually differs from the corona crisis - blog post by Mine Islar
Impact on vulnerable groups
As the entire planet are experiencing the the adverse effects of the global corona virus pandemic, the impact on vulnerable and indigenous groups are even greater.
What the coronavirus pandemic could mean for the favelas in Brazil
Reflections by LUCSUS researcher Ebba Brink, doing research about climate change risk and adaptation in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
What struck me the most was the apparent lack of contingency plans for the spread of a new epidemic disease in the favelas (where they are still fighting ‘old’ diseases such as tuberculosis, dengue, and leptospirosis). Via the hashtags #COVID19NasFavelas and #CoronaNasPeriferias, residents and community reporters from favelas and peripheries testify to the slow reaction from the state and the exclusionary nature of the recommendations to “wash hands, use hand sanitizers, and practice social distancing”. Particularly concerning is the issue of water scarcity. While many favela residents, although not nearly all, have infrastructure for water in their houses, the water itself is rationed for poor neighborhoods, and they can go days or (in worst case) even weeks without supply.
Favela residents can’t afford hand sanitizer and bottled water, and they lack space for social isolation in crowded and poorly ventilated homes and neighborhoods, which already have a higher prevalence of tuberculosis and diabetes compared to formal areas.
In addition, many residents who work in the informal economy or in blue-collar jobs risk losing their job or income if following the recommendation to stay home. The first covid19-related death in Rio de Janeiro was a 63-year old domestic worker, whose employer had recently come back from Italy. This generated a discussion about inequality in Brazilian society and how people should let their maids stay home with sustained pay. Widespread spreading of the coronavirus has yet to be reported in the favelas, but it is what everybody fears.
Apart from the devastating impacts the virus will have there, many people are already feeling the loss of income and associated hunger.
Already used to the chronic neglect from the state, there has been considerable social mobilization from residents’ associations, activist groups and private actors who are distributing sanitation kits, food baskets, and producing information materials, banners and even songs to inform the population in accessible ways. There are also records of favela residents’ associations that, without waiting for government to intervene, hire private medical services, including doctors and ambulances for their communities.
Impacts of the coronavirus on indigenous communities in the Amazon
LUCSUS researcher and Amazon expert, Torsten Krause reflects on the impacts of the coronavirus on vulnerable indigenous communities in the Amazon region.
For indigenous communities the current pandemic might be very severe, since they are very vulnerable and often live very far away from hospitals and access to healthcare. When the Spanish arrived, the flu and other diseases wiped out entire communities and decimated indigenous peoples across South America. The big worry is that this might happen again, although indigenous people have also developed some resistance to the flu and are no longer as defenseless (in their immune system) as before, the new coronavirus might still be a disaster in terms of life and health for these communities. There are regions in Colombia, foremost on the Pacific coast and the Amazon region without a single intensive care unit bed. Keeping the virus away from these vulnerable communities is essential.
The link between humanity's destructive interaction with the environment, and the emergence of new virus
People in tropical forest areas consume a wide variety of wild animals as food and sometimes also as a means to obtain income. Hunting of wild animals is in itself, if properly controlled and managed, not as bad as some radical conservationists say. It’s important for local diets and, in particular for indigenous people, a traditional activity deeply connected to their cosmovision. However, with population growth and increasing demand for wild meat in urban areas, hunting is no longer sustainable and decimates the population of wild animals.
Hunting, habitat loss and the destruction of tropical forests brings people very close to the reservoirs and hosts of a large range of viruses and other pathogens. Ebola and HIV are viruses that have been linked to wild animals (monkeys and bats), which then jumped to people through the interaction and consumption of these. The same chain of first infection was established for the previous Corona viruses (SARS and MERS) and also for the current one (Covid-19).
Understanding hunter-wildlife interactions and wild meat consumption is also of global public health importance as the current coronavirus pandemic, which has been linked to the consumption of wild animals shows. More than 60% of human pathogens are zoonosis – i.e. they come from animals. These can be wild animals or domesticated ones (chickens, pigs, etc.). There is a lot we still do not know and at any time a new virus can emerge, some more deadly than others. What this shows is that our current destructive interaction with the natural environment cannot continue, for our own sake. The current health, economic, political and social crisis that this virus has caused really impressively shows the importance of re-thinking how we relate and interact with nature.
I hope that the current crisis will open people’s and policy-makers eyes to this danger and that we, as society, truly reconsider how we farm animals, consume meat and interact with nature.
The protection of biodiversity is not just a matter of moral duty, but because the loss of biodiversity (in terms of ecosystems, flora and fauna) has severe repercussions for people’s health and society, as we currently painfully experience.