Buen Vivir: ¿Un Concepto Emergente en Europa?

El concepto de Buen Vivir ha ganado visibilidad en los últimos años en América Latina. Enraizado en las cosmovisiones indígenas, el Buen Vivir descansa en una comprensión de la relación de la humanidad con la Naturaleza que está fundamentalmente en discordancia con el antropocentrismo de la Modernidad. Gustavo Hernández y Henkjan Laats trazan la emergente trayectoria del concepto y su influencia y ecos en Europa. Si bien la inclusión formal del Buen Vivir en el diálogo birregional y su resonancia con iniciativas locales que surgen en Europa son prometedoras, se puede ganar mucho más con un mayor intercambio de conocimientos.

En junio del 2015 fue formalmente aprobada en Bruselas una Resolución de Urgencia sobre la posición de Europa y América Latina en temas relacionados con el cambio climático. La sesión legislativa que dio fruto a dicho acuerdo tuvo lugar en la Asamblea Parlamentaria Euro-Latinoamericana− EUROLAT, institución parlamentaria de la Asociación Estratégica Birregional en el marco de las Cumbres Presidenciales entre la Unión Europea y América Latina y el Caribe. La Resolución resultó de una iniciativa conjunta de la sociedad civil y el grupo político de los Verdes en el Parlamento Europeo.

Aprobada apenas una semana antes de la segunda Cumbre Presidencial de la Unión Europea y la Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños, la Resolución destaca la importancia de encontrar un “nuevo paradigma de bienestar humano que concilie el doble desafío de luchar contra el cambio climático y mejorar la igualdad y cohesión social”. La Resolución hace una alusión directa a fortalecer el intercambio birregional haciendo uso de conceptos como el “Buen Vivir” y temas relacionados con la gestión de la transición hacia sociedades resilientes y bajas en carbono.

Un concepto emergente

El Buen Vivir engloba un conjunto de ideas que cuestionan la lógica dominante del desarrollo entendido como crecimiento económico infinito. Un componente esencial resulta en la manera en que se interpreta y valora la naturaleza. En varias de sus encarnaciones, el Buen Vivir rompe con la cosmovisión antropocéntrica moderna e invita a la posibilidad de construir un orden alternativo sustentado en la convivencia del ser humano en diversidad y armonía con la naturaleza.

Los orígenes del concepto se remontan a las comunidades indígenas y áreas interiores de América del Sur. El concepto sin embargo cobra notoriedad como resultado de los debates políticos a inicios del siglo XXI, especialmente en el marco de su discusión constitucional en dos países andinos: Ecuador y Bolivia. Las alianzas entre un movimiento indígena transnacional y actores sociales y gubernamentales también contribuyeron a la creciente visibilidad del término.

En tan solo unos años, el Buen Vivir se extendió rápidamente dentro y fuera de América Latina, especialmente después de su formulación en las Constituciones de Ecuador (2008) y Bolivia (2009).[1] En el Foro Social Mundial celebrado en Belém, Brasil, en 2009, el Buen Vivir fue uno de los temas principales ─ tres presidentes sudamericanos mencionaron el concepto en sus intervenciones púbicas. En palabras del entonces presidente ecuatoriano Rafael Correa, “la propuesta de socialismo del siglo XXI hace suya la concepción del ´buen vivir´ o el ´vivir bien´, que nos viene de la tradición de nuestros pueblos originarios y que significa vivir con dignidad, en armonía con la naturaleza y con respeto por todas las culturas”. Hoy en día, numerosas universidades y think tanks en América Latina, América del Norte y Europa debaten el concepto,[2] e incluso se discute en países asiáticos como China y Filipinas.

el abordaje de la “cuestión ambiental” supera la dualidad entre lo “humano” y lo “natural” favoreciendo el diálogo con otras formas de pensar la ciudadanía desde los saberes locales.

El significado del Buen Vivir deriva de las tradiciones indígenas quechua y aymara aunque también se pueden encontrar variaciones en la experiencia de las comunidades de la Amazonía sudamericana y movimientos activistas de América Central y del Norte. El concepto tiene similitudes filosóficas con el budismo y el taoísmo así como con la noción sudafricana de Ubuntu ─ “la vida como ayuda mutua y el cuidado de la Naturaleza”. El Buen Vivir también se asocia a la creación del marco de los derechos de la naturaleza ─ Ecuador fue el primer país del mundo en reconocer los derechos de la naturaleza a nivel constitucional─ así como al debate europeo sobre la felicidad, el bienestar y la crítica del crecimiento económico que considera incluso espiritualidades y cosmovisiones de las comunidades indígenas.

Partiendo de sus múltiples formas y relaciones, el Buen Vivir puede considerarse tanto una crítica al desarrollo entendido como crecimiento económico infinito, así como un giro que busca trascender la modernidad en su conjunto. Los actuales debates sobre el bienestar, la calidad de vida y el medio ambiente adquieren entonces un giro bio-céntrico ─ que el filósofo francés Bruno Latour refiere como distanciamiento del ecologismo en crisis. [3] El giro busca romper con la postura antropocéntrica de la modernidad a través de una comprensión relacional de la identidad en la que la “naturaleza” es constitutiva y constituyente de la sociedad misma, vale decir, una visión en la que el orden legal y la política son compatibles con la no separación de naturaleza y cultura. En consecuencia, el abordaje de la “cuestión ambiental” supera la dualidad entre lo “humano” y lo “natural” ─entre lo animado e inanimado ─ favoreciendo el diálogo con otras formas de pensar la ciudadanía desde los saberes locales.

Tensiones entre el Buen Vivir y la Economía Verde

Después de que el concepto fuera formulado en las Constituciones de Ecuador y Bolivia, pasó casi una década antes de que el Buen Vivir se integre en un documento oficial en el contexto de la relación de la Unión Europea con América Latina. La Declaración de Santiago de la Cumbre UE-CELAC, celebrada en Chile en junio de 2013, apunta lo siguiente: “reconocemos que el planeta tierra y sus ecosistemas son nuestro hogar y que la ‘Madre Tierra’ es una expresión común en varios países y regiones y tenemos en cuenta que algunos países reconocen los derechos de la naturaleza en el contexto de la promoción del desarrollo sustentable”. Aunque no existe una alusión directa al Buen Vivir, la formulación y negociación de la Declaración de Santiago puso de manifiesto algunas tensiones y contradicciones entre dos visiones del mundo.

La Declaración de Santiago estableció a la “Economía Verde” como su concepto dominante. Estrechamente ligado al documento Europa 2020, estrategia económica de 10 años propuesta por la Unión Europea en 2010, el concepto de Economía Verde representa una “gran oportunidad de negocio” para Europa. Según la estrategia Europa 2020, “la UE fue pionera en soluciones verdes, pero su ventaja se está viendo amenazada por un fuerte crecimiento en otros mercados, especialmente China y Norteamérica”. En respuesta, los jefes de gobierno de Europa y América Latina reafirmaron su asociación establecida en la Declaración de Santiago bajo el lema de la Alianza para el Desarrollo Sostenible: Promoción de Inversiones de Calidad Social y Ambiental.

El primer cuestionamiento del concepto de Economía Verde tuvo lugar el 14 de agosto de 2012, en una misiva del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia a la Unión Europea. En esta carta, se propone incluir la siguiente formulación en el párrafo 42 de la Declaración: “resulta por tanto esencial reconocer que el crecimiento tiene límites, y que la búsqueda del crecimiento sin límites en un planeta finito resulta insostenible”. Un segundo cuestionamiento se produjo poco después, el 4 de septiembre, en otra misiva en la que el cuerpo diplomático boliviano propuso agregar lo siguiente al párrafo 40 de la Declaración: “[la economía verde] podría proporcionar opciones para la formulación de políticas, pero no debe ser un conjunto rígido de reglas”. Este añadido fue finalmente incluido.

De manera paralela a las discusiones entre gobiernos tuvo lugar en Bruselas un foro de la sociedad civil titulado ¿Buen Vivir y Green New Deal: son conceptos equivalentes para Europa y América Latina?.[4] Las discusiones concluyeron que el Green New Deal constituye un programa de “modernización verde” y, como tal, reforzaría el sentido convencional de la modernidad con su prédica del crecimiento económico. Concebido de manera inherente como “plan de inversión”, el Green New Deal concede importancia a la productividad, por lo que se considera una nueva forma de modernización. Cualquier diálogo entre el Buen Vivir y el Green New Deal resulta entonces problemático debido a que sus supuestos básicos son fundamentalmente diferentes. De un lado, el Buen Vivir es intrínsecamente plural, abierto a diferentes interpretaciones y prácticas; el Green New Deal, de otro lado, se guía por una lógica única y la visión del progreso. Existe sin embargo un importante elemento en común: la intención de cuestionar el desarrollo entendido como acumulación material, y la búsqueda de mejores formas de uso de los recursos naturales. 

El concepto del Buen Vivir viene ganando terreno en Europa, producto del diálogo entre ideas que son críticas al “desarrollo”.

El recientemente anunciado “European Green Deal” (2019) – conjunto de medidas políticas adoptadas por la Unión Europea con el objetivo que Europa sea climáticamente neutra en 2050 ─ mantiene la centralidad del crecimiento económico, aunque busca “desacoplarse” de la explotación de recursos naturales. En palabras de la presidenta de la Comisión Europea Ursula von der Leyen, “es nuestra nueva estrategia de crecimiento, para un crecimiento que devuelve más de lo que quita”. No obstante, el European Green Deal ha sido blanco de críticas por parte de organizaciones de la sociedad civil que plantean que la mayoría de objetivos carecen de metas e indicadores claros para las áreas problemáticas del cambio climático, pérdida de biodiversidad, reducción de la capa de ozono, contaminación del agua, estrés urbano, producción de desechos y demás. Como se explicó anteriormente, esta crítica formulada en términos exclusivos de productividad no es compatible con los fundamentos del Buen Vivir. 

El Buen Vivir en el debate europeo

Desde Platón y Aristóteles casi todos los grandes filósofos han escrito sobre lo que se ha dado en denominar una ‘vida buena’. Una diferencia sustancial con el Buen Vivir resulta no obstante de su aspecto relacional con la Naturaleza. Mientras que el Buen Vivir considera que los seres humanos son parte integral de la Madre Tierra, en la filosofía moderna se experimenta un extrañamiento a través del racionalismo instrumental de Locke y Descartes. Aunque filósofos como Montaigne y Rousseau enfatizan la importancia de la naturaleza, es el enfoque instrumental el que predomina en la filosofía de la ‘vida buena’ y en gran parte de las políticas modernas. Existen por supuesto varios esfuerzos por apartarse de la instrumentalidad que ve en la naturaleza un medio para la consecución de los fines humanos. El ejemplo más conocido es la filosofía Gaia de Lovelock descrita por Bruno Latour. Recientes e influyentes textos filosóficos sobre la vida buena de escritores como Nussbaum, Sen, Blackburn, Skidelsky y Savater no obstante mantienen un enfoque antropocéntrico que contrasta claramente con el giro bio-céntrico planteado por el Buen Vivir.[5]

En las elecciones presidenciales de Inglaterra del 2015 surgió una noción de la ‘vida buena’ (“Good Life” en inglés) entendida a través de motivos como la autosuficiencia alimentaria y el uso de energías renovables. La noción de Good Life apareció en la campaña electoral del candidato del partido centro-derecha David Cameron enarbolando el localismo, la construcción de una ‘gran sociedad’ ─ que luego condujo al Brexit ─ y algunas políticas “verdes” para justificar el recorte del Estado. En Alemania, los sindicatos y la canciller Angela Merkel usaron una frase equivalente en alemán─ gutes Leben ─ para referir a una alternativa frente al deterioro de las condiciones laborales de las clases trabajadoras. Estudios recientes revelan no obstante la paradoja de estas versiones del bienestar. Se trata, de un lado, de discursos que propugnan un cambio del status quo, mientras que, de otro, implican una reinvención de los actores pero manteniendo el enfoque instrumental en lo que respecta a la relación entre el trabajo y las preocupaciones ambientales.[6]

El primer reconocimiento formal del Buen Vivir en Europa se produjo con la aprobación de la Resolución de Urgencia de EuroLat de 2015. Además de reconocerse como importante la inclusión de un componente de ‘saberes ancestrales’, la Resolución hace un llamado a tomar en cuenta los valiosos aportes elaborados en otros rincones del mundo, como ocurre con el concepto del “Buen Vivir”. La Resolución hace también un llamado a ambas regiones a repensar la Iniciativa Yasuní-ITT lanzada en 2007 por el gobierno ecuatoriano, que consiste en preservar, sin explotar, aproximadamente 856 millones de barriles de petróleo en la reserva ecológica del mismo nombre. La Resolución sin embargo no se ha implementado de manera tangible y, desde 2015, no se ha vuelto a mencionar el Buen Vivir en el marco de la relación formal de la Unión Europea con América Latina.

Como lo demuestran estos ejemplos, a nivel político los gobiernos tanto de América Latina como de Europa encuentran varios obstáculos a la hora de comprender e implementar los principios del Buen Vivir. Esto puede atribuirse al hecho de que la relación instrumental entre los seres humanos y la naturaleza está firmemente arraigada en la cultura moderna. Bruno Latour ha referido a los desafíos que enfrenta actualmente Europa en tal sentido, aludiendo a una “desorientación política” ─ mientras los socialdemócratas esperan que se reanude el crecimiento económico, los Verdes, atrapados en las garras del capitalismo, y perdiendo de vista su propia historia, olvidan que la ecología tiene menos que ver con la ‘naturaleza’ y más con nuestras propias formas de vida.

Movimientos de transición en Europa

Si bien en Europa el proceso de incorporación del Buen Vivir a nivel gubernamental está resultando problemático, a nivel local se pueden observar iniciativas que se relacionan con la lógica del Buen Vivir. Hoy en día en Europa la necesidad de transiciones en el campo de la alimentación, la agricultura, la economía y la energía se está convirtiendo en mainstream. No obstante, esperamos que en el proceso de formulación de políticas públicas estas iniciativas de transición no tiendan a ser subsumidas dentro de los paradigmas dominantes de crecimiento económico y “progreso” tecnológico infinito.

El intercambio entre Europa y América Latina puede funcionar entonces como un catalizador para la construcción del Buen Vivir tanto como teoría y como práctica política.

Aunque todavía no se han agrupado bajo un nombre oficial, están surgiendo ideas en toda Europa que parecen estar relacionadas con las nociones post-desarrollistas del “Buen Vivir”. El enfoque aquí está puesto no solo en el avance de legislación centrada en los derechos de la naturaleza, sino también en la promoción de la economía social, el conocimiento abierto, ciudades en transición, bienes comunes, agricultura urbana y vivienda cooperativa, entre otros. Estas ideas surgen de proyectos de transformación local en sectores como energía, transporte, alimentación y cuidado social. Se diferencian de la mayoría de propuestas hegemónicas en el sentido de no ser mega-discursos que operan bajo la racionalidad única del “progreso”. El hecho de que estén abiertas a la interpretación y sean capaces de adaptarse fácilmente a factores (locales) externos, significa que favorecen un mayor diálogo intercultural.

Durante la última década, particularmente en los países europeos más afectados por la crisis económica de 2008 ─ particularmente Grecia y España ─ ha habido un incremento de prácticas y propuestas políticas relacionadas con el concepto del Buen Vivir.[7] Estas prácticas incluyen a la agricultura agroecológica, el uso de monedas locales, la promoción de mercados y productos de cercanía, y la democracia directa. Ello emerge en un momento de gran ansiedad por la situación actual del planeta. Algunas de estas experiencias reciben apoyo político, particularmente en lugares con un gobierno local verde. En Ámsterdam, por ejemplo, los propietarios de negocios y habitantes de la calle Czaar Peterstraat propusieron un plan de “Buen Vivir” desde una perspectiva de bienes comunes. El plan fue recibido positivamente por la comunidad e incluso obtuvo financiamiento por parte del municipio de Ámsterdam.

Logrando un equilibrio

El concepto del Buen Vivir viene ganando terreno en Europa, producto del diálogo entre ideas que son críticas al “desarrollo”. Sin embargo, no todas las ideas que son críticas al desarrollo se pueden considerar afines al Buen Vivir, ya que muchas siguen arraigadas en la lógica del crecimiento económico. Tampoco pueden considerarse nociones afines al Buen Vivir los mega-discursos hegemónicos afincados en el “progreso” cuya interpretación es generalmente única. No obstante, existen experiencias afines al Buen Vivir que emergen localmente en Europa, expresadas como el interés por recuperar lo local y transformar aspectos claves como la alimentación, la educación, el cuidado social, el transporte ─notablemente la bicicleta como medio de transporte y de vida─ la producción de energía y más recientemente la salud a raíz de la crisis del coronavirus.

A pesar que el concepto del Buen Vivir fue incluido en un documento oficial en el marco de la relación de la Unión Europea con América Latina, persiste la hegemonía de un discurso que reedita el sentido convencional de la modernidad, con su veneración por el crecimiento económico. En cierto modo, quizás la Resolución del 2015 se adelantó a su tiempo, ya que la adopción del Buen Vivir antepone la práctica a la necesidad de la teoría. El intercambio entre Europa y América Latina puede funcionar entonces como un catalizador para la construcción del Buen Vivir tanto como teoría y como práctica política. Con esto en mente, observamos que exitosas experiencias locales en Europa ─en las cuales los participantes no se consideran dueños de la tierra sino parte integral de ella ─ buscan crecientemente un “sentido ordenador” basado en una reconsideración de la relación con la naturaleza. A nivel práctico, el municipio de Ámsterdam ha comenzado a descubrir el Buen Vivir. Quizás esta tendencia pueda extenderse a toda la Unión Europea.

Footnotes

[1] Aunque en el caso de Ecuador y Bolivia se emplean nomenclaturas diferentes (“Buen Vivir”, “Vivir Bien”) las alusiones en las Constituciones Políticas en ambos países refieren al mismo concepto.

[2] Por ejemplo, la Fundación Boell en Europa, el Centro Latinoamericano de Ecología Social en América del Sur y la Universidad de North Carolina en Norte América.

[3] Bruno Latour sostiene que los principales movimientos ambientalistas (por ejemplo, los partidos verdes en Europa) están condenados al fracaso en la medida que conciban la “ecología política” como algo indisolublemente ligado a la protección y gestión de la naturaleza mediante políticas y metodologías políticas convencionales.

[4] Fundación Boll. Event Report. Boll Lunch Debate, November 13th, 2012.

[5] Véase Sen, A (2005). Skidelsky, R (2013). Blackburn, S (2001). Nussbaum, M (2011), Savater, F (1991).

[6] Räthzel, N. and Uzzell, D. (2011) ‘Trade Unions and Climate Change: The Jobs versus Environment Dilemma’, Global Environmental Change 21, 1215–1223.

[7] En los Países Bajos, el 11 de julio de 2019 el ayuntamiento de Noardeast-Fryslân adoptó una moción en la cual se otorgan derechos especiales al mar de Wadden. En España, el 23 de julio de 2020 el municipio de Los Alcázares en Murcia aprobó una iniciativa legislativa para reconocer el ecosistema del Mar Menor como sujeto de derechos. En Suecia, en octubre de 2019 el Partido Verde presentó una moción al Parlamento para incluir los derechos de la naturaleza en la Constitución de ese país. (ONU, ídem).

Buen Vivir: A Concept on the Rise in Europe?

The concept of buen vivir has gained visibility in Latin America in recent years. Rooted in indigenous worldviews, buen vivir rests on an understanding of humanity’s relationship with nature that is fundamentally at odds with the anthropocentrism of modernity. Gustavo Hernández and Henkjan Laats trace the concept’s rising trajectory and its influence and echos in Europe. While buen vivir’s inclusion in formal bi-regional dialogue and its resonance with local initiatives emerging around Europe are promising, much more can be gained from further knowledge exchange.

In June 2015, an urgent resolution was formally passed in Brussels on the Europe-Latin America position on issues related to climate change.[1] This agreement was the fruit of a joint initiative between civil society and the European Green Party, and was passed just one week before the second Presidential Summit of the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The resolution highlights the importance of finding a “new paradigm of human well-being that reconciles the twin challenges of fighting climate change and enhancing equality and social cohesion”. It directly references strengthening bi-regional exchange through the use of concepts such as buen vivir (Spanish for “living well”) and issues related to managing the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies.

A rising concept

Buen vivir encompasses a set of ideas that question the dominant logic of development. A key aspect is how we interpret and value nature. In several of its incarnations, buen vivir breaks away from the traditional anthropocentric worldview and invites the possibility of constructing an alternative order based on the coexistence of human beings across the spectrum of diversity and in harmony with nature.

The origins of the concept can be traced back to the indigenous communities of South America. However, buen vivir became increasingly prominent in the region in the wake of political debates at the beginning of the 21st century, in particular its inclusion in constitutional discussions in two Andean countries: Ecuador and Bolivia. Alliances between a transnational indigenous movement and other social and governmental actors also contributed to the concept’s growing visibility.

Within just a few years, buen vivir spread rapidly within Latin America and beyond. In the World Social Forum held in Belém, Brazil, in 2009, buen vivir was one of the main topics, with three South American presidents mentioning the concept in their public addresses. In the words of the Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, “21st-century socialism has adopted the concept of ‘good living’ or ‘living well’, which derives from the tradition of our native peoples, and means to live with dignity, in harmony with nature, and with respect for all cultures”. Today, several universities and think tanks across Latin America, North America and Europe debate the concept (for example, the Böll Foundation, the Latin American Centre for Social Ecology, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). It has even entered the discussion in Asia in countries such as China and the Philippines.

any approach to the “environmental question” must overcome the binary between human and nature, animate and inanimate, inviting dialogue with other ways of thinking about citizenship

The meaning of buen vivir stems from the indigenous Quechua and Aymara traditions, though variations can also be found in the experience of communities in the South American Amazon and activist movements in Central and North America. The concept has philosophical similarities with Buddhism and Taoism, as well as the South African notion of Ubuntu – “life as mutual support and caring for nature”. Buen vivir is also linked to the creation of a framework for the rights of nature – Ecuador was the first country in the world to recognise the rights of nature at the constitutional level – as well as the European debate on happiness, well-being and the critique of economic growth that even draws on the spiritualities and world views of indigenous communities.

Looking at its many forms and linkages, buen vivir can be understood as both a critique of development understood as infinite economic growth, and a discursive turn that seeks to transcend modernity. Ongoing debates about welfare, quality of life and “the environment” have, according to the Uruguayan ecologist Eduardo Gudynas, taken on new meaning in a “biocentric turn”, what French philosopher Bruno Latour refers to as departure from “environmentalism in crisis”.[2] This turn seeks to break away from the anthropocentric stance of modernity and assign new meaning to the environment by looking beyond the separation of nature and culture to recognise their connectedness. As a result, any approach to the “environmental question” must overcome the binary between human and nature, animate and inanimate, inviting dialogue with other ways of thinking about citizenship, such as from local knowledges.

Tensions between buen vivir and the green economy

After the concept was outlined in the Bolivian and Ecuadorian constitutions (in 2009 and 2008 respectively)[3], it was almost a decade before buen vivir was integrated into an official document within the context of the European Union’s relationship with Latin America. The Santiago Declaration of the CELAC-EU Summit held in Chile in June 2013 states: “We recognise that planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that ‘Mother Earth’ is a common expression in a number of countries and regions and we note that some countries recognise the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development”. Although there is no explicit reference to buen vivir in the Santiago Declaration, its formulation and negotiation suggest certain tensions and contradictions between two world views.

The Declaration established the green economy as its dominant concept. Closely tied to the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy (a 10-year economic strategy proposed by the European Commission in 2010), the concept of the green economy was purported to represent a great business opportunity for Europe. In response to challenges to the EU’s advantage as a pioneer in green solutions (notably from China and North America), Europe and Latin America reaffirmed their association under the banner of the Alliance for Sustainable Development.

However, the guiding concept of the green economy did not go entirely uncontested, and on at least two occasions (according to leaked letters to the EU) the Plurinational State of Bolivia sought to amend the wording of the Santiago Declaration to include a mention of limits to growth and to establish the green economy as a source of policymaking options rather than a rigid set of rules. 

The concept of buen vivir is gaining ground in Europe, the product of dialogue between ideas that cast a critical eye over development.

Another relatively prominent concept in Europe, the Green New Deal, is inherently conceived as an “investment plan” and emphasises productivity. It can thus be considered a form of green modernisation. This renders any dialogue between buen vivir and the Green New Deal problematic, given that their basic assumptions are fundamentally different. As a concept, buen vivir is intrinsically pluralistic, open to different interpretations and practices; the Green New Deal, on the other hand, is guided by a single logic and the notion of linear progress. However, they do have one crucial thing in common: the intention to question development understood as material accumulation, and the search for better ways to manage resource use.

Announced in 2019, the EU Commission’s European Green Deal upholds yet again the centrality of economic growth, though this is “decoupled from resource use”. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has dubbed the European Green Deal “our new growth strategy”, and the deal has faced criticism from civil society for failing to establish clear or adequate goals for problem areas such as climate change, biodiversity loss, ozone depletion and water pollution. As with the Green New Deal, the Green Deal’s focus on productivity is ultimately not compatible with buen vivir.

Buen vivir in the European debate 

Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, almost all the great philosophers have mused about what constitutes a “good life”. What differentiates the notion of the good life from buen vivir, however, is the importance of the relationship with nature. While buen vivir considers human beings to be an integral part of the fabric of Mother Earth or nature, modern philosophy creates a degree of distance through the instrumental rationalism of John Locke and René Descartes which sees nature as a means to achieve human ends. Although philosophers like Michel de Montaigne and Jean-Jacques Rousseau stress the importance of nature for human beings, the instrumental approach permeates modern philosophical ideas of the good life and much of current politics. In modern European philosophy there are, of course, several efforts to depart from this, the most well-known being James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis as described by Bruno Latour. Nevertheless, recent influential philosophical texts on the good life by writers such as Martha Nussbaum, Amartya Sen, Simon Blackburn, Robert Skidelsky and Fernando Savater uphold an anthropocentric approach which stands in clear contrast to the biocentric turn posed by buen vivir.

The notion of the good life surfaced in the 2015 parliamentary elections in the UK, described in terms of movements such as home-grown or locally based food, compost-fuelled cars and renewable energy. The term featured in the Conservative Party candidate David Cameron’s electoral campaign championing ideas of vested localism, “big society” and other green-sounding policies to defend cutting back the state. In Germany, trade unions and Chancellor Angela Merkel used the equivalent phrase in German, gutes Leben, to promote an alternative to the deterioration of labour conditions for the working classes. However, at the heart of this version of the good life lies a paradox: on the one hand, the discourse seeks to change the status quo; on the other, it implies a reinvention of unions as social movements but fails to see nature as a partner in human development.[4]

The first formal acknowledgement of buen vivir in Europe came with the approval of the 2015 EuroLat urgent resolution. As well as recognising the importance of including a component of “ancestral knowledge”, the resolution calls for a review of valuable contributions made in other corners of the world, including the concept of buen vivir. However, the resolution has not been implemented in any tangible way and, since 2015, there has been no further mention of buen vivir in the frame of the EU’s formal relationship with Latin America.

The exchange of knowledge between Europe and Latin America could function as a catalyst for the construction of buen vivir, both as a theory and political practice.

At the political level, governments in both Latin America and Europe encounter several obstructions when it comes to understanding and implementing the principles of buen vivir. This can be attributed to the fact that the instrumental relationship between humans and nature is firmly rooted in modern culture. Bruno Latour has noted the challenges facing Europe in this regard, alluding to a “political disorientation” – while the Social Democrats wait for economic growth to resume, the Greens, caught in the clutches of capitalism and losing sight of their own history, are forgetting that “ecology” has less to do with “nature” and more to do with our own sustenance and livelihoods. 

Transition movements in Europe

While the process of incorporating buen vivir at governmental level in Europe is proving problematic, at the local-level processes that reflect the concept’s logic are emerging. Recognition of the need for transitions – from food to agriculture and from education to economy – is becoming mainstream in Europe, though it remains to be seen whether at the level of policymaking these processes will keep within the classic paradigms of economic growth and infinite technological “progress”.

Emerging ideas and initiatives that appear to be related to post-developmental notions of buen vivir include, for example, the Dutch city council of Noardeast-Fryslân’s recent granting of special rights to the Wadden Sea and the appointment of an independent governance authority. In July 2020, the Spanish municipality of Los Alcázares, Murcia, recognised the Mar Menor, the largest saltwater lagoon in Europe, as a subject of rights. In Sweden in October 2019, a parliamentary motion was presented by the Green Party to include the rights of Nature in the Constitution.

The focus here is not only on the advancement of Earth-centred law but also on aspects such as the social economy, open knowledge, transition towns, commons, urban agriculture, and cooperative housing, among others. These ideas come out of local transformation projects in sectors like energy, transport, food and social care. They differ from the majority of hegemonic proposals in the sense that they are not mega-discourses operating according to a single logic (as in the discourse of “progress”). The fact that they are open to interpretation and able to adapt easily to external, local factors means that they favour greater intercultural dialogue. 

Over the last decade, particularly in the countries most affected by the 2008 economic crisis – such as Greece and Spain – there has been a rise in practical experiences and political proposals related to the concept of buen vivir, such as agroecological farming, the use of local currencies, the promotion of local markets and products, and direct democracy. This comes at a time of high anxiety about the situation of the planet. These initiatives receive political support, particularly in places with a Green local government. In Amsterdam, for example, a good living plan with a commons perspective was proposed by business owners and inhabitants of Czaar Peterstraat, and was positively received by the local community and the city council.

Growing space for alternatives 

The concept of buen vivir is gaining ground in Europe, the product of dialogue between ideas that cast a critical eye over development. Yet not all ideas that criticise development are linked to buen vivir, since many remain rooted in an economic growth model. Other notions that cannot claim to be related to buen vivir are the hegemonic mega-discourses centred on social progress, with their limited scope for interpretation. However, emerging experiences in Europe which are connected to buen vivir express an interest in recovering the local and transforming key areas such as food, education, social care, transport, energy production and, more recently, health as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Despite the fact that the concept of buen vivir has been (directly or indirectly) introduced in official dialogue between the European Union and Latin America, it is overshadowed by the hegemony of a discourse that repeatedly circles back to the conventional sense of modernity with its fixation on economic growth. Perhaps the 2015 urgent resolution was ahead of its time, since the adoption of buen vivir has put practice before the need for theory. The exchange of knowledge between Europe and Latin America could function as a catalyst for the construction of buen vivir, both as a theory and political practice. With this in mind, it is clear to see that the successful local experiences in Europe – where participants see themselves as an integral part of the land rather than its owner – are increasingly seeking to create an alternative “sense of order” based on a reconsidered relationship with nature. With cities like Amsterdam already beginning to discover the concept of buen vivir, it is possible that this trend will start to spread throughout the European Union.

Footnotes

[1] This agreement emerged from the EuroLatin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat), a parliamentary institution of the Bi-Regional Strategic Partnership.

[2] With the suggestive phrase “political ecology has nothing to do with nature”, Bruno Latour argues that mainstream environmental movements (i.e. Green parties in Europe) are doomed to fail so long as they envision political ecology as inextricably tied to the protection and management of nature through conventional political methodologies and policies.

[3] In Bolivia, the same concept is denominated vivir bien. 

[4] Unionists do not talk about labour and nature as equally necessary sources of wealth. “Nature and the environment was conceptualised as something that provides quality of life, well-being and health for workers; it was not understood as a partner in the production process”. Räthzel, N. and Uzzell, D. (2011). “Trade Unions and Climate Change: The Jobs versus Environment Dilemma”. Global Environmental Change, 21, pp. 1215–1223.

Città come gusci vuoti dopo la pandemia: l’insostenibile peso del turismo urbano di massa

New York City, Milano, Tokyo, Barcellona, Parigi. Le principali metropoli d’Europa e del mondo sono state tra le prime a essere colpite dalla pandemia, riportando fin da subito livelli di contagi in rapida crescita. Per le peculiarità proprie dei moderni centri urbani, le città hanno rappresentato il terreno ideale per la propagazione del virus: al di là del rischio intrinseco all’elevata densità urbana, si ipotizza che la cronicità dei più alti livelli di inquinamento atmosferico e gli ingenti flussi di persone in entrata e uscita abbiano fatto sì che i principali crocevia internazionali fossero tra i primi focolai della pandemia.

L’elevata incidenza di casi di COVID-19 nei centri urbani ha cambiato drasticamente la narrativa collettiva sulle grandi città: da organi vitali della società moderna, a sovraffollati lazzaretti di cemento e smog. Quando l’incantesimo si è sciolto, le grandi metropoli hanno iniziato a svuotarsi.

Se da una parte gli andamenti migratori tra zone rurali e urbane si sono invertiti portando al fenomeno dell’esodo urbano in tutto il mondo, dall’altra il constante afflusso di turisti verso le principali destinazioni urbane ha avuto un’improvvisa battuta d’arresto. Un po’ per le nuove normative sulla mobilità nazionale ed europea, un po’ per il rischio di contagio, i flussi turistici nazionali e internazionali si sono allontanati sempre di più dalle comuni mete urbane europee.

Il risultato è che le ultime statistiche che monitorano la performance dei settori legati all’industria del turismo in grandi città come Barcellona, Praga, Amsterdam o Roma, hanno dipinto il quadro allarmante di un settore in crisi che minaccia di portare con sé la stabilità delle maggiori economie urbane europee. Secondo gli ultimi rapporti dell’istituto nazionale di statistica italiana (ISTAT), l’Italia, che è tra le prime destinazioni in Europa e al mondo per turismo, ha perso più di 81 milioni di visitatori nel 2020. A marzo, il flusso di turisti in città come Firenze, Roma o Venezia si è praticamente azzerato. Considerando il peso delle economie urbane sul prodotto interno lordo dei rispettivi paesi, i potenziali effetti sull’economia nazionale ed europea sono disastrosi.

Nel frattempo, la pandemia ha rappresentato il perfetto banco di prova per testare l’adeguatezza delle nostre città a rispondere alle incognite della crisi climatica: un test che i centri urbani hanno fallito su più fronti. Così le moderne metropoli, assediate da una pandemia globale, rese sterili da anni di politiche di sfruttamento volte all’incentivazione del turismo di massa e minacciate da una crisi dell’industria del turismo senza precedenti, sono costrette a mettere in discussione la ratio alla base della loro urbanistica.

La fagocitosi dei centri urbani invasi dai turisti

Nel 1851, quando l’imprenditore inglese Thomas Cook, fondatore della ‘Thomas Cook and Son’, organizzò il viaggio di 150.000 persone per la Grande Esposizione di Londra, diede vita al più grande tour organizzato nella storia moderna. In un periodo in cui il potere d’acquisto e lo sviluppo del settore dei trasporti erano in ascesa, il modello di grand tour promosso da Thomas Cook attecchì senza fatica nella società dell’epoca, portandolo a replicare il paradigma con grande successo anche all’estero.

Erano le origini del fenomeno oggi meglio conosciuto come turismo di massa.

Da allora, sono cambiate molte cose: mentre il colosso della storica agenzia di viaggi di Thomas Cook è fallito per bancarotta nel settembre del 2019, il modello di turismo che ne aveva segnato l’ascesa è passato dall’essere simbolo di prosperità e crescita del secolo che lo ospitava a emanazione di un’industria capitalistica dello sfruttamento intensivo e del liberalismo più selvaggio.

Nel 2016, in un reportage sul boom di visitatori in Islanda, la società di media Skift parla di overtourism come del lato oscuro della democratizzazione del turismo: ora che il mercato e la modernità hanno permesso di spostarci da una parte all’altra del mondo in tempi record, con il massimo della comodità e a un prezzo ragionevole, viaggiare non è più un lusso; ma i sistemi d’accoglienza delle principali mete turistiche del mondo sono pronte a ricevere numeri sempre più crescenti di turisti? E quali sono i potenziali impatti sull’economia e sull’equilibrio dell’ecosistema di questi luoghi?

L’industria del turismo ha una profonda capacità di trasformazione sulle intelaiature della città e delle sue dinamiche socioeconomiche. Basti pensare alle dimensioni dell’intera filiera commerciale che gravita attorno all’accoglienza, il pernottamento, la ristorazione, l’intrattenimento, il trasporto e lo shopping per turisti. Le ondate di visitatori che ogni anno occupano le metropoli, in Italia come in Europa, hanno modificato le morfologie di molti centri urbani, portandoli a mercificare la preservazione del territorio e dei suoi residenti in cambio di un’affluenza turistica potenziata.

Ma un maggiore afflusso di turisti vuole spesso dire sovraffollamento, aumento nei consumi e problemi di gestione. Il turismo di massa esercita una pressione costante sulle limitate risorse, infrastrutture e servizi della città: dallo smaltimento dei rifiuti al consumo d’acqua e d’energia. Le difficoltà aumentano quando l’enorme affluenza di turisti si concentra quasi esclusivamente nei luoghi più iconici e conosciuti della metropoli.  

Stare al passo con i trend di un turismo sempre più consumistico e vorace ha fatto sì che il paradigma del turismo a breve termine su cui molte città, soprattutto europee, si sono adagiate abbia definito l’andamento dello sviluppo urbano degli ultimi decenni.

Paola Minoia, geografa e professoressa associata all’Università di Torino e Helsinki, mi ha raccontato come la Venezia di oggi sia il prodotto della liberalizzazione di fine anni ’90 e inizio anni 2000: quando un’inversione di rotta sul piano politico e amministrativo rimosse i limiti sul commercio e sul massimale di 11 mila posti letto per turisti, l’eccesiva proliferazione di strutture alberghiere ed esercizi commerciali per turisti andò a discapito dei residenti.

Così Venezia si è riempita di “negozi di paccottiglia varia e maschere di Carnevale prodotte chissà dove” e alberghi e appartamenti monouso di privati asserviti alla speculazione turistica. Poi sono arrivate anche le grandi navi, che hanno peggiorato l’impatto ambientale della mobilità turistica: “Le grandi navi sono l’apoteosi del turismo insostenibile a Venezia; hanno accelerato fenomeni come il moto ondoso e la mareizzazione della laguna.” continua Paola Minoia. “Il moto ondoso causato da lancioni e navi da crociera ha causato problemi di erosione sulle rive, con conseguente consumo di suolo e instabilità per le fondamenta di ponti ed edifici, che ora rischiano il collasso; la mareizzazione invece porta squilibri al delicato eco-sistema lagunare, mangiando terra e introducendo specie aliene”.

A Roma, la commercializzazione dello spazio urbano, volta a favorire un turismo logorante e di bassa qualità ha fatto sì che persino i piani di rigenerazione urbana venissero dirottati a scopo lucrativo e di promozione turistica, lasciando la città con enormi problemi di spazio ed edifici “rigenerati” estorti alle realtà di quartiere. Dopo essere stati consegnati ad aziende di marketing, eventi e ristorazione, le borgate “da rigenerare”, invece che essere restituite ai propri abitanti, sono diventate zone di consumo di un tipo d’intrattenimento e cultura esclusivi che producono beni immateriali da rivendere nel mercato del turismo romano.

Così il turismo di massa modifica lo spazio, la demografia e il mercato del lavoro del sistema urbano per renderlo a sua immagine e somiglianza. Comincia con i centri storici che, sulla scia dell’aumento della domanda da parte dei turisti, si svuotano dei loro abitanti, esodati da un mercato immobiliare e affittuario ormai fuori portata, per lasciare spazio a lussuosi appartamenti che vendono l’artificialità del quotidiano per carissime tariffe a notte. Il fenomeno, spesso riferito come ‘fenomeno Airbnb’, ci racconta del disastro dei centri storici minacciati dalla capitalizzazione di un mercato immobiliare e affittuario sregolato.

A Venezia, come a Roma o Firenze, anche la cultura locale si è mercificata per amore del turismo, perdendo così ogni traccia di autenticità al fine di costruire una tipicità fabbricata che danneggia la sostenibilità del sistema urbano. Il quartiere di Trastevere a Roma, uno dei simboli dell’antica capitale, ha perso la sua identità e popolazione a causa della speculazione sugli affitti e della chiusura di botteghe artigianali ed esercizi locali.

I quartieri ‘turistificati’ sembrano tutti uguali in qualsiasi città d’Italia: creano l’illusione di vivere la cultura locale, ma la realtà è che immergono il consumatore in riproduzioni artificiali, specchi distorti della cultura di massa.

Il respiro delle città e il crollo dell’economia

Forte di un patrimonio storico e artistico immutabile e dal grande valore commerciale, l’economia italiana ha da tempo cercato il suo oro nero nell’enorme afflusso di turisti che ogni anno riempiono le strade e i musei d’Italia. Un settore, quello del turismo, che si pensava una garanzia anche in tempi di crisi. Ma in mancanza di una cauta politica economica della diversificazione, l’economia italiana si è trovata impreparata di fronte al crollo del turismo.

La promessa di un potenziale lucrativo immediato e ad alta rendita ha direzionato gli investimenti di molte regioni e città verso il turismo urbano di massa. Seppur estremamente redditizi a breve termine, gli investimenti sull’attuale modello di turismo innescano devastazioni socioeconomiche a lunga scadenza. Così gli ingenti flussi di denaro che ingrassano le filiere turistiche italiane hanno stretto ancora di più la presa su un’economia nazionale sofferente e sviluppata a singhiozzo, lasciando in eredità una costosa riparazione dei danni.  

Poiché le principali città d’arte italiane sono particolarmente internazionalizzate, nel 2020 i fiori all’occhiello del turismo urbano dovranno fare i conti con le turbolenze economiche e sociali che una decrescita di più del 60% nel flusso di turisti stranieri comporta. Il funzionamento del sistema economico di molti centri urbani ha riprodotto in scala municipale lo stesso rapporto di dipendenza che l’economia nazionale ha nei confronti del turismo di massa: ora che la pandemia ha lasciato le più visitate città italiane vuote, gli organismi urbani collassano per astinenza.  

Mentre il colosso di Airbnb mostra già segni di ripresa dopo lo shock della pandemia, il settore turistico urbano che vi gravitava intorno fatica a rialzarsi. In tutti i centri storici precedentemente conquistati da Airbnb, i quartieri turistificati sono rimasti deserti durante tutta la pandemia. Anche dopo la riapertura, sono pochi i segni di vita: tra i molti cartelli di vendita e chiusura, le saracinesche di tanti negozi rimangono abbassate.

In mancanza dell’usuale flusso turistico, i proprietari di alloggi e stanze che prima della pandemia accettavano solo prenotazioni a breve termine, si sono ora spostati nel mercato degli affitti a lungo termine. A Roma, tra gli appartamenti su Airbnb e gli spazi collettivi precedentemente privatizzati per scopi turistici, sono tanti i buchi neri che si contano nella planimetria della capitale.

Ma se gli effetti della dipendenza si fanno sentire sulla stabilità dell’economia urbana, lo stop ai flussi turistici ha portato sollievo ai centri cittadini soffocati dall’inquinamento sociale e ambientale.

Secondo Paola Minoia, la presenza delle grandi navi a Venezia è aumentata sempre di più negli anni, fino a raggiungere i picchi dell’anno scorso; ma durante la pandemia, i loro attraversamenti hanno improvvisamente cessato di intasare il Canal Grande, permettendo la straordinaria ripresa dell’eco-sistema lagunare. Con il calo nei mezzi di trasporto turistici come i taxi-boat e nel traffico di barche, le acque dei canali si sono schiarite, lasciando intravedere la ricca biodiversità dei fondali.

E Venezia non è la sola. Studi recenti sulla qualità dell’aria e dell’acqua in varie città d’Italia mostrano come il lockdown abbia diminuito il livello di inquinamento prodotto dal turismo: con 30 milioni di turisti in meno solo a Roma, anche la riduzione nella formazione di acque nere ha dato sollievo al già compromesso ecosistema marittimo laziale.

Dopo la pandemia, un nuovo volto per il turismo urbano

Mentre gli albori dell’era post-pandemica faticano a emergere tra il moltiplicarsi dei contagi nei grandi centri urbani europei, l’unica certezza è la sensazione che il futuro della società moderna sarà definito dalle scelte politiche dei prossimi anni.

Il dilemma al cuore della ridefinizione del funzionamento dei centri urbani è che le città sono diventate gusci vuoti: mentre il turismo urbano di massa sembra non adeguarsi bene alle esigenze di un mondo trincerato da pandemie globali, molti centri urbani – le cui intelaiature si sono calcificate intorno alle esigenze del turismo di massa più sfrenato – si sono resi inospitali alla vita locale.

In un periodo di grave crisi economica, il rischio è che l’Italia possa continuare a puntare su una politica miope dell’immediato profitto che mette al centro del suo malfunzionamento il modello fallace di economia del turismo degli ultimi anni. Eppure, la pandemia e la crisi esistenziale che hanno colpito i centri urbani d’Italia e d’Europa possono fornire l’opportunità di ridefinire un nuovo paradigma per il turismo urbano, eliminandone le criticità e promuovendo un’industria turistica più equa e sostenibile.

Ma equità e sostenibilità potranno mai riconciliarsi con i numeri della mobilità di massa? È possibile, secondo quanto affermato dai sindaci di alcune delle città più visitate d’Europa in occasione di una serie di interviste al The Guardian. Secondo Xavier Marcé, assessore al turismo di Barcellona, il problema non è tanto nella quantità di turisti in arrivo, quanto invece nella loro distribuzione: una ripartizione più regolare tra siti e periodi stagionali ha il vantaggio di facilitare la gestione dei flussi turistici.

Anche se ri-direzionare l’interesse del pubblico non è facile, la decentralizzazione delle mete turistiche permetterebbe anche alle località più marginalizzate di beneficiare della crescita economica portata dal turismo. Eppure, secondo il recente rapporto OCSE sulle tendenze e politiche del turismo 2020, senza adeguate normative che prevengano le criticità del turismo urbano, il processo di distribuzione dei visitatori porterebbe solo a un trasferimento del problema.

In Europa, importanti destinazioni turistiche come Amsterdam, Barcellona e Parigi già prima della pandemia avevano definito politiche e strategie di contenimento per migliorare la sostenibilità del turismo. Per risolvere problemi come la gentrificazione, l’inquinamento ambientale e il sovraffollamento, le municipalità hanno stilato politiche di regolamentazione abitativa e piani di gestione dell’assetto territoriale per l’accoglienza e il pernottamento dei turisti, nel tentativo di domare le più recenti forme di speculazione turistica.

La questione più pressante per molte municipalità rimane quella di ripopolare i propri centri storici e stabilire nuove regole di convivenza tra residenti e turisti. Per Paola Minoia la municipalità dovrebbe porre dei limiti alla dominazione turistica, ricorrendo anche a numeri chiusi se necessario. “Dopo tanta bulimia di turismo e consumo, questo periodo dà tregua a persone e ambiente; il modello di turismo urbano che avevamo prima era un consumo di suolo e città che, di per sé, non si può neanche chiamare turismo. Ora c’è bisogno di una difesa della residenzialità”. Dopo la pandemia, a Venezia si spera che gli alloggi sfitti e gli edifici vuoti vengano ridistribuiti tra residenti, studenti universitari fuori-sede, imprese sociali ed edilizia popolare.

Ma è chiaro a tutti che senza i giusti incentivi governativi e un’adeguata regolamentazione, così come un piano per recuperare l’eco-sistema di quartieri e centri storici, i cuori delle città continueranno a rimanere in balia delle masse di turisti o, nel peggiore dei casi, deserti. “Non basta trovare le case e restituirle ai residenti, bisogna anche rendere la città di nuovo vivibile: recuperare i negozi di vicinato, gli spazi per l’artigianato e per la cultura”, afferma Paola Minoia.

“Venezia ha una storia legata a un tipo di artigianato che si sta perdendo; le condizioni che si sono create a seguito della pandemia potrebbero offrire l’occasione di recuperarne le tradizioni mentre si promuove nuovi tipi di inserimento professionale, soprattutto tra i giovani, dove c’è molta volontà di dare nuova vita a questi mestieri”. I benefici della ricostruzione del tessuto sociale sono anche quelli di combattere la monocultura del turismo e favorire una maggiore diversificazione dell’economia urbana, cosicché una crisi sociale come quella innescata dal COVID-19 non si ripeta.  

La chiave per un turismo sostenibile resta però in mano a capricci e umori della volontà politica. Mentre le città si svuotavano, il dibattito politico italiano si è preoccupato di recuperare i turisti nel più breve tempo possibile, concentrando la discussione su come incentivare il turismo nazionale e rendere nuovamente sicuri e attrattivi i centri urbani. In una conferenza stampa del 25 settembre 2020, il ministro dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo Dario Franceschini ha dichiarato che parte dei fondi del Recovery Fund europeo verranno investiti in progetti finalizzati a “ricostruire un turismo di grandi numeri”: segno che le esigenze economiche dettate dalla crisi sembrano ancora una volta definire le priorità della politica.

“A Venezia l’inquinamento delle acque non è mai stato studiato ufficialmente” spiega la Dottoressa Minoia. “Le ragioni sono fondamentalmente politiche e nascono da interessi trasversali”. In mancanza di una volontà governativa al cambiamento, associazionismo e movimenti locali hanno rappresentato quelle sacche di resistenza necessarie a riaccendere il dibattito sul turismo urbano. “Il conflitto di interessi è diventato evidente quando il Comune di Venezia ha recentemente approvato dei cambi d’uso di edifici da residenziali a turistici, mostrando di non avere a cuore la tenuta del tessuto residenziale; in questo senso, movimenti sociali come il Comitato ‘No Grandi Navi’ sono stati l’unica opposizione visibile”.

Se molte decisioni si realizzano nel dibattito tra il sociale e la politica, anche industrie, startup e consumatori hanno le loro responsabilità. In questa delicata fase in cui si discute su come ridefinire in maniera più sostenibile il turismo urbano, la difficoltà è anche quella di non cadere nella trappola del green-washing. Prima della pandemia, molte iniziative che sono finite sotto l’ombrello del turismo sostenibile si sono scoperte di dubbia etica o difficile applicabilità. Basti pensare che c’era un tempo in cui anche Airbnb si professava come l’alternativa green all’industria del turismo. Oggi, sulla scia della rinnovata sensibilità nata in seno al moderno movimento green, alcuni imprenditori si autocelebrano per aver barrato la casella dell’environment-friendly e dell’economia solidale, ma propongono spesso soluzioni abbozzate che saturano il mercato e confondono il consumatore.

Nella proliferazione di iniziative figlie del consumismo ecologico, ci sono però approcci più o meno innovativi che si affacciano timidamente nel mercato del turismo urbano. In contraddizione all’impronta venale di Airbnb, la visione comunitaria promossa dal più recente modello di Fairbnb.coop suggerisce che non tutto ciò che appartiene al mercato del turismo pre-pandemico è automaticamente da cestinare. Devolvendo il 50% dei profitti a progetti locali, l’intento della piattaforma è quello di permettere una ridistribuzione più equa e capillare dei benefici di un’economia turistica: un’idea che, seppur limitata dall’essere un mero tamponamento del problema, può rappresentare una valida alternativa se affiancata dalle giuste politiche governative di contenimento agli eccessi dell’over-tourism.

Ma fenomeni come il green-washing aziendale, lo svuotamento dei centri storici, la mercificazione della cultura e la commercializzazione delle collettività dello spazio urbano sono solo alcuni dei sintomi di un modello globale di turismo cannibale che fa acqua da tutte le parti. Quando alla base di un paradigma di produzione e consumo c’è la mercificazione, l’iper-consumismo e la speculazione, questioni come la preservazione dell’eco-sistema locale in termini sociali e ambientali passano in secondo piano.  

Seppur avvertita come un’epoca buia per le città, questo periodo offre l’occasione di dare una svolta al dibattito sulla sostenibilità sociale e ambientale dell’urbanistica moderna. Con l’epoca post-pandemica e le sfide che la definiscono, i centri urbani attraversano un periodo di transizione cruciale che rappresenta un’opportunità per ridefinire i nuovi termini di sostenibilità e convivenza tra abitanti, turisti e ambiente all’interno dei grandi eco-sistemi urbani d’Europa.

Die Alltagsökonomie für ein gutes Leben

Die Covid-19-Pandemie hat gezeigt, dass manche wirtschaftliche Zonen wichtiger sind als andere, um Lebensgrundlagen zu sichern und ein gutes Leben zu ermöglichen. An dieser „Alltagsökonomie“ gilt es anzusetzen, um Wirtschaften zukunftsfähig zu machen. Ein Beitrag von Richard Bärnthaler, Andreas Novy, Leonhard Plank und Alexandra Strickner.

Die Covid-19 Pandemie hat sichtbar gemacht, dass manche wirtschaftliche Tätigkeiten wichtiger sind als andere. Und sie hat auch die Grenzen einer marktradikalen Wirtschaftsordnung aufgezeigt: Leistungen „für alle“ durch ein öffentliches Gesundheitssystem zur Verfügung zu stellen, hat Vorzüge gegenüber Ansätzen, bei denen die Befriedigung von Grundbedürfnissen primär von der Zahlungsfähigkeit von Marktsubjekten abhängt.

Damit eröffnete die Pandemie in kurzer Zeit einen neuen Blick auf Wirtschaft, Arbeit und Leistung. Es wäre daher ein großer Fehler – wie dies nach der großen Finanzkrise 2008 geschah – zu „business as usual“ zurückzukehren. Damit würde die Gelegenheit verpasst, aus dem Wirtschaften in der Pandemie für zukunftsfähiges Wirtschaften nach der Pandemie zu lernen. Gefragt ist zweierlei: Erstens ein gutes Verständnis des Markliberalismus, der das ideologische Unterfutter für Strategien der Liberalisierung, Privatisierung und Finanzialisierung liefert. Und zweitens die Vision einer anderen Wirtschaftsordnung sowie Strategien, um auf zukünftige Krisen effektiv und sozial-gerecht reagieren zu können. Dies kann gelingen durch die Stärkung der sogenannten Alltagsökonomie, die weite Teile der binnenwirtschaftlichen Daseinsvorsorge und Nahversorgung umfasst.

Der Marktliberalismus: die neoliberale Verengung von Wirtschaft

Der Siegeszug des Neoliberalismus seit den 1980er Jahren läutete einen Paradigmenwechsel ein, der Denk- und Handlungsweisen in zumindest drei Bereichen radikal veränderte:

  1. Die Außenorientierung überlagerte den Fokus bzw. die Ausrichtung auf die Binnenwirtschaft. Damit ging die Schaffung und Liberalisierung von Märkten – inklusive diverser Märkte für die Grundversorgung – einher. Die Schaffung attraktiver Bedingungen für internationales Kapital sowie Effizienz, Optimierung und Renditeerwartungen wurden zu Leitprinzipien.
  2. Eine marktwirtschaftliche Wirtschaftsverfassung verdrängte eine gemischtwirtschaftliche. Dadurch wurde Wirtschaften auf (globales) Marktwirtschaften reduziert.
  3. Gesamtgesellschaftliche Zielsetzungen wurden durch individualisierte Wünsche und Präferenzen ersetzt, Gemeinwohl durch Eigennutz. Folgerichtig wurden ehemals staatsbürgerliche Rechte, von Gesundheitsversorgung und Pflege über Bildung und Wohnen, zu marktfähigen Waren und Dienstleistungen. Diese werden demnach privatwirtschaftlich produziert und von individuelle/n Konsument*innen am Markt erworben. Eigenverantwortung bedeute, sich von kollektiven Sicherungssystemen zu emanzipieren, zum Beispiel durch private Vorsorgekassen und Krankenversicherungen, Wohnungseigentum oder Investitionen in das eigene „Humankapital“.

Dieses verengte Verständnis von Wirtschaft ist heute nicht nur in den Wirtschaftswissenschaften weit verbreitet, sondern trat seinen Siegeszug in immer neuen Feldern menschlichen Zusammenlebens an. Konsequent zu Ende gedacht und illustriert haben dies insbesondere Garry S. Becker und Guity Nashat Becker in ihrem 1996 erschienenen Buch zur Ökonomik des Alltags (The Economics of Life).

Doch untergräbt die einseitige Betonung des individuellen Optimierens den sozialen Zusammenhalt, Solidarität und Resilienz. Einsparungsmöglichkeiten z. B. im Gesundheitswesen zu identifizieren, ist sinnvoll. Doch gerade im Bereich der Grundversorgung kann ein unausgewogener Fokus auf Effizienz zutiefst problematische Folgen haben, wenn Unvorhergesehenes eintritt. So revidierte zu Beginn der Covid-19-Pandemie auch der österreichische Rechnungshof seine jahrelange Forderung, „ineffiziente“ Überkapazitäten an Akutbetten abzubauen.

Covid-19 zeigt, dass der Markt manches, aber nicht alles lösen kann, dass Wirtschaften mehr als Marktwirtschaften ist, dass soziale Absicherung nicht nur aus der Perspektive der einzelwirtschaftlichen Effizienz betrachtet werden darf und dass eine starre Außenorientierung den innergesellschaftlichen Zusammenhalt untergraben kann. Wirtschaften ist die Organisierung und die Sicherung der Lebensgrundlagen. Zukunftsfähiges Wirtschaften stabilisiert ein solidarisches Gemeinwesen, gewährleistet die freie Entfaltung seiner Mitglieder und sichert natürliche Ressourcen und Ökosysteme. Optimierung ist fraglos hilfreich, sofern sie diesen Zielen dient.

Um dies sicherzustellen und mit dem Unerwarteten umgehen zu können, sind – entgegen einer „just-in-time“-Philosophie – Reservekapazitäten, Puffer und Redundanzen unerlässlich. Es braucht daher dringend ein anderes, umfassenderes Verständnis von Wirtschaft. Denn, dass es der „Wirtschaft“ – verstanden als Unternehmen, die am globalen Markt agieren – gut geht (gemessen u. a. an Wachstumsraten und steigendem Welthandel), sagt wenig darüber aus, ob es allen gut geht. Und es sagt auch wenig darüber aus, ob Gesellschaften krisenfest, geschweige denn zukunftsfähig sind und das Klima auf diesem Planeten weiterhin lebensermöglichend bleibt.

Die Fundamentalökonomie sichert das Überleben

Wirtschaft ist also nicht gleich Wirtschaft. Während viele Wirtschaftsbereiche in der Covid-19-Krise einem Shutdown unterzogen wurden, galt dies nicht für als „systemrelevant“ eingestufte Bereiche. Diese Fundamentalökonomie, als grundlegender Teil der Alltagsökonomie, ist der Bereich der Wirtschaft, der die Sicherung der Lebensgrundlagen garantiert und so menschliches Überleben ermöglicht. Ohne Lebensmittel- und Gesundheitsversorgung, Strom, Wasser, Gas, Müllabfuhr und Wohnraum ist kein Überleben in zivilisierten Gesellschaften möglich. Die Fundamentalökonomie umfasst also, vereinfacht gesprochen, die Aktivitäten, die immer und daher auch in Krisenzeiten tagtäglich gebraucht werden. Hierzu gehören die kollektive Grundversorgung, sprich die wirtschaftlichen Aktivitäten des Sorgens – füreinander und miteinander.

Schon im März 2020 verfasste das Foundational Economy Collective, ein Zusammenschluss europäischer Wissenschafter*innen, ein Manifest für die Zeit nach der Pandemie. Aufbauend auf Forschungsarbeiten der letzten Jahre argumentiert das Kollektiv darin für eine Erneuerung und Weiterentwicklung der wirtschaftlichen Fundamente und konkretisierte diese Agenda mit einem Zehn-Punkte-Programm. Dieses umfasst unter anderem eine Stärkung der öffentlichen Gesundheitsversorgung und Pflege (inkl. der Prävention), eine Reform zur Erhöhung der Progressivität im Steuersystem oder die Beteiligung der Bevölkerung bei der Gestaltung der Grundversorgung.

Im Kern betont das Manifest eine zentrale sozialökologische Forderung: Statt einer Rückkehr zum individuellen Konsumniveau vor der Krise braucht es die verbesserte kollektive Bereitstellung einer sozialökologischen Infrastruktur. Statt um Wiederaufbau gehe es um den Umbau der krisenanfälligen Vor-Corona-Ökonomie hin zu zukunftsfähigem Wirtschaften. Nur dies sorgt vor, um mit neuen Krisen besser umgehen zu können.

Die Bereitstellung essenzieller Güter und Dienste der Fundamentalökonomie kann nämlich nur eingeschränkt als Markt organisiert werden. Besonders problematisch ist gegenwärtig, dass sich im Bereich der Grundversorgung im Gefolge von Privatisierung und Liberalisierung Geschäftsmodelle etablierten, in denen private Unternehmen die öffentliche Finanzierung zur kurzfristigen Gewinnmaximierung nutzen, ohne langfristig notwendige Investitionen zu tätigen.

Doch gerade die langfristige Sicherung der Grundversorgung ist von besonderer Bedeutung, denn Grundversorgung umfasst den Großteil der wirtschaftlichen Aktivitäten, die anders funktionieren als eine globale Marktwirtschaft für Waren und Dienstleistungen. Zukunftsfähiges Wirtschaften erfordert langfristiges ökonomisches Denken, Planung, Kooperation und die Orientierung wirtschaftspolitischer Entscheidungen an Kriterien wie Konsistenz, Suffizienz und Resilienz. Das sind grundlegend andere Kriterien als die aktuell vorherrschenden – allen voran kurzfristige Gewinnmaximierung und einzelwirtschaftlicher Wettbewerb. Die Fundamentalökonomie ist die Grundlage funktionierender Gesellschaften. Sie sichert das tagtägliche Überleben.

„Brot-und-Rosen“-Ökonomie für ein gutes Leben

Seit dem Verfassen des Manifests sind nun einige Monate vergangen, die weitere Einsichten für eine zukunftsfähige Ökonomie des Alltagslebens gebracht haben: In der Zeit des Lockdowns wurde nicht nur erlebbar, was es zum Überleben braucht, sondern auch, was zu einem gelungenen Leben fehlt – denn ein gutes Leben ist mehr als das reine Überleben. Die Ökonomie des Alltagslebens sichert nicht nur das Wesentliche im Rahmen der Fundamentalökonomie. Besonders mit Hilfe der feministischen Ökonomik kann der Horizont erweitert werden. Das Lied „Brot und Rosen“ der 1912 streikenden Textilarbeiterinnen bringt es mit folgenden Zeilen auf den Punkt:

„Und wenn ein Leben mehr ist, als nur Arbeit, Schweiß und Magen, woll’n wir mehr, gebt uns das Leben, doch gebt uns Rosen auch!“

Zum guten Leben braucht es also nicht nur die Sicherung der Lebensgrundlagen (Brot), sondern auch eine menschenwürdige Arbeits- und Lebensumgebung (Rosen). Eudaimonia nannten dies die alten Griechen. Und Amartya Sen und Martha Nussbaum bauten darauf eine eigene Theorie des guten Lebens auf, die Individuen befähigt, gut zu leben, indem die richtigen Rahmenbedingungen gesetzt werden.

Wenn auch nicht für das Überleben unerlässlich, sind Kultur- und Sozialeinrichtungen, Bars, Restaurants, Frisier-Salons, öffentliche Räume und Grünflächen zentral für die Befriedigung grundlegender menschlicher Bedürfnisse. Gleichwohl ist ihre Bestimmung schwieriger, da das gute Leben bedeutungsmäßig poröser ist als die Definition des reinen Überlebens. Sie ist kontextuell verschieden, beruht auf Werturteilen und erfordert, Bewohner*innen in diese Bewertungen einzubinden. Transdisziplinäre Methoden und innovative Formen der Beteiligung und Partizipation sind deshalb wichtig, um jene Rahmenbedingungen, Infrastrukturen und Institutionen zu identifizieren, mit denen vor Ort das gute Leben steht und fällt. Lokal und regional organisiert, produzieren sie „vor Ort“ Werte und Wohlbefinden.

Alltagsökonomie und gesellschaftliche Bewertung von Wirtschaftsbereichen

Die Festlegung dessen, was es in welcher Form für ein gutes Leben braucht, kann also nicht von oben verordnet werden – doch genauso wenig kann es an den Markt delegiert werden. Die Frage, welche Art von Wirtschaft wir wollen und welchen Zweck sie erfüllen soll (vgl. Davies 2020; Steinberger 2020), ist tief verwoben mit der Frage danach, welche Aktivitäten gesellschaftlich wertvoll, wesentlich und kritisch sind für das Überleben, den Wohlstand und das gute Leben, aber auch welche destruktiv auf diese Bestrebungen wirken.

Durch die Covid-19 Krise findet ein Umdenken statt, das die neoklassische Werttheorie ins Wanken gebracht hat. In ihrer Marktpreistheorie des Wertes, die diejenige der klassischen Ökonomik von Smith bis Marx ablöste, bestimmen individuelle Konsument*innenpräferenzen die Nachfrage und in der Folge den Preis. Demzufolge sei es (markt-)gerecht, dass ein Investmentbanker das zig-fache einer Pflegekraft verdient. Der Kauf des dritten Autos unterscheide sich nicht vom Kauf lebensnotwendiger Nahrungsmittel. Kurzum, es ist (markt-)ungerecht, moralische Unterscheidungen zwischen Notwendigkeiten, Komfortgütern und Luxusgütern zu treffen. Jede Aktivität, die individuelle Kaufkraft findet, ist produktiv und wertvoll, unabhängig von ihrem gesellschaftlichen Wert oder Zerstörungswert.

Um die Ökonomie des Alltagslebens krisensicher zu machen, sind Wert-Unterscheidungen jedoch gesellschaftlich notwendig, um die Rahmenbedingungen für ein gutes Leben für alle demokratisch zu gestalten. Während der Covid-19 Krise veröffentlichten Regierungen Listen systemrelevanter Berufe, deren Arbeitnehmer*innen Anspruch auf Kindernotbetreuung haben, und machten somit Wert-Unterscheidungen. Diese Listen umfassen unter anderem Gesundheits-, Pflege- und Rettungsdienste, Landwirte, Supermarktmitarbeiter*innen, Mitarbeiter*innen in den Bereichen Wasser, Strom und Gas sowie Lehrpersonal.

Auch jenseits von Pandemien müssen öffentliche Debatten darüber geführt werden, was ein gutes Leben ausmacht, welche wirtschaftlichen Tätigkeiten und Sektoren dafür entscheidend sind, wie diese für alle bereitgestellt werden können und wer diese Tätigkeiten übernimmt. Ausdruck gesellschaftlicher Wertschätzung ist es, diese Bereiche zu stärken und deren Arbeitnehmer*innen entsprechend zu entlohnen. Es ist inakzeptabel, dass jene, kurzfristig als „Leistungsträger*innen“ gefeierten, Menschen – überwiegend Frauen – den Löwenanteil für eine funktionierende Ökonomie des Alltagslebens leisten, aber gleichzeitig besonders von ungleichen Teilhabechancen, prekären Beschäftigungsverhältnissen und schlechter Bezahlung betroffen sind. Dies im Sinne der Alltagsökonomie neu zu (be)werten, sollte nach der Pandemie eigentlich selbstverständlich sein.

Fazit

Welche Lektionen haben wir während der Covid-19 Krise gelernt und wie können wir diese für eine Neuausrichtung der Wirtschaftspolitik hin zu einem guten Leben für alle nutzen? Erforderlich ist eine Aufwertung der überwiegend binnenwirtschaftlichen Alltagsökonomie, die jene täglich lebenswichtigen Güter und Dienstleistungen produziert, welche Lebensqualität und Nachhaltigkeit gewährleisten. Die Fundamente zu erneuern und zu transformieren heißt, jene Menschen, die „den Laden am Laufen halten“ (Zitat Angela Merkel) in den Blick zu nehmen. Der wirtschaftliche und gesellschaftliche Wert von Tätigkeiten der Grundversorgung darf nicht auf ihren Tauschwert reduziert werden. Stattdessen müssen nachhaltiges Wohlbefinden, und damit Gebrauchswerte, ins Zentrum gesellschaftlicher Aushandlungsprozesse rücken.

Um diesen Wandel zu vollziehen braucht es neue und breite Allianzen: zwischen progressiven Parteien, Gewerkschaften und zivilgesellschaftliche Bewegungen ebenso wie mit Konservativen und Liberalen, die die Bedeutung einer kollektiven Bereitstellung der Grundversorgung anerkennen. Gerade in Deutschland, der Schweiz und Österreich, wo die kommunale Erbringung zentraler Daseinsvorsorgeleistungen durch Stadtwerke, Genossenschaften oder im Rahmen von interkommunalen Partnerschaften hohe Legitimität unter den Bürger*innen genießt, gibt es zahlreiche Anknüpfungspunkte. Auf diese Weise könnte eine neue Balance aus wettbewerbsorientierter, auf den Weltmarkt ausgerichteter Marktökonomie und ver- und fürsorgeorientierter Alltagsökonomie entstehen. Sie würde gesellschaftlichen Zusammenhalt stärken, und sie würde auch erlauben, andere Krisen mit der gleichen Haltung von Verantwortungsbewusstsein, Expertise und Solidarität anzugehen: allen voran die Klimakrise.

This article was first published in Makronom and is reproduced with the authors’ consent.

Storytelling in the Eye of the Storm: The Pandemic Through the Lens of Environmental Breakdown

With travel restrictions ruling out international flights in 2020, many airlines began selling flights to nowhere. For the price of a ticket and a flight’s worth of emissions, passengers could sit back with a drink at 35 000 feet and pretend that everything was normal before landing exactly where they took off. In The Great Derangement (2016), acclaimed novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations will look back on the failure to grasp the scale of environmental breakdown as folly. We spoke to the author about the parallels between the climate crisis and the pandemic, and imagining alternatives for our interconnected world.

Jamie Kendrick: “Unprecedented” is a word that has been used a lot in 2020. You have argued that modern society’s inability to prepare for the unprecedented makes us vulnerable. What parallels do you see between the health crisis and climate breakdown?

Amitav Ghosh: There are many continuities between the two, even if the relationship is not causal. The most obvious connection is that the climate crisis and the pandemic are both effects of the world’s steady acceleration. Since the 1990s, rates of production, consumption, travel, and the destruction of our habitats and deforestation have sped up to a point where a tiny entity can bring the world to a sudden, screeching halt from a small market in China.

In other senses, of course, they are completely different. The pandemic is a disease, while the climate crisis manifests itself in incredible weather events, from astonishing wildfires to the multiple hurricanes brewing in the Atlantic. The way the world has responded is an important difference, too. During the pandemic, most governments, if not all, have been quick to take advice from experts and willing to consult with scientists. For China, New Zealand, Vietnam, and other countries, this strategy has worked.

In The Great Derangement, you use the word “uncanny” to describe extreme weather events because it captures a strangeness but also a recognition. The pandemic has been similar: strange but also familiar, recalling collective memories of plagues and quarantines. Is the pandemic forcing us to remember something about ourselves?

I hope that this pandemic has at least some of the effect of the Great Lisbon Earthquake in the 18th century. Prior to the earthquake in 1755, Europeans had begun to think that they had mastered nature, as if nature was something apart that humans could conquer. The Great Lisbon Earthquake was a moment in the Enlightenment when suddenly people realised that, far from mastering nature, nature has complete mastery of human existence.

The Great Lisbon Earthquake was a moment in the Enlightenment when suddenly people realised that, far from mastering nature, nature has complete mastery of human existence.

The European conception of nature holds that it is regular, that it has its own pace, and that natural processes unfold in predictable ways. Now we see that this is not the case. I wrote The Great Derangement in 2015. Back then, I never could have imagined that these catastrophic impacts would be upon us with the suddenness that they have displayed in 2020. When I first began working on climate change and literature, friends and publishers were astonished, asking, “What has that got to do with writers and writing?” I no longer hear this. Everybody recognises that climate change is a crisis that is enveloping us. The turning point was 2018. People realised that this is not about the future; it is about now, and 2020 is the year it struck with full force.

The head of the UN Environment Programme, Inger Andersen, said that the earth is sending us a message with the coronavirus crisis and climate change. Would you agree?

I absolutely agree, except that saying the earth is sending us a message implies that somebody out there is trying to communicate with us. The reality is that the earth is utterly indifferent to us. It simply responds to stimuli that we put out there. Talking about the earth sending us a message is what our ancestors did. They watched the earth and everything around them, and tried to understand what it was saying. That is what we have forgotten.

Over the past few years, as these terrible crises have unfolded, in the United States at least more and more people are moving to areas that will be submerged by rising sea levels and threatened by wildfires. Phoenix, Arizona, is one of the hottest places in the US. Its only source of water is the Colorado River. Life is possible in Phoenix only because of mass air conditioning, which was invented in the 1940s. The entirety of Arizona was built from the 1940s onwards and, in the last five years, it has been growing at an incredible pace. Just imagine the madness of that – a completely unsustainable city, expanding relentlessly. People are moving to places that will almost certainly be unliveable within our lifetimes.

Why are they doing this? They are not listening to the messages that are being put out. What are they listening to instead? They are listening to 18th-century forms of reason which tell them that humans will always overcome nature. That science and reason will always prevail. That technology will take care of them. And that this entire earth of ours is supine and conquered. That is what is critically and profoundly uncanny about this moment: all of these 18th-century ideas, that we live in a society governed by reason, are just falling apart in front of our eyes.

Science offers unproven technology as a potential escape route from the climate crisis. But climate science is also critical in understanding global heating. What should be the place of science in helping us confront climate change?

We must guard against thinking of science as a unitary entity. The relationship that climate scientists have with society is quite different from that of epidemiologists and biologists, for example. Many climate scientists are extremely humanist in their approach to politics and concerned about climate justice. But a significant number of climate scientists would respond like Matt Damon in The Martian: “Let’s science the hell out of this”. Their idea is, fundamentally, to intervene through geoengineering, and elite institutions such as Harvard and Yale are increasingly pushing its normalisation.

Industrial and scientific solutions to climate change will mean more of the same. It is mistaking the disease for the cure.

Geoengineering will benefit the Global North but may be disastrous for the Global South. For that reason, the climate crisis is a geopolitical problem. Greta Thunberg, whom I very much admire and completely support, constantly reiterates, “Listen to the scientists”. But putting all scientists in the same box is a mistake. Science can recognise a problem but there is never only one possible solution. Industrial and scientific solutions to climate change will mean more of the same. It is mistaking the disease for the cure.

How has India experienced the pandemic?

The pandemic has been hard everywhere, but India has had it worst of all. The numbers are terrible. The only bright spot is that the mortality rate seems to be relatively lower, but the gross number of deaths in India will probably surpass any other country. Even during the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918, a large percentage of the victims were from South Asia.

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned into an all-out class war in India. The government’s response has destroyed the lives of poor migrant labourers. Millions of precarious people have had the legs cut out from under them. Unable to work, they were forced to walk home along highways in the terrible May heat. In India, the urban working classes and migrant workers in the relatively prosperous West are almost all from Bengal or East India. These regions are already badly hit by climate change and many people have been displaced because of sea-level rise. As these people were walking home, a horrific storm – Cyclone Amphan – brewed up in the Bay of Bengal before hitting the mainland. It was a perfect example of what we are seeing now – multiple disasters interacting with each other in catastrophic ways.

The Great Derangement argues that culture and literature have failed to grapple with climate change and the ecological crisis. How do you explain that failure?

The argument was not so much about writers but the literary and artistic ecosystem: what is considered serious literature today? Serious literature is almost always about identity in one sense or another, and that has been the case for a long time. Anyone who writes about climate and environmental matters is automatically regarded as a genre writer. But writing about the climate is not science fiction; it is not about the future and it is not speculative. It is the reality that we are living in right now.

Writers pride themselves on looking at the world in an unvarnished way. But the very practice of writing has tended to guide people away from the most pressing issues that surround us. Many incredibly innovative writers have addressed environmental topics, such as Ursula Le Guin. Then again, Ursula Le Guin was marginalised as a science fiction writer, even though her books remain relevant to our present. That is why she is far more widely read today than many so-called serious writers. However, the literary and arts communities have changed noticeably since 2018, and there has been an outpouring of writing and art on the climate. People have woken up to the catastrophe around us.

How have you sought to address the changing environment in your fiction? In many of your novels, floods, storms, and other weather events play a major role.

One thing I don’t want to be doing is writing fiction about an issue as such. I see my writing now as no different from my earlier writing. I want to be writing about the realities of the world we live in. Issues of climate and pandemics are germane to this world – they are not something apart. My writing is very much moulded by my origins in Bengal. Bengal is one of the most threatened areas on the planet. Because I write about Bengal, and especially about the Delta and its mangrove forests, I am keenly aware of how these regions are impacted, perhaps more so than any other place except the Poles.

What role do culture and fiction have in allowing us to imagine alternatives to the course that we are currently on?

It is hard to say. I would like to make large claims for literature, but those claims are no longer credible. When I started writing in the 1980s, literature and novels were central to culture. When people gathered around office water coolers, they would talk about books. Now people talk about television and Netflix. The literary world has shrunk into the background.

Always foregrounding capitalism when talking about climate change creates a disastrous misreading of the real problem.

Modern literature as we know it emerged in the late 18th century. It was a Western practice of a certain kind and was rooted in, let’s admit it, Western white supremacy and the ideas connected to that: a subdued Earth, and subdued, colonised human beings across the planet. Those stories were at the heart of modern bourgeois culture. If we are to adjust to today’s world, we will have to tell ourselves different kinds of stories, ones that diverge from those told before and that are not just about human beings. The rise of modern literature cancelled out all other beings. Its stories were fundamentally about humans. But that wasn’t always the case; not in Europe and certainly not in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. Before the rise of modernity, people always told stories in which there were other beings – animals, or even climate phenomena speaking in personified voices like Aeolus, the Greek god of the wind. Ways of storytelling that incorporate other beings have existed everywhere throughout history. How to give a voice to non- human entities – a virus, for example – is the fundamental literary issue of our time. We do not know if a virus is alive, but it is certainly interacting with our lives in a way that appears so. What modernity has made us forget is that our lives are enmeshed in a multitude of other things, from diseases to fossil fuels.

The pandemic has shown how interconnected we are in a globalised world. Your Ibis trilogy is a series of novels tracing the stories of characters whose fates become intertwined through the Opium War, the conflict that tied together the peoples of India, China, and Europe. What is the legacy of empire in today’s environmental problems?

Always foregrounding capitalism when talking about climate change creates a disastrous misreading of the real problem. Capitalism was preceded by European empires. Empire made capitalism possible. At every stage, it was empire, slavery, and indentured and unfree labour that made capitalism possible. The only reason why it is possible to forget this is because Black, indigenous, and people of colour have been so marginalised. Back in the 1980s, the Black radical thinker Cedric Robinson argued this point about racial capitalism. The Marxist idea that capitalism was somehow endogenous to Europe papers over the realities of power that made it possible in the first place.

Looking at the world today, the geopolitics of fossil fuels is fundamental to Western power. Whether it is the petrodollar or strategic dominance in the Indian Ocean, the climate question is essentially about geopolitics, about empire. A few fixes in corporate law and the price structure of capitalism cannot solve it.

The Great Acceleration after 1945 coincided with decolonisation. Independent India and Communist China went on to pursue the same development model as the West. Even if the roots of environmental breakdown lie in empire, it is hard to see how the world will get off this trajectory.

To an uncanny degree, India, China, and Indonesia have adopted settler-colonial policies, as seen in the Indian government’s environmental policies concerning indigenous people and forests. The United States, from the 1930s and 1940s but especially since the Washington Consensus of the 1990s, has pushed its particular model of development as the universal ideal. This transition really took off in the 1990s in India, Indonesia, and China, which is the decade the climate crisis began to accelerate. Western discourse asks, “How can we solve the problem?” But who is “we”? The solution no longer lies in the West. The solution lies in the Indian Ocean Pacific Region, which today accounts for a far larger part of the world economy than the US and Europe. The 19th-century dominance of the Atlantic world is a historical anomaly. The world is reverting to a system in which the majority of the world’s economic activity takes place around the Indian Ocean.

The climate movement often warns that the Global South will be worst affected by the climate crisis. The pandemic hit industrial centres such as Wuhan, northern Italy, and New York first, and wildfires have ravaged the West Coast of the US. Will the increasingly universal reach of climate impacts create greater impetus for action in the coming years?

The sorts of disasters that we in India and the Global South are accustomed to living through are now manifesting themselves elsewhere. I remember that in the 1970s and 1980s, every time we were hit by disasters, floods, or heatwaves, our friends in the West would be concerned. Now the traffic is the other way around. Britain has been swamped by floods, and strange weather affects northern Italy and Germany; this would have been unimaginable 30 or 40 years ago. The disasters and political catastrophes that we were used to are now increasingly normal in the most stable of democracies.

Vulnerability to climate change, just as with the pandemic, does not correlate with GDP. The climate crisis will play out in unpredictable ways.

I never believed the story that climate activists in the West like to tell, that the poorest parts of the world will be hardest hit. Many poor regions will indeed be hard hit: the Sahel for example. But vulnerability to climate change, just as with the pandemic, does not correlate with GDP. The climate crisis will play out in unpredictable ways. Vietnam has had the best Covid-19 outcomes with a tiny per capita income. Some of the best-performing countries are in Africa. Early in the pandemic, American philanthropists like Melinda Gates were wringing their hands saying, “Africa will be devastated!” In fact, Somalia sent doctors to Italy. GDP is not a good predictor for the climate crisis, either. We are seeing something much more counterintuitive: the climate crisis is hitting those parts of the world where ecological interventions have been most intensive, like California and south-eastern Australia where ecologies have been re-engineered to look more European. The climate movement made a mistake in pushing the idea that it will hit the poorest in the world hardest. Far from creating a moral response, it led many Westerners to think, “Well, that’s okay then”.

Recent years have seen groups like Youth for Climate and Extinction Rebellion emerge. What do you make of the new climate movement?

What has happened with Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, and the Sunrise Movement is incredibly hopeful. These movements have caught the public imagination because they are doing an alternative kind of politics. A politics that appeals to something very visceral, not just ecological awareness. Ultimately, they appeal to our sense of the Earth as a living entity. Storytelling is fundamental to these movements. That is why they join hands with writers and storytellers.

The Foundational Economy for a Good Life

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that some economic sectors are more important than others for meeting our basic needs and making a “good life” possible. The foundational economy – education, health and social care, utilities, and retail – is crucial to ensure a sustainable future for our societies.

The crisis has shown the importance of certain economic activities. It has also demonstrated the limits of a radical market economy, throwing into sharp relief the advantages of universal, collective service provision via a public health system compared to systems in which the fulfilment of basic needs is conditional upon the ability to pay.

In this way, the pandemic has offered new ways of seeing the economy, work, and contribution. A return to “business as usual”, as we did after 2008, would be a mistake. Valuable lessons from the “pandemic economy” could transform post-pandemic economies and make them more sustainable. However, learning these lessons requires two things: first, a good understanding of market liberalism, which provided the ideological underpinning for liberalisation, privatisation, and financialisation. And second, a vision of a different economic order and strategies for responding to future crises in an effective and socially just manner. This vision can be found in strengthening the “foundational economy”, the everyday economy, which includes large sections of public services and utilities.

The narrowing of the economy

The neoliberal triumph of the 1980s radically changed ways of thinking and acting. It was particularly visible in three areas. First, an outward-looking orientation dimmed the focus on the domestic economy. New markets were created and existing ones liberalised, including various markets for basic services. The guiding principles were the creation of attractive conditions for international capital, as well as efficiency, optimisation, and high corporate returns. Second, a mixed system was replaced by a market-economy system, reducing diverse economies to uniform (global) market economies. Third, macrosocial objectives were replaced by individualised wants and preferences, the common good by self-interest.

Consequently, human rights from healthcare to education to housing became marketable goods and services. These goods and services are produced by private enterprises and purchased by individual consumers on the market. Individual responsibility now meant “emancipation” from collective security systems, for example through private pensions and health insurance, home ownership, and investment in personal “human capital”.

This narrow understanding became not only widespread in the economic sciences but triumphantly advanced into ever-new fields of human coexistence. Gary S. Becker and Guity Nashat Becker pushed this thought to its logical conclusion in their 1996 book, The Economics of Life.

A one-sided emphasis on individual optimisation, however, undermines social cohesion, solidarity, and resilience. Of course it makes sense to identify savings opportunities – for example in the healthcare system. But an unbalanced focus on efficiency in basic services has deeply problematic consequences, particularly when unforeseen events arise. The Austrian Court of Audit’s long-standing demand to reduce “inefficient” overcapacity in intensive care beds was revised at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in recognition of this.

The fact that the “economy” – understood as companies operating on the global market – is doing well says little about the wellbeing of all people in society.

The experience of Covid-19 has underlined the shortcomings of these assumptions. It shows that the market can solve some but not all problems, that economies are more than market economies, that social security cannot be viewed solely from the perspective of microeconomic efficiency, and that a rigidly outward-looking orientation can undermine social cohesion. The raison d’être of economic activity is ensuring that a population’s basic needs – as opposed to individual wants and preferences – are met by the effective management and distribution of resources. Sustainable economic activity stabilises solidarity-based communities, guarantees the free development of its members, and safeguards natural resources and ecosystems. Optimisation is unquestionably helpful, but only if it serves these goals.

To ensure that basic needs are met, even when the unexpected happens, reserve capacity and buffers are essential. This is the polar opposite of a “just-in-time” philosophy.

There is therefore an urgent need for a different, more comprehensive understanding of economics. After all, the fact that the “economy” – understood as companies operating on the global market – is doing well (as measured by increasing growth and trade volumes) says little about the wellbeing of all people in society. It is also a poor indicator of whether societies are crisis-proof, let alone future-proof, and of the planet’s ability to sustain life in the face of climate change.

The foundational economy for survival

Not all economic activities are equal. While many sectors were shut down during the crisis, this did not apply to those classified as “systemically important”. This “foundational economy” ensures human survival by providing that which sustains our daily lives such as food, healthcare, water and energy, waste collection, and housing. In simple terms, the foundational economy encompasses the activities that are needed on a daily basis, including in times of crisis.[1] These include the collective provision of basic services, i.e. the economic activities of caring – for each other and with each other.

The Foundational Economy Collective, an association of (mainly) European researchers, released a manifesto for the post-pandemic period in March 2020, just as the lockdown was beginning. Building on years of research, the collective argues for the renewal of the foundational economy with a ten-point programme. This includes, among other things, stronger public healthcare (including prevention), reformed and increased progressive taxation, and greater public participation in the design of basic services.

The key demand is the improved collective provision of a sustainable, socio-ecological infrastructure instead of a return to pre-crisis levels of individual consumption. What we need is not reconstruction, but transformation: of the crisis-prone pre-Covid-19 economy into a sustainable economy. This is the only way to improve our resilience and be prepared for new crises.

The extent to which the foundational economy’s essential goods and services can be organised along market lines is limited. A particular problem is that, in the area of basic services, business models established in the wake of privatisation and liberalisation allowed private companies to access public financing to maximise short-term profits without making the necessary long-term investments.

Basic services, however, are essential to guarantee the provision of basic supplies, comprising those economic activities that function differently from the global market economy for tradeable goods and services. The long-term safeguarding is therefore of particular importance. Sustainable economies require long-term economic thinking, planning, cooperation, and an approach to decision-making that incorporates criteria such as consistency, sufficiency, and resilience. These criteria are fundamentally different from those that currently prevail: short-term profit maximisation and microeconomic competition.

“Bread and roses” for a good life

Since the manifesto was written, further insights into a sustainable “economy of everyday life” have become clear. During the lockdown we experienced not only what we need for our survival, but also what had been missing from our lives; after all, a good life implies more than just survival. A broader understanding of the foundational economy goes beyond the provision of necessities. The contribution of feminist economics is here key to broadening our horizons. The anthem “Bread and Roses”, a song written by James Oppenheimer to celebrate the women’s rights movement that later became associated with the Lawrence textile strike of 1912, sums it up:

As we go marching, marching

Unnumbered women dead

Go crying through our singing

Their ancient call for bread

Small art and love and beauty

Their trudging spirits knew

Yes, it is bread we fight for

But we fight for roses, too.

A good life requires not only guaranteeing survival (bread), but also decent working and living conditions (roses). This principle was recognised by the ancient Greeks, whose eudaimonia can be translated as “the condition of human flourishing or of living well”. Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum used it to develop their theory of the good life, in which individuals are enabled to live well by setting the right framework conditions.

Although not essential for survival, cultural and social institutions, bars, restaurants, hair salons, and green spaces are central to basic human needs. Nevertheless, their classification is more difficult, since the definition of the good life is more porous than that of pure survival. It is contextually different, rests on value judgements, and requires public involvement in decision-making. New forms of participation are essential to identify the conditions, infrastructures, and institutions which are the linchpins of “the good life”. This infrastructure tends to be organised locally or regionally and produces value and well-being “in situ”.

Rethinking value in societies

The definition of what is needed to live well, and what form this should take, cannot be imposed from above. Neither can it be delegated to the market. The question of what kind of economy we want and what purpose it should serve is deeply interwoven with the question of which activities are socially valuable, essential, and critical for survival, prosperity and the good life, but also which activities undermine these aspirations.

The rethink provoked by the Covid-19 crisis has shaken the neoclassical theory of value to the core. According to the price theory of value, which replaced that of classical economics from Smith to Marx, individual consumer preferences determine demand and, consequently, price. According to this theory, it is (market-)fair that a nurse receives a fraction of the earnings of an investment banker, while purchasing a third car is no different from buying food. In short, it is (market-)unfair to make moral distinctions between necessity, comfort, and luxury. Any activity that attracts individual purchasing power is said to be productive and valuable, regardless of its social value or destructive power.

The definition of what is needed to live well, and what form this should take, cannot be imposed from above. Neither can it be delegated to the market.

To crisis-proof the foundational economy, however, value distinctions are necessary. They allow the conditions for a good life for all to be negotiated democratically. For example, during the Covid-19 crisis, governments published lists of systemically important sectors whose workers are entitled to emergency childcare, thus making value distinctions. These include healthcare and emergency services, retail banking, farming, food retail, utilities, and education.

Looking beyond the pandemic, there is a need for public debate on what makes a good life. We need to identify which economic activities and sectors are crucial, how these can be made available to all, and who will carry out these activities. It is an expression of social appreciation to strengthen these areas and ensure that those who work in them are appropriately remunerated. It is unacceptable that those who are currently fêted as “key workers” and do the lion’s share of the work within the foundational economy – predominantly women – are also the ones particularly affected by unequal opportunities, precarious work, and low pay.

Welfare in the face of future crises

What lessons have we learned during the Covid-19 crisis to help us realign economic policies to deliver a good life for all? It is crucial to recognise the value of the predominantly domestic foundational economy, producing as it does the essential goods and services that ensure quality of life and sustainability.

Renewing and transforming the foundations of our economy means paying attention to those who “keep the shop running” (to quote Angela Merkel). The economic and social value of basic services must not be reduced to their exchange value. Instead, sustainable well-being, and thus use value, must become the focus of negotiations and decision-making processes within societies.

To bring about this change, new and broad alliances are needed: between progressive parties, trade unions, and civil society movements, but also with those Conservatives and Liberals who recognise the importance of collective basic service provision. In Germany, Switzerland, and Austria in particular, the local provision of essential services by public utilities, cooperatives, or inter-municipal partnerships enjoys a high degree of legitimacy, providing numerous points of departure. In this way, a new balance could emerge between a competitive economy geared to the world market and a supply- and welfare-oriented foundational economy. This would both strengthen social cohesion and make it possible for other crises – most critically the climate crisis – to be tackled with the same sense of responsibility, expertise, and solidarity.

This article was first published in Makronom and is reproduced with the authors’ consent.

Footnotes

1    Davide Arcidiacono et al. (2017). Foundational Economy: The infrastructure of everyday life. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Taking Power in a Crisis: France’s Green Cities

In June 2020, after a drawn-out process punctuated by the peak of the health crisis, Green lists excelled in France’s municipal elections. They are now at the head of the executive in some of France’s largest cities, including Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and Tours. We spoke to Bruno Bernard, president of the Greater Lyon metropolitan area, and Léonore Moncond’huy, the newly elected 30-year-old mayor of Poitiers, about how the pandemic affected their vision for the future, what Green government brings to a crisis, and ecology’s place in the French political landscape.

Benoit Monange: French ecologists enjoyed unprecedented success in the 2020 municipal elections. What explains their performance?

Bruno Bernard: Above all, our project answered people’s expectations, from fighting against pollution and developing mobility to greening the city and improving the urban environment. Ecology responded to the need to restore meaning to life in the city. Political fragmentation and the demise of social democracy undoubtedly contributed. But, in many cities, even where our candidates were not well known, the victories were down to proposals that met the aspirations of citizens. There is potential to progress even further because there are deep shifts at play: our programme appeals to younger generations. Fifteen-year-olds today are probably greener than most voters.

Léonore Moncond’huy: Ecology is no longer an intellectual or activist project on the margins but is increasingly anchored in the grassroots. The cultural battle is gradually being won, as the Citizen’s Convention on Climate show.

In cities, the platforms that captured this interest in ecology were often open and left a large place for civil society. In Poitiers, the campaign was built around a collective approach bringing in new people and practices. It was more than just a party making some space for people; the approach was wholly based on citizens and political renewal.

Barcelona was a particular source of inspiration. The image of a city taking control of its political future through participation won us over. Our team met organisers from Barcelona to learn more precisely how they worked and what obstacles they faced. During the campaign, we said: “Poitiers is the new Barcelona!” Our platform, Poitiers Collectif, is based on three pillars: ecology, social justice, and democracy. Of course, ecologists are convinced that ecology is a “whole” that naturally comprises the social, and sometimes get fed up with insisting on this. But it’s reassuring to voters to explain that social issues and democracy are fundamental too.

How did the health crisis affect the elections?

Bruno Bernard: We had to change how we campaigned and, in the long months between the rounds, our opponents strongly attacked the Greens. But, ultimately, the health risk was not a major factor. Abstention was high but also included part of our electorate. Some people linked the health crisis to the ecological crisis

but economic uncertainty dissuaded others from voting Green. The largest differences between the rounds were in cities where Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche allied with the centre-right to try to keep the Greens out. In Strasbourg and Bordeaux, voters punished these alliances.

Crisis management is a skill that transcends political divisions and for which personal leadership is also important. – Léonore Moncond’huy

Léonore Moncond’huy: We stayed mobilised while the campaign was suspended. Events were organised to keep the debate going and anchor the wider conversation about the “world after” in Poitiers. The effect on the result is hard to read. The crisis increased awareness and the desire to take action. People turned towards local food networks, markets, and producers, and voting Green was in a way a logical extension. At the same time, many people turned to safe havens and stuck with the incumbents.

You entered office amid a triple health, economic, and social crisis. What do green politics bring to the exercise of power in a crisis?

Bruno Bernard: We do things differently, for sure. Decisions are made in a very collegial way. Seventy-five per cent of our elected officials have never held office before and there are 32 women to 26 men. Dual mandates are not permitted (non-cumul) because elected representatives should be fully invested in their role. In a crisis, we seek to go beyond short-term management, not rely solely on communication, and keep a longer-term vision. That’s why we’re in constant dialogue with economic and social actors and other elected officials to determine the most effective measures. I do not make thunderous daily announcements; we want to make a strong impact in the long term.

Léonore Moncond’huy: Crisis management is a skill that transcends political divisions and for which personal leadership is also important. In a crisis, any elected official has to protect the population, identify what is urgent, and anticipate what will happen next. Where ecologists distinguish themselves is on democracy and the reflection on the “post- crisis world”. I was keen to ensure that crisis management did not exclude consultation, even when it’s a challenge. Responsiveness requires making quick decisions, inventing new forms, and trusting all elected officials. Finally, ecology remains our compass. It would be useless to simply pick up again where we left off. Faced with this crisis, we must reorient things in the right direction.

Has the pandemic changed your visions for the futures of Poitiers and Greater Lyon?

Léonore Moncond’huy: Honestly no, but it confirmed the need to implement our programme more quickly, particularly in relation to food. The threat to food security was stark and sudden. Our supplies depend on national and international systems that are vulnerable to shocks. So local food systems are not only an ecological issue but also a matter of security.

Bruno Bernard: The crisis has not changed my vision for Greater Lyon, but it has reinforced my conviction of the need to rebalance the relationship with the territories around the metropolitan area. My predecessors developed Greater Lyon to continually become bigger and richer, and to draw in ever-increasing numbers of people. The results were skyrocketing house prices, congestion and pollution, and over- stretched public services. With heatwaves linked to climate change, it was already likely that, over the next 10 to 15 years, disaffection with dense urban areas will grow, whether we like it or not. The Covid-19 crisis is accelerating this dynamic, especially due to remote working. The relationship between large cities and intermediate towns needs to become more balanced.

The crisis has not changed my vision for Greater Lyon, but it has reinforced my conviction of the need to rebalance the relationship with the territories around the metropolitan area. – Bruno Bernard

The pandemic exposes the link between social, environmental, and health inequalities. How can green policies make cities more inclusive?

Bruno Bernard: Two green policies for social justice stand out. First, the massive development of public transport to allow everyone to get around easily. Not everybody can afford a car and so mobility is an aspect of inequality. Unified pricing across operators will be introduced and, from January 2021, the most disadvantaged will receive free public transport. Second, in January 2023, the metropolitan area will transfer water treatment and supply from private hands to a public authority. This transfer will permit progressive water pricing and free water allowances for people in need.

Léonore Moncond’huy: Public services are key to reconciling ecology and social justice because they are based on the equality of all users. Public services regulate the distribution of resources between people and guarantee access to ecological goods and services at affordable prices. In Poitiers today, buses are seen as a means of transport for the poor. It is up to us, the community, to make sure that they are as attractive as any other means of transport. Changing the way people look at public transport to move beyond the car is a social justice issue.

There is a tendency to see social justice only through the prism of employment. But I want to be part of the political tradition on the Left committed to working less. Free time is a right for all, just like the right to work. Social support services focus on employment but inequality is also reflected in leisure, free time, and holidays. After the lockdown was loosened in June, Poitiers put in place a Holidays for All programme. Children who had been stuck inside for months were given the opportunity to escape Poitiers for a week or a few days. Of course, the crisis makes supporting employment, integrating young people, and finding innovative solutions, particularly in the social economy, crucial. But social justice goes beyond employment.

What are your main objectives for the term?

Léonore Moncond’huy: The ambition is that our three dimensions of ecology, social justice, and democracy are taken into account in all decision-making. It’s hard to sum up our goals in a few words but the markers are mobility, energy, and nature education. By the end of the mandate, all residents should have an alternative to the private car. The city already has a climate-air-energy plan but we will translate it from promises into doing everything possible to reduce the community’s carbon impact. Making municipal buildings energy- positive will be an important lever. Nature education is our trademark education policy. It’ll require training our teams, redirecting our extracurricular activities, and building an immersive nature education centre.

Public services are key to reconciling ecology and social justice because they are based on the equality of all users. – Léonore Moncond’huy

Bruno Bernard: Reducing pollution is an important objective that involves transport, insulation, pollution sources such as open wood burning, and the regulation of industry. Greening the metropolitan area and preserving biodiversity are also priorities and we’ll launch a major plan to protect pollinators. On housing, Greater Lyon wants to double the current rate to be creating 6000 social housing units per year by the end of the mandate. A pedestrian plan will help calm the streets and improve quality of life. Two hundred and fifty kilometres of express cycle lanes should triple the number of bike trips over the mandate.

Food is another priority. We’re aiming for 100 per cent organic and at least 50 per cent local in school catering. Two meals per week will be vegetarian and pupils will always have a vegetarian alternative. The 350 farms in our territory export 95 per cent of their produce outside the metropolitan area and only 7 per cent produce organically. Greater Lyon will work with farms to help them convert to a more locally oriented, organic model, by guaranteeing the purchase of part of their produce, for example. At European level, the new common agricultural policy has to help us move in the right direction.

Ecologists have been singled out for political attacks in France. How do you deal with being demonised as extremists, backwards-looking and irresponsible?

Léonore Moncond’huy: I stay calm and keep my distance. The attacks are cartoonish, but most of all they are out of line with who we are and people realise that. The best answers are actions that change people’s lives for the better. Our results will prove that these attacks were misplaced.

Bruno Bernard: The attacks came mainly between the two rounds when our opponents realised our chances of winning. These attacks sometimes came from business interests but, since the election, at the local level, these types of attack have stopped. With my background as a business owner, when I meet local entrepreneurs, they quickly understand that we can do things together. Not only is the economy compatible with ecology, ecology also gives meaning to economics.

Today ecology is the most dangerous alternative for those currently in power. That’s why we are the target. – Bruno Bernard

President Macron mocked ecologists as “Amish” and the justice minister even railed against the “ayatollahs of ecology”.

Bruno Bernard: Today ecology is the most dangerous alternative for those currently in power. That’s why we are the target. For the president to speak in such excessive terms to avoid a substantive discussion on 5G, it rather shows how unarmed he is faced with public debate. It damages him more than it affects us. We’ll stick to the ideas and proposals that bring about change.

After strong results at the European and municipal elections, what should ecologists focus on to progress further?

Bruno Bernard: We must continue with our project and not let up, because ecology is increasingly popular. But we must build on two essential aspects. First, the better articulation of the political philosophy behind our ideas. It’s about restoring meaning. Everyone feels the need to give meaning to their life, their actions, and re-create links with others and the environment. Ecology is a powerful catalyst for these aspirations. Setting up a composter in a building is of course good for the environment but more than anything it creates ties between people living in a shared place. The second element is making clear that ecology is an alternative economic model and not just a sticking plaster. Ecology proposes a model that breaks with the economic policies pursued in France for the past 40 years, by the Right and the Left.

Léonore Moncond’huy: Our movement has to remain open to the rest of society. The Green party has not yet brought together all of the many people who would like to see ecology come to power. We have to continue our effort to talk to everyone. Other challenges are reassuring people on the credibility of our programme and showing that ecology is not limited to the environment. Our solutions are economic, social, and security-related. Leading local communities will demonstrate that ecologists can run policies in all areas; different and yet responsible management will give us credibility.

Liveable Spaces for All: Covid-19 in the City

For people living in cities during the lockdown, space was a major concern, both in and outside the home. The pandemic has reconfigured the way we use and think about urban space. Will it be sufficient for a fairer, healthier city to emerge? Paola Hernández spoke to urbanist Helen Cole about inequalities in the city in times of Covid-19, and prospects for change.

Paola Hernández: How has the pandemic affected quality of life in urban areas?

Helen Cole: The pandemic has changed the way we think about cities, including the advantages and disadvantages of living in them. Early in the crisis, cities seemed like bad places to live as their dense populations were associated with a higher risk of contagion. Over time, however, it has become clear that the real problem is the overcrowded, unsafe housing in which some people are forced to live. These conditions are not randomly distributed: the possibility of contagion thus depends on diverse and interconnected dimensions of our society such as racism, sexism, and income inequality.

In my home city of Barcelona there are immigrant communities from North Africa, Pakistan, Morocco, and West Africa who, due to structural racism and bureaucratic obstacles, hold low-paid jobs and often live in neighbourhoods with relatively poor-quality housing. All these aspects compound to put certain populations at greater risk. In Europe we do not talk much about race, but systematic and interpersonal racism is certainly present and affects the quality of life of these populations and our whole society. In terms of gender, although there’s currently a lack of studies on domestic violence during coronavirus lockdowns, historically during recessions, incidents of domestic violence increase. With families cooped up inside, these risks will be even higher, especially for women, who are much more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence.

Many cities are experiencing severe housing shortages. What has the Covid-19 crisis exposed about the state of safe and affordable housing in European cities?

As with many things, the pandemic has made the issue of housing both more severe and more visible. More severe because the same people who were already unable to afford adequate, secure, and accessible housing have been more affected by the pandemic and lockdown. And more visible because the crisis has prompted us to think differently about our own homes and their real value. It has become apparent that a home that is safe, comfortable, and that has enough space for privacy is the best frontline defence against pandemics and a guarantee against the aggravation of health and economic inequalities. In the past, research has linked inadequate housing quality to poor health when it fails to protect residents from excessive heat or cold, or when it exposes residents to toxic mould or lead paint. Home is not always the healthiest place to be.

In view of the length and acuteness of the current health and economic crisis, housing should be decommodified. Some cities or countries have already attempted this. In Vienna, housing is treated as a basic human right. Here in Barcelona, a new rent regulation law was passed in September 2020 to set maximum rental prices for any apartment or home. On the national scale, governments could reverse decade-long cuts to housing infrastructure – especially public housing – such as those seen in the United Kingdom.

Another sector impacted by the pandemic is public transport. What are the main issues facing public transport systems?

Keeping public transport clean and safe is a real challenge. It is essential to maintain a core service, particularly for those without private motor vehicles or low-income workers who depend on public transport to reach their jobs. Concern about the risks of contracting Covid-19 on public transport puts greater pressure on the already contentious debate about the right to precious public space in cities. This should be considered a political opportunity for investing in, maintaining, and providing safer public transport systems – many of which are already suffering from aged and crumbling infrastructure.

While this could ultimately lead to greater social equality, reduced usage due to the pandemic places greater political and funding strain on transit systems. As city planners and public health experts assess how to increase active transit like cycling or walking by reducing motorised transport space on roads, another essential equity question arises: who will be able to commute short distances by foot or bike? Active commuters tend to be those living close to their workplaces because they have the financial means to afford living in the city, and thus can benefit more from the new bike lanes that cities like Barcelona or Milan are building in their centres. However, those who live in or beyond the periphery do not have the luxury of commuting by bike or on foot. Active transit is often not feasible for them, so other affordable and low-risk solutions need to be put in place.

You are currently researching the importance of access to green spaces. What is the value of public green spaces in cities, especially in times of Covid-19?

Green spaces in cities are very important for public health. During the pandemic, people really started to notice the disparity in greenery, particularly in Spanish cities where there was such a strict lockdown. At the Barcelona Laboratory for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability, we conducted a survey in collaboration with researchers from Portugal. The results showed that during the lockdown in Portugal, where short visits to public green spaces were allowed, maintaining or increasing the use of public natural spaces or viewing nature from home were associated with lower levels of stress. In Spain, where visits to public green space were not permitted, maintaining or increasing contact with private green spaces like gardens and greenery like indoor plants was linked with lower stress levels.

a home that is safe, comfortable, and that has enough space for privacy is the best frontline defence against pandemics

In sum, these findings support the idea that unequal access to green spaces is directly related to health inequalities in cities, particularly in terms of mental health. Spanish residents with access to private green space (generally located in wealthier neighbourhoods) could probably cope better with the lockdown. Similar evidence in Berlin, Leipzig, and Halle in Germany as well as in Oslo and Stockholm indicates that this unequal distribution of urban green space – which translates into differences in the quality, quantity, and size of green spaces – is also related to existing inequalities in the housing market and mobility. Hopefully, the preservation, restoration, and understanding of the importance of green space for future urban resilience will continue with renewed force.

Can the Covid-19 crisis accelerate action on the climate and biodiversity emergencies in cities?

During lockdown, levels of air pollution fell in many cities, including Barcelona and Madrid. In November 2018, the Madrid Central scheme was launched to improve air quality by reducing traffic and banning the biggest polluters from Madrid city centre, with great initial results. During the pandemic, this type of intervention has happened naturally all over the world. There is a lot of hope and speculation about what might happen as we recover from the crisis.

At the moment, there are so many health priorities for policymakers and politicians that acting slowly and carefully is complicated. People are desperate to restart the economy and return to “normality” as soon as possible. But it is really worth pausing to think because there are many fantastic opportunities to consider, like investment in localised nature-based solutions. Re-imagining rooftops for public use – both for gardening and recreation – or creating “pocket parks” are two possibilities that would get around spatial challenges and increase access to green spaces in dense cities.

This access needs to be guaranteed for all. Many cities are witnessing a trend towards the privatisation of small, local green spaces paid for by developers. In some cases, these spaces exclude residents who don’t live in that specific private development. This creates the illusion of an equitable distribution of green space when it is not necessarily the case. Now is the perfect time to think carefully about these issues.

For decades, large parts of cities have been dedicated to brick-and-mortar commercial and office spaces. Do increased distance working and online shopping offer opportunities to repurpose urban space?

That is a good question, and one we won’t know the answer to for a while. Although it would be nice to think that the use of urban spaces could easily be traded when circumstances change, that is not always the case. With refurbished brownfields, for example, unused space has been reclaimed for public good. At the same time, so much of the decision-making about urban space depends on economics and power; forces that are incredibly and increasingly uneven. This pattern is unlikely to change despite trends in distance working and shopping behaviour.

I can think of two relevant trends that demonstrate the difficulties with repurposing space in cities. First is the plethora of luxury housing that has been constructed in recent years, sometimes under the guise of creating necessary new housing. Yet many of these homes sit empty despite worsening housing crises. This clearly shows that decisions are not based on need and do not prioritise the interests of the less privileged residents who are impacted by the lack of affordable housing. Secondly, previous patterns indicate that processes such as gentrification are largely dependent on uneven urban development. The trend initially observed in the Covid-19 crisis of wealthier residents – who are better placed to take advantage of shopping and working from home – being interested in moving out of urban centres has implications for city urban development finances, which are partly dependent on tax revenue. In brief, even if the physical space to do so is available, we can’t assume that cities will easily be able to reinvent themselves.

What do you make of the concept of a 15-minute city, popularised by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo; the idea that public services like green spaces, healthcare facilities, workplaces, cultural spaces, and all the other necessary urban amenities should be within 15 minutes of where someone lives?

The 15-minute city concept sounds great in theory but it will face a few challenges in practice. If we were building Lego cities from scratch, it would be quite easy to implement. But in reality, existing cities face the dual challenge of being both dense – lacking available land for new resources – and unequal. A couple of examples of how competition for space and resources plays out in  cities come to  mind.

The first is the US city of Atlanta, which is constructing a greenway called the BeltLine by repurposing disused railway lines that circuit the city centre. Theoretically, this project should neighbourhoods it intersects. But even before construction began, the price of land along the BeltLine’s path increased dramatically, meaning that the city could no longer afford to purchase the land needed to finish the project. The effect of speculation and investment was just too strong. This project also faces challenges related to its failure to factor in the varying needs and desires of the communities it impacts. While the assumption was that the BeltLine would bring a wanted resource to all adjacent neighbourhoods, in reality, many residents had reservations or felt it did not address their needs at all.

The second example is from the Raval district of Barcelona, one of the densest neighbourhoods in Europe. Raval is currently served by just one overcrowded health clinic. For years, its healthcare workers have fought for a second clinic, but space is hard to come by. These workers identified a municipally owned building that could be converted into a clinic, but the city had previously leased that building to an art museum looking to expand there. The city offered the nearby plaza as an alternative site for the clinic, but this would have meant trading precious open space for the essential health resource. In the end, the workers were granted the right to use the building. The future of the plaza, on the other hand, remains uncertain.

Cities are constantly evolving, and we often fail to think about this when creating policies.

The reality that needs and desires vary for different communities is a challenge for the 15-minute city concept. Not only that, but as cities and neighbourhoods change, so do the needs of residents. My research shows that gentrification places additional burdens on healthcare providers and facilities: as gentrifying areas become more socially complex, so do the social determinants of health. The displacement of long-term residents also means disruption to the continuity of their healthcare. I suppose proponents of the 15-minute city concept would tout that it would prevent gentrification by equally distributing resources throughout the city, but so far efforts have shown that preventing gentrification is hard, and even attempts to create mixed-income communities have faced challenges. At the end of the day, cities are dynamic, and I do not know how well the 15-minute city concept accounts for that.

How do you envisage future cities that are better equipped to deal with challenges linked to health and climate?

For those working to improve cities, it is really important to think of climate-related interventions, like green spaces, and other essential amenities for healthy cities like transport, housing, and public spaces, as part of a system rather than standing alone. This means understanding that physical changes to cities have impacts on their social and political environments, and vice versa. Historically, urban areas that have been disinvested in, that are often physically and socially separated from important resources and have experienced worse environmental conditions, also have fewer green spaces and other amenities. These inequities need to be rectified. It is essential to consider the social and political impacts of new amenities, and what policies or planning tools might be used to prevent consequences like green gentrification, rising costs of living, and displacement.

Moving forward, I hope to see cities and decision-makers being thoughtful about the pandemic recovery and re-invention process, and taking steps to protect marginalised urban residents. Related to the physical or built environment of cities, I would like to see efforts to maintain some of the pedestrian space that cities have at least temporarily installed, and to continue reducing air and water pollution. Moreover, a closer focus on social issues that cities have failed to address – like homelessness, energy poverty, the housing crisis, and unequal access to healthcare and education – is very much needed. This is, of course, made more challenging by the still unknown economic impacts of the pandemic for city budgets and resources.

How can we stop cities becoming spaces of competition and exclusion?

This is essentially the question that is already in the minds of activists in many cities working to address housing injustices and prevent the negative effects of gentrification. Time and time again, activists and city representatives emphasise how policies are often introduced too late. In cities like Seattle in the US, policies call for the principles of equity and inclusion to be included in all decision-making, but house prices have already displaced many of the city’s most marginalised residents, despite these good intentions. In cities of all sizes, house prices have risen far more rapidly than wages, particularly as income inequality increases. Cities struggle to balance the desire to promote innovation and modernisation with the need for inclusion, affordability, and access to essential resources for all. There is no easy answer, but we can start by thinking first, in each decision or policy, about those with the least privilege, and about the potential short, medium, and long-term implications of those decisions on different populations. Cities are constantly evolving, and we often fail to think about this when creating policies.

Thanks to Francesc Baró and Galia Shokry at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA), Autonomous University of Barcelona, as well as members of the Barcelona Laboratory for Urban Environmental Justice, for their contributions.

Borders, Bodies and See-All Technologies: Pushing the Limits of Bio-Surveillance

In recent years, surveillance technologies have increasingly been deployed to monitor, control, and curtail the movement of people. The pandemic is accelerating this trend. While controlling the spread of Covid-19 is of paramount importance, a global regime of technologically enabled exclusion underpinned by a discourse of contagion is emerging. Even in a crisis, a debate over the future of mobility and technological surveillance is critical.

“Draw me a border, if you please.” What image comes to mind? Most of us might think of walls or barbed wire fences planted firmly on frontier locations. From the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall, fortified barriers have long served as symbols of sovereign control. Today, however, a new trend has emerged: the growth of invisible borders. These are borders that rely on sophisticated legal techniques to detach migration control functions from a fixed territorial location. The unmooring of state power from a fixed geographical marker has created a new paradigm: the shifting border.

Unlike a physical barrier, the shifting border is not fixed in time and place; it is comprised of legal portals, digital surveillance tools, and AI-powered risk assessments rather than brick and mortar walls. The black lines we find in atlases no longer coincide with the agile locus and focus of migration control. Instead, governments shift the border both outwards and inwards, gaining tremendous capacity to regulate and track individuals before, and after, they reach their desired destination. The flexible tentacles of the shifting border were, until recently, deployed primarily to monitor people on the move, escaping poverty and instability. Today, everyone, including citizens of wealthy democracies, is potentially within its ever-extended reach.

Shifting the border outwards

The relocation of border controls away from a country’s territorial edges establishes a temporal and spatial buffer zone. This in turn permits desired destinations to “filter” and regulate movement prior to arrival. The UK Home Office has clearly explained the motivation for replacing traditional interactions at the border with pre-screening: the encounter “can be too late – [unauthorised entrants] have achieved their goal of reaching our shores”.[1] The emergence of the shifting border has coincided with the rise of big data and the creation of extensive databases that record travellers’ biometric data, including digital photos, iris scans, and fingerprints. Even prior to the pandemic, governments were embracing measures such as ePassports and global entry fast-track programmes, which use biographic (e.g. name and nationality) and biometric characteristics to identify travellers before they arrive at the gates of their territory.

As part of Europe’s concentrated effort to further migration and mobility management, a pre-clearance “electronic travel authorisation” will soon be required as a matter of course, even for those with visa-free travel and internationally coveted passports. Such electronic pre-clearance must be approved by the government of the destination country before passengers depart, and is linked electronically to their passports. The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will serve as a clearing house for pre-travel authorisation for all 26 Schengen Area countries and is expected to become operational in 2021. This additional layer of pre-clearance and information-gathering creates a powerful yet invisible border that is operational anywhere in the world, prior to departure, adjusting itself to the location and risk profile of the traveller. When the ETIAS proposal was adopted, Jean-Claude Juncker, then president of the European Commission, justified the EU’s commitment to rolling out this new system in his 2016 State of the Union address as a “way to know who is travelling to Europe before they even get here”.

In a similar vein, the European pilot project iBorderCtrl, designed to protect the region’s borders, gives a glimpse of what future digital borders might look like. This EU-funded monitoring system pre-screens incoming travellers, who are required to “perform a short, automated, non-invasive interview with an avatar [and] undergo a lie detector”. The avatar is trained to detect deception by looking for “micro-gestures” – subtle non- verbal facial and bodily cues to calculate the traveller’s risk factor. The data is then combined with any pre-existing authority data and stored in databases linked to “portable, wireless connected iBorderCtrl units that can be used inside buses, trains, or any other point [to] verify the identity of each traveller”. The calculated risk factor will appear in any future border crossing and may lead to further checks or even denial of entry.

Government officials foresee a future whereby passengers will not require any travel documents at all. Instead, digital biometric borders will play a key role in the politics of mobility management that relies on shifting the border outwards. To achieve this sweeping vision, the location, operation, and logic of the border have to be redefined to allow officials (increasingly operating transnationally and in collaboration with third parties and private-sector actors) to screen and intercept travellers earlier, more frequently, and at a greater distance from the prosperous nations they seek to reach. These trends have been amplified by the current pandemic.

The border within us

As well as stretching outwards, the border is also seeping inwards. Faced with an invisible virus, many countries are turning to what may once have been thought of as futuristic tracing devices, and deploying surveillance tools previously used for anti-terrorism and international espionage against their own populations. Measures that tap into the bodies of citizens to contain coronavirus infections include: erecting “geo-fences” to draw virtual enclosures around quarantine zones; using electronic tracker wristbands that alert the authorities if people violate their quarantine; flying drones to ensure people remain at home; and activating AI-powered thermal cameras that detect changing body temperatures to identify who in a crowd has a fever (as in Beijing’s Qinghe railway station).

In a bid to contain Covid-19 infections, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, and the Netherlands have rolled out mobile contact tracing applications. These apps automate the labour-intensive contact tracing of positive infections using a phone’s GPS and/or Bluetooth technology to detect if a user was near an infected individual. The information collected is then stored directly on the mobile device or a centralised government server to “reverse engineer” the movement and contacts of citizens who tested positive. The Polish Government’s Kwarantanna domowa app not only collects users’ geolocation, it goes one step further, using facial recognition to ensure compliance with quarantine restrictions. With only a few exceptions, all persons subject to mandatory quarantine in Poland are required to install the app on their phone or risk criminal liability.

The unmooring of state power from a fixed geographical marker has created a new paradigm: the shifting border.

Several European mobile applications have been linked to create a pan-European tracing network. Following a successful pilot project, EU member states launched a network in October 2020 to connect national apps through a server located in Luxembourg. The server will be a gateway for sharing “proximity” data across participating EU countries. For instance, an Italian resident who recently travelled to Germany would receive a notification if they were in contact with an infected person in that country or vice versa.

Treating the body as the site of regulation is no longer solely a purview of national governments. International organisations increasingly rely on cutting-edge technology to reimagine the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are all developing digital identities for migrants. Biometric technologies that capture the unique identifiers of individuals form the backbone of these new management systems.

When deciding whether to agree to such data collection and biometric registration, refugees should ideally be able to make free and informed decisions. Alas, possessing a digital identity is becoming the key to unlocking access to aid. In Jordan’s Azraq camp, refugees pay for food through a blockchain platform called “Building Blocks”. Tapping into biometric data collected by UNHCR and shared with the WFP, 10 000 refugees use iris scans instead of cash or vouchers to buy groceries in the camp. A similar system allows refugees to withdraw a monthly cash allowance in the blink of an eye at Cairo Amman Bank’s iris scan-enabled ATM network. These developments raise important questions: if food and shelter are conditional on the collection of your fingerprints and iris scan, does one have meaningful power not to acquiesce? What does consent mean?

The humanitarian sector’s embrace of these emerging technologies not only transforms the delivery of aid and the ability to track populations on the move. It actively stretches state borders outwards. In an attempt to better control cross-border flows, 23 countries in Africa and South America use the IOM’s Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS) to “manage” more than 100 border crossings. MIDAS captures travellers’ biometric data, checking the data in real-time across an entire border network. It also automatically verifies these data against national and INTERPOL alert lists.

A 2019 agreement between UNHCR and the US Department of Homeland Security provides another illustration of the fusion of the humanitarian aid sector and border enforcement activities. The agreement sets the parameters for a one-way exchange of refugees’ biometric data from UNHCR to US government data systems. While only currently concluded with the United States, this type of agreement sets a precedent for future interaction with other countries. In a sweeping shift outwards, border control functions that were once carried out upon territorial arrival are now initiated thousands of kilometres away by aid organisations in refugee camps. As a result, the cross-border mobility of those on the move is tracked at multiple checkpoints along the travel continuum: pre-arrival, at crossing stations, and post-entry. The once-fixed territorial border is not just shifting inwards and outwards but fracturing.

The temptation to collect as much biometric data as possible and the reliance on ever more sophisticated technology by governments and international organisations has destabilised another boundary: that between the public and private sector. In the past, governments had the monopoly to decide on the extent of, and methods for, the collection and management of information about the movement of people. These days are coming to an end. Before the pandemic, the impact of high-tech companies and other corporate actors in the field of bio- surveillance and identity management was already palpable. Today, it’s deepening and accelerating. If “knowledge is power”, whoever controls the data will have a tremendous edge.

The ethics of bio-surveillance

As these systems become more common and integrated across space and time, a new architecture of bio-surveillance is consolidating. The introduction of surveillance techniques that rely on our bodies as the ultimate sites of mobility regulation has been underway for decades, but Covid-19 is accelerating their adoption in our everyday life. The trend may well prove hard to reverse, even after the pandemic subsides, raising deep and profound challenges that remain difficult to see – much like the shifting border itself.

Questions of volitional versus coerced use of such technologies – and their architecture – will have to be debated. Even where consent is the norm, the voluntary use of technology risks being undermined by social and economic pressure. It is not too far-fetched to imagine a near-future in which employers require their staff to download a contact tracing app, or to undergo a temperature scan or saliva- based test, as a precondition to entering an office building. In Germany, PwC markets a contact tracing app, Safe Space, for employers to monitor risks of infections within their workforce. Perhaps each of us will need to carry an “immunity passport” or wear a wrist or ankle bracelet monitoring our vital health signs (oxygen level, pulse rate, body temperature) before we can go shopping or enter a restaurant? Such measures may prove helpful in containing the spread of the virus, but once put into operation, it may prove difficult to put the genie of bio-surveillance back in the bottle, as it provides governments aided by powerful actors unprecedented technological “see-all” eyes to monitor and track everyone’s mobility everywhere. These developments raise significant ethical and legal dilemmas, and like the pandemic itself, risk exacerbating existing inequalities.

Even where consent is the norm, the voluntary use of technology risks being undermined by social and economic pressure

What is in store for global migration and mobility once the pandemic is tamed? In the initial wave of response, close to 200 countries curbed either inbound or outbound travel. Counter to the narrative of border walls, it did not require a single sack of cement for the United States to barricade itself from travellers arriving from China, and later, the European Union. Instead, it took only the stroke of a pen to define who may enter (primarily American citizens and permanent residents) and who will be turned away – everyone else, save diplomats and medical experts invited to help tackle the virus.

Yet another underlying theme emerged, reviving a troubling association between the “infectious” and the foreigner. A narrative that constructs the virus as extraneous to the homeland surfaced in statements made by political leaders. Such rhetoric has served nationalist agendas, as in statements made by Italy’s far-right Lega party, blaming immigrants for a surge in cases. It may also serve as a pretext, as we have seen in Malta, for blocking asylum seekers picked up at sea from making landfall, or in Greece, for urging the establishment of “closed camps”, whereby refugee movement in and out of the gates will be regulated with microchipped armbands. Similar concerns about verifying identity and arresting mobility underpin the proposed EU Migration Pact’s provisions imposing health checks of irregular arrivals, who “might have been exposed to health threats (e.g. when coming from war zones, or as a result of being exposed to communicable diseases)”.

Closure and exclusion, however, is not the only political response triggered by Covid-19. Several countries have extended healthcare and social protection measures to non-citizen residents in a display of solidarity with migrants. Consider the decision taken by the Portuguese government to give all migrants already on its territory, including asylum seekers, access to the same rights as citizens to “health, social security, and job and housing stability as a duty of a solidarity society in times of crisis”. Here, sharing the same risks, in the same place, and at the same time created camaraderie and community. Canada, for its part, has recognised the contribution of migrants in the fight against Covid-19.

In August, the government announced that asylum seekers working in the healthcare sector during the pandemic will be offered a pathway to permanent residency in Canada. At this juncture, the narrative is altered; rather than being constructed as a health risk, or a “problem” to fix, those who play a role in the collective fight against the deadly virus become part of the solution.

While such policies reveal the possibilities for inclusion, the arc of history shows that discourses of contagion too often provide governments with a purportedly value- neutral, rational justification for imposing restrictions on cross-border movement. The current pandemic is no different. However, today the capacity for surveillance is far greater than at any time in the past. As the examples provided illustrate, borders are not vanishing but rather being reimagined and reinvented. Far from the dream of a borderless world that emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall, today we see not only more border walls but also the rapid proliferation of “portable” legal barriers that may appear anywhere but are applied selectively and unevenly, with fluctuating intensity and frequency of regulation. These developments bear dramatic implications for the scope of rights and liberties that each of us may expect to enjoy, whether at home or abroad.

Long after the pandemic is over, we may continue to be affected by its residue. New ultra-sophisticated technologies of bio-surveillance will trace people in novel relations of power in political spaces of (im)mobility. In this evolving reality, shifting borders are increasingly wielded to determine who deserves passage through the otherwise bolted gates of admission. Decisions made today will have dramatic consequences for tomorrow. Whether, and if so, how, we push back against fast-evolving bio-surveillance measures that overlook considerations of equity, privacy, consent, and proportionality will define the future: not only of shifting borders but also our multiple communities of membership and belonging.

Footnotes

1 Home Office (2007). Securing the UK Border: Our Vision and Strategy for the Future.

This article expands on ideas that first appeared in Open Democracy.

Europe’s New Reality: Covid Economics, Debt and the Future of Trade

Covid-19 has triggered the largest economic recession since the Second World War. Governments injected billions into the economy and paid wages to protect the jobs of millions. EU countries took on shared debts for the first time. Many bold claims followed: austerity is dead, globalisation is a thing of the past, and the European Union has made a huge stride towards federalism. Are we living through an economic paradigm shift? We spoke with Guntram Wolff, director of the think tank Bruegel, about Europe’s economic prospects, the recovery fund, and Europe’s ecological and digital transformation.

Roderick Kefferpütz: Covid-19 is not only a health crisis but also a huge economic shock. What lies ahead in the coming years?

Guntram Wolff: This is the biggest crisis since World War II, and we are not out of the woods yet. The recovery is fragile – it is gradual and very cautious. It will remain so as long as there is no vaccine available. Without a vaccine, patterns of consumption and production will remain changed. We are in for another very difficult year. Economic performance will still be well below trend in 2022. Even when the vaccine arrives, it will take time until normality returns.

Is a major jobs crisis yet to come?

That is the key question. I fear the worst may still be ahead of us. The strong response by the European Union and successful furlough schemes stabilised labour markets across Europe. But they cannot protect jobs forever and we don’t know how many firms will declare bankruptcy next year, shifting people from furlough into unemployment. It’s a real risk.

Is the EU’s recovery package the right response?

The immediate focus for recovery needs to be on stimulating demand. But that is not the job of the EU recovery package – it is the job of the national fiscal authorities that borrow money on financial markets to support economies. The recovery package only facilitates this process. The Next Generation EU plan tries to help countries with weaker economies and greater debt, who may not have the necessary fiscal space to stimulate demand. It basically helps those countries to borrow and spend money by acting as a financial facilitator. But this programme is not a short-term, anti-cyclical instrument because payouts will not happen for a while.

How would you evaluate the package in terms of quantity and quality?

Looking at the numbers, this package is significant and appropriate. Some countries in Central and Eastern Europe will receive more than 10 per cent of their GDP, while EU member states in Southern Europe will receive 5 to 8 per cent, or more in the case of Greece and Cyprus. It is a major transfer of financial resources to help those countries stay solvent. The package also contributes to bringing down interest rates. Financial markets have welcomed the fiscal response as a strong signal of unity and European stability, and that has helped bring down spreads. That really benefits countries borrowing huge sums of money.

The quality of the recovery package is more difficult to evaluate and will depend on its implementation. There are big buzzwords attached to the plan – “green”, “digital”, and “social” – but there is no good governance structure in place to ensure the money is well spent. This is still being negotiated. The proposal agreed upon by the European Council is too imprecise and technocratic. Of course, there will need to be a technocratic process and policy coordination, but the EU recovery package particularly needs political accountability. The European Parliament will have to closely monitor how the money is being spent and it should have the right to stop payouts in extreme cases. EU money needs EU-level political accountability.

Will the EU countries be able to use all this money and pour it into shovel-ready projects?

That is a big concern. Some member states will struggle to spend the money. For instance, Italy, Spain, and Croatia take a long time to spend their allocated structural funds. Usually they don’t even manage to do so within the EU’s seven-year budget framework. In our work at Bruegel, we have shown that countries like Italy only manage to spend around 40 per cent of their allocated funding. Now, of course, the recovery package wants to spend this money very quickly but that may work to the detriment of its quality. It is a dilemma.

Some have argued that this recovery package is Europe’s “Hamiltonian Moment”, akin to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, which turned the US from a loose confederation into a genuine political federation. Do you agree?

It’s a big word. The package is certainly significant but it’s not comparable to what Hamilton did in the US. It is significant because it changes the nature of the monetary union by introducing an explicit insurance mechanism and allowing borrowed money to be transferred to countries hit by the pandemic. This crisis mechanism will be a precedent whenever there is a comparable major recession in future.

Are we ever going to pay back these huge sums of money?

That is the wrong question. The real question is: should we ever pay back this money? The European Council wants it to be paid back. But my prediction is that in seven years, when it comes to discussing the repayment as part of the next EU budget (which will start in 2028), they will postpone repayment by seven years. And that is appropriate because this debt is cheap, long term, and helpful. It helps Europe in establishing a common debt and capital market and it strengthens the euro as an international currency. I don’t see any reason why this debt should be repaid. Look at national debt – that is almost never repaid but simply rolled over. In the end, it’s about growing out of debt.

But what about inflation?

What inflation? There isn’t any. Quite to the contrary, all market indicators show that this pandemic has been highly deflationary.

This crisis mechanism will be a precedent whenever there is a comparable major recession in future.

So on the economic side, there is no reason to worry about debt or inflation linked to the EU recovery package. What about the politics? In Europe, debt and austerity politics divide North and South. Could this package – in the coming years – bring forth a new debt debate that threatens European unity?

Indeed. My worry is that the EU will not put in place strong governance mechanisms that ensure accountability. As a result, this new money could make less of a difference in terms of growth and sustainability than hoped for. It is easy to see how this would then turn the narrative in Europe, in Northern Europe especially, against these kinds of EU spending programmes. Germany is particularly relevant. It was a huge step for Germany and Angela Merkel to change their position. When reports on the misspending of EU money start appearing, the narrative could easily become “never again”.

You mentioned that the recovery package comes with big buzzwords linked to the ecological and digital transformation. Does it need to be flanked by an active industrial policy?

This is one of the most difficult questions and I wish I had a good answer. The discussion on industrial policy in Europe is very ambiguous. There is no defined industrial strategy, goal, or orientation – there is only a handful of individual documents, which do not make up a strategy. For some areas, there is a clear need for an active industrial policy. Take the ecological transformation. To stop runaway climate change, we need to obtain all the necessary green tech; carbon pricing will not suffice. Carbon pricing needs to be complemented with a green industrial policy that can develop the necessary technologies and business models faster than the market would do alone. Europe needs to make real progress here.

As regards the digital transformation, I am more sceptical. What would a digital industrial policy mean? Of course, there is a need for a regulatory policy, an investment policy, and setting the correct framework conditions. But what else could industrial policy bring to the table? There is some talk of setting up a European cloud, but who would implement and manage this? The state is not a good entrepreneur so I do not see this happening.

During the pandemic, the state has taken a massive stake in the economy. Will we ever see it retreat from this position and allow some Schumpeterian “creative destruction” to take place?[1]

The core function of a state is to provide stability in times of major stress, act as a lender of last resort, and support the private economy. What the state has done since the pandemic began is completely appropriate. Schumpeter did not say that the state should retreat at a time of a historic supply and demand shock, allowing for massive destruction of existing capital. What he advocated was a competitive environment in which new firms have a chance to emerge and unproductive firms can be driven out of the market through that competition.

Reshoring and localised production are not the answer because they make things more expensive, simple as that.

As we move into 2022, we must evaluate whether the state is so dominant that new firms cannot establish themselves. At the moment, they cannot emerge because of the pandemic and recession. But at what stage should state support and state ownership be reduced? This is a conversation that we need to have because it is not up to the state to run major companies. The state will have to retreat at some point, but I do not think that time is now. We should have this conversation in late 2021 and 2022.

This pandemic highlighted the fragility of international supply chains. Should the state promote the relocalisation of production?

No. Reshoring and localised production are not the answer because they make things more expensive, simple as that. Of course, we need to increase our resilience, but we need to find the most cost-efficient way to achieve that. I think we can do it by increasing our stocks and reserves in critical goods, such as medical supplies, or by promoting the diversification of global suppliers. But deciding to put up our borders and produce everything domestically would be a major, expensive shock that would be bad for our welfare and our economies.

So no paracetamol production in Europe, then, as French president Emmanuel Macron has advocated?

Let us take face masks as an example. Face masks were sorely lacking during the first two months of the crisis. Now it would seem appropriate to have greater stocks in Europe. But does it make sense to start up face mask production in Europe, where they could cost something like 3 euros each, instead of buying them from China, where each mask would cost around 3 cents? We must look at the costs of our policy choices, too. In this case, more stocks and perhaps a second supplier outside of China sound like better options. The EU is a net exporter of medical goods – do we really want to become protectionist and risk losing exports?

The global economy has entered a geopolitical phase and the spheres of security and economy are increasingly linked. In this context, focusing on cost efficiency can cost you geopolitically. If the only concern is cost, for example, then Huawei should be allowed to build the 5G network.

Security concerns need to be taken seriously. We did not do this sufficiently in the past. Especially when it comes to core infrastructure, it would be wrong to depend on one supplier. And if there are concerns about the security of existing infrastructures, then that is a problem that needs to be immediately addressed. I would also agree that dependency on countries for the imports of critical supplies, such as rare earths, needs to be scrutinised, and alternative suppliers established.

However, it is economically and politically dangerous to want to “decouple” Europe from other economies. Economically dangerous because it undermines our future economic prospects, and politically dangerous because economic decoupling tends to make military confrontation more likely. Instead of decoupling, the EU needs to work on having a stronger and unified position that allows them to retaliate and increase the cost to trading partners of playing geo-economic games. In other words, we need better EU instruments on investment screening, competition, and state aid control, as well as a stronger international role for the euro and foreign policy.

The year 2020 has underlined the critical importance of sectors such as healthcare. Hasn’t the pandemic also demonstrated the need to change our economic priorities more broadly?

I agree that it would be extremely useful to discuss what is important for society and give greater attention to welfare and wellbeing in general. Part of the issue is measuring, or the lack thereof. We do not even measure the development and broad impact of the pandemic at the European level. Eurostat, the organisation responsible for providing statistical data on the EU member states, has no numbers on this. It would be extremely useful, for example, to break out of the daily reporting of GDP and see the bigger picture, including inequality, CO2 emissions, and social welfare. Green, health, social, and inequality indicators should figure prominently in the policy debate and shape the political agenda.

Footnotes

1 “Creative destruction” is a term coined by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in the 1950s to refer to the process through which capitalism incessantly revolutionises the economic structure via spurts of innovation that see old enterprises replaced with new ones.

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