How the Pandemic Has Hit Plastics Recycling

In April, as Europe stood still and the global economy ground to a halt, daily global CO2 emissions fell by 17 per cent compared with mean 2019 levels. Many remarked that the pandemic seemed at least to have one upside: a chance for the environment to recover. Such assumptions may be severely misguided, however. Camille Nedelec explores the ripple effects of the coronavirus crisis on a pressing environmental issue: plastic production and recycling. In Europe’s transition to a circular economy, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis could be a huge setback.

As consumption of oil dropped off a cliff in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the oil price crashed and ended up in the negative for the first time in history, prompting many to even ask if this was the beginning of the end for the oil industry. Brent Crude dropped 65.6 per cent for the quarter, with prices slashed in half during the month of March. Cheap oil makes more sustainable alternatives far less competitive. The knock-on effect ripples through adjacent industries that depend on oil as raw material, making oil-derived products such as plastic more attractive than their pricier sustainable alternatives. 

Most plastics in use today are virgin and synthetic, meaning they are made from fossil fuels that are refined and processed into polymer resin before being turned into the final plastic product. It is a long supply chain that crosses industries and continents, but a big drop in the price of the base raw material will affect every player in that chain.

“The price of oil and the price of virgin plastic products are very closely tied because of the way the market operates,” explains Dr Eleni Iacovidou, lecturer in Environmental Management at Brunel University. “Cheap oil flooding the market has made the manufacturing of virgin materials much cheaper to produce because it’s the raw material, but it’s also made the manufacturing process itself cheaper as well. The major cost allocated to production is the energy intensiveness of the process, and if the oil price is low, production costs go down.”

Plastic prices in freefall

Although the price of oil has since rallied, our consumption of oil is likely to drop once again as we enter a global economic recession. And oil prices will flounder accordingly – meaning that the price advantage that virgin plastics have over recycled plastics is not going to go away any time soon. Data from Plastic Portal shows that almost all plastic resins in Central Europe have seen double-digit percentage drops in price as compared to last year. High-density polyethylene resin, which is used to make anything from chairs to food containers, dropped by over a quarter in June. Recycled plastics quite simply cannot benefit from the same market forces that are making virgin plastics so competitive, as the industry’s feedstock is not the oil and gas industry. Market analysis from S&P Global Platts noted that on June 17th, the cost margin of Northwest European R-PET clear flake – the feedstock for making recycled drink bottles – was close to production costs, at 380 euros per million tonnes. “Weak demand limits price increases,” the update notes.

Recycled plastics quite simply cannot benefit from the same market forces that are making virgin plastics so competitive, as the industry’s feedstock is not the oil and gas industry.

Another complicating factor is the impact of lockdowns around the world. In a statement released in May, Plastics Recyclers Europe, an association that represents over ninety recyclers across the continent, warned that the industry was closing production “due to the current market developments caused by the Covid-19 pandemic” and blamed the drop in demand on the closure of converting plants, the low prices of virgin plastics, and decreased global activity.

Even the giants are impacted

Large multinationals have self-imposed sustainability targets of increasing the percentage of recycled plastics that are used in their products, and arguably are financially robust enough to not budge on those commitments, especially as the potential pushback from the public and investors would be significant.

In June, Danone shareholders voted to turn the company into an Entreprise à Mission – literally, a mission-orientated enterprise – which would make mandatory the adoption of wide-ranging sustainability and social responsibility measures within the company. But in the midst of the pandemic, Danone missed a series of sustainability targets: all of Volvic’s products in Germany, all Evian and Volvic small bottles in France, and all Evian on-the-go products in the UK were supposed to be made from 100 per cent recycled PET from April onwards.

When asked for comment, Danone explained that the coronavirus put paid to that target: “We started the transition to 100 per cent rPET (recycled polyethylene tetraphyte) in April, but in the current context, suppliers have been unable to produce recycled PET in the quantities needed to fulfil our original plans. So we have had to readjust a number of our planned 100 per cent rPET ranges until later in the year.”

In May, Coca-Cola also missed a self-imposed sustainability target of 50 per cent recycled plastic content in its drinks in the UK but claims that it will meet that target by the end of the year, and all of its bottles worldwide will be 50 per cent recycled plastic by 2030.

Jon Emans, president of Plastics Recyclers Europe, explained what has happened to the recycled plastics producers forced to close due to lockdown measures imposed in Europe: “Companies are trying to pick up business again, and the question is how fast can they do it.” While he recalls not having seen any companies go bankrupt in the industry, he points out that many “have stopped their production or produced less, and of course, a lot are still struggling”. While some have resumed activities, this has not been to the same level as before the Covid-19 crisis.

A struggle for the recycling sector

Even if larger plastic feedstock customers such as Danone are able to switch back to recycled plastics as soon as production picks up again, many others will continue to respond to the market. The companies of ERGIS Group, a plastics processor in Central and Eastern Europe, produce films, flooring, face guards and packaging, while its recycling arm, ERGIS Recycling, produces a variety of rPET pellets. With an overview of both markets, president of ERGIS Group Tadeusz Nowicki explained that processors are making rational business decisions about replacing recyclates with primary raw materials, despite the “obvious contradiction with the philosophy of circular economy” and sustainability goals.

“We live in difficult times and it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince customers that it is worthwhile buying a slightly more expensive recycled product. Such decisions are made only by the most conscientious consumers who have written “green policy” into their philosophy,” he adds. “For the moment, we maintain stable production and sales. But none of us knows what the coming days or weeks will bring.”

“We live in difficult times and it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince customers that it is worthwhile buying a slightly more expensive recycled product…”

If the larger recyclers are feeling the headwinds, the smaller players are under even more intense pressure. The managing director of a British supplier of recycled scrap plastic (who does not wish to be named) commented that in current market conditions the business’s profit margin has become razor-thin. At least one client that had already started to use the company’s recycled materials switched back to virgin plastics because it was significantly cheaper. Enquiries from new clients have all but ceased. While the director is confident that the business will weather the storm, many other small-to-medium players in the sector are likely to disappear.

Moreover, conditions for the sector could be about to get even worse. “Exports of products coming from China made from virgin plastics are going to be so competitive they could flood the market,” says Axel Barret, editor and founder of Bioplastics news. “That includes the products and raw materials like PET granules. The virgin PET is much cheaper than recycled. It was like that before the crisis, but now it is even worse – you could pay up to double for recycled PET.”

Potentially, that could mean that when recycled plastics become more competitive again, the infrastructure needed to switch back to recycled plastics might no longer exist, causing lasting damage to Europe’s ability to cut down on plastic waste.

Entrenched issues

According to Barret, the industry’s current predicament is an exacerbation of market forces that were already at play before the crisis. Neither recycled plastics nor bioplastics (plastics made from biological sources such as corn) had the capacity to meet demand and they were less able to leverage economies of scale. According to the European Commission, only 6 per cent of new plastic materials come from recycling, which is a missed opportunity to commercialise and add value to plastic packaging waste. The failure to unlock this potential value adds up to 105 billion euros each year.

One case that demonstrates this is a planned deposit return scheme in Scotland whose launch was postponed from April 2021 to July 2022, a decision made before the pandemic. The draft regulations were published in September 2019, when the Scottish government launched extensive discussions with industry to assess how the scheme could be most effectively rolled out. After gathering evidence, the advisory group realised that the earliest point at which it would be feasible to launch the scheme was almost a year and a half later than planned.

[…] the industry’s current predicament is an exacerbation of market forces that were already at play before the crisis.

But if businesses were not ready before the pandemic, they are even less so now: a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds was pushed back across the UK over concerns that businesses need more time to recover from the disruption caused by the coronavirus. It had been due to come into force in April 2020 but will now not come into effect until October.

Ecology activist Emily Stevenson knows full well that it will be fellow volunteers who will end up dealing with the fallout of Europe’s bumpy transition to the circular economy. She was catapulted to viral fame in 2018 when she graduated from her degree in marine biology in a dress made from crisp packets. Co-founder of Beach Guardian, a beach clean-up charity based in Cornwall, UK, she often collects waste that is a decade old and is washed up onto beaches due to storms. Most plastic waste that ends up in the oceans sinks to the sea floor, making it next to impossible to clean up. Stevenson is worried about cash-strapped local businesses who can now ill afford to make greener choices.

“I understand that lots of local businesses who’ve worked hard for years to build up their trade are now going through a really tough time and are struggling to survive, and so they might go for cheaper, non-sustainable packaging,” Stevenson says. “But it shouldn’t have to be a choice between economic survival and sustainability. We should be able to kill two birds with one stone by putting sustainability at the heart of business processes. Businesses who do that might end up even stronger than if they hadn’t made sustainability a priority.”

Plastic and health fears

Virgin plastics have also benefitted from the coronavirus pandemic as demand grows for pre-packaged products and personal protective equipment. Back in March, the World Health Organization called on personal protective equipment manufacturers to increase production by 40 per cent to save lives. Stevenson notes that since the crisis she has begun finding facemasks and plastic gloves during her cleanups, and warns that as personal protective equipment cycles through the environment unchecked, she could be picking it up from the beaches years from now.

Until the pandemic, the emotional relationship to plastics was clear; consumers generally understood they were environmentally harmful and wanted to reduce their usage. But now, single-use plastics are seen by many as a vital tool in the fight against the virus.

Packaging is another area in which consumption of single-use plastics has shot up; revenue for e-commerce is up by double percentage points as many Europeans shun their shops in favour of the relative safety of their computer screens, and those products will inevitably be packaged for the journey.

Until the pandemic, the emotional relationship to plastics was clear; consumers generally understood they were environmentally harmful and wanted to reduce their usage. But now, single-use plastics are seen by many as a vital tool in the fight against the virus. Politico revealed that the US plastics association had told the US Department of Health and Human Services in March that “single-use plastic products are the most sanitary choice when it comes to many applications, especially the consumption and transport of food.” However, one study has since found that plastic actually harbours the coronavirus far longer than glass or wood.

Regulatory framework

The European Commission is pushing the plastics recycling industry to boost its current recycling capacity of 5 million tonnes to 10 million tonnes in the next 5 years and will require PET bottles to comprise 25 per cent recycled materials by 2025 and 30 per cent recycled materials by 2030. “We are very much counting on the Commission and national legislators to implement concrete measures that will strengthen the use of recyclates,” says Kristy-Barbara Lange, Head of Public Affairs at APK AG, a producer of recycled plastics.

There is also another issue on the horizon that could complicate those efforts: the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive which lays out those goals takes aim at the 10 most commonly found plastic items in the sea (for example cotton buds). The Directive was written before the Covid-19 pandemic and does not take into account the influx of disposable masks. Nevertheless, Justine Maillot, policy coordinator of the Rethink Plastic Alliance, warns against reopening the legislation for debate: “Re-opening the directive could have unforeseen consequences,” she explains. It would be a chance for single-use plastic producers to push for a softening of the text. Moreover, the Directive asks member states to measurably lower waste from food containers and drinks by 2026 as compared to 2022. But if the pandemic is not under control by then, take-away packaging could be higher than pre-pandemic levels, thus artificially inflating the baseline and effectively neutralising the Directive’s impact. 

Another mechanism in the EU toolkit is tax. As part of the coronavirus recovery plan, EU leaders announced that plastic waste would be taxed at 0.80 euro cents per tonne. But Maillot insists that regulation and taxes should be focused further up the plastics value chain, at the resin level, in order to help close the pricing gap between virgin and recycled sources. With the current proposal focused downstream, “you could still have all the impacts from the production and the use [of plastics],” she points out [read more in our plastics focus].

Transitioning to a circular economy

It is not all bad news, however. Ton Emans is president of Plastic Recyclers Europe and head of CeDo recycling, one of the biggest producers of recycled garbage bags in Europe, producing for the European market out of European household waste. “Sometimes it is more expensive [than virgin synthetic plastics equivalents] but we have customers who understand our business,” Emans says.

Emans is also sanguine about the current market headwinds because he believes the smaller players that currently make up a big portion of the sector need to be replaced by higher capacity, innovative outfits in order to ramp up capacity to meet European targets.

if we replace all our single-use plastic with another single-use packaging such as paper, the issue has only been displaced, not solved.

The emphasis on plastics is just one of a number of priority sectors identified by the European Commission in its Circular Economy Action Plan, which also includes textiles, cars and batteries, and packaging. As Maillot notes, the push to reduce Europe’s polymer problem is part of a larger conversation around using alternatives and reducing waste; if we replace all our single-use plastic with another single-use packaging such as paper, the issue has only been displaced, not solved.

But in contrast to many others, Emans remains positive about Europe’s ability to switch to recycled plastics, and its non-negotiable need to embrace the circular economy. “If you’re in recycling, then you have to be an optimist,” he laughs.

How the German Right Reacts to Youth Climate Activism

The youth climate mobilisations that snowballed since 2018 have been met by many with admiration and respect, with teenage leader Greta Thunberg even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize two years running. But the climate strikers have by no means escaped backlash. Kaja Zimmermann examines how young activists in Germany have been pointedly targeted by the far right. What strategies does Alternative für Deutschland use to discredit school strikers, and why does climate mobilising generate such a strong reaction on the Right?

As the Covid-19 pandemic dominates the news worldwide, climate issues retreat in the minds of the public. In Germany, this shift plays into the hands of the far-right populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). AfD politicians oppose governmental action on climate change and young climate activists around the world are a thorn in their side. AfD’s response to burgeoning climate activism since 2018 has been hostile and included personal attacks on the youth climate leader Greta Thunberg, branding school strikes a danger to democracy, and accusing Green and left-wing parties of being the puppet masters behind the youth movement.

Why, rather than simply ignoring Greta Thunberg and her fellow youth activists, does the AfD choose to mock and insult them, and what strategies do they employ in doing so?

For the AfD, the recent decline in attention to climate issues is confirmation of their belief that climate activism is artificially created hysteria. On social media, the party highlights this in various ways. Götz Frömming, a member of the German Bundestag and chairman of the AfD in the Committee on Education, proposed on Instagram in March that school pupils and students could contribute to agricultural work and harvesting instead of protesting for the climate. Alice Weidel, the AfD’s deputy federal spokeswoman, tweeted that the current health crisis exposes who is of utmost importance to keep our societies functioning, and that climate activists are not. A local AfD group maliciously posted on Twitter an obituary for Fridays For Future (FFF) activists who died from coronavirus, calling them “child soldiers”. Why, rather than simply ignoring Greta Thunberg and her fellow youth activists, does the AfD choose to mock and insult them, and what strategies do they employ in doing so?

Climate as a dividing line 

If a young climate activist and a far-right politician were to meet, it is highly likely that they would disagree on the issue of climate, with the former advocating radical change and the latter denying the reality of the ecological crisis. While not all young people are climate activists, climate and the environment are key political issues for the younger generation. In a 2019 Amnesty International survey, participants aged 18-25 most commonly cited climate change among the most important global issues. Climate protests the world over are led by young people – Vanessa Nakate, Alexandria Villaseñor, Isra Hirsi, and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, amongst others – and inspire others to take action. The youth-led global strike of September 2019 is estimated to be the largest climate protest in history with 6 to 7.6 million participants worldwide.

On the other hand, far-right parties in the European Union are heterogenous and have different positions on climate policies. Their behaviour can be broadly divided into three groups: denialism, indifference, and support. According to a study by Berlin-based think tank Adelphi, only three out of the 21 European far-right parties covered in the study support international climate action. One of these is the Hungarian Fidesz party, which advocates international greenhouse gas reductions. However, most European far-right parties either ignore or deny human-caused climate change.

The AfD, which actively refutes climate science and rejects all climate action, is a prominent example. Much research has been done about the party’s focus on nature conservation and rejection of international climate agreements. AfD’s politicians can be heard attacking young climate activists, their protests, and their concerns.

A strategy of delegitimisation

For a long time, the AfD ignored climate protests and climate change was low on their agenda. When climate protests increased in size and visibility, they abandoned this stance and became increasingly vocal. According to a study by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue and Greenpeace UK, the party’s Facebook posts about climate change more than tripled between 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. Most are denunciations of Greta Thunberg, who is mocked for her Asperger syndrome, compared to fascist leaders, and belittled for her age. The AfD has also echoed baseless claims that Greta Thunberg is only the face of a covert, pre-planned public relations campaign run by the international left. The Institute of Strategic Dialogue’s Jakob Guhl explains that the ad hominem attacks on Greta Thunberg are intended to make those who praise her seem irrational.

The AfD’s initial reaction towards the Fridays for Future movement in Germany was also characterised by harsh criticism of school strikes. For the AfD, seeing school pupils disregard legal provisions for compulsory education by skipping class is worrying, a slippery slope away from the rule of law and a development to be severely punished. But interestingly, AfD members have themselves been known to use methods of civil disobedience when it serves their own interests, for example by attending unannounced hygiene protests against governmental coronavirus restrictions. This double standard suggests that AfD’s criticism of civil disobedience is simply an excuse to dismiss the climate activists’ demands.

The more the belief in anthropogenic climate change is presented as a question of faith, the less mandatory it becomes to take action. The AfD therefore challenges serious concerns about climate change by asserting that climate activism is driven by ideology and not based on science. 

To call into question the legitimacy of the school strikers and their dedication to their cause, the AfD filmed a documentary about an FFF strike in Berlin. The Youtube video shows AfD politician Harald Laatsch interviewing protesters, asking questions like, “Is the CO2 in the atmosphere very bad for trees?” and exposing their lack of knowledge as they struggle to explain their answers. The camera focuses on details such as two beer bottles (to imply the young activists are only going to the protest for fun) and a designer handbag (to make them seem hypocritical when preaching moderate consumption). The documentary shows some of the protest attendees but includes no extracts of the main public speeches; the AfD is unwilling to engage with the protesters’ claims and deliberately casts them in a bad light.

The climate movement is framed as a “climate cult” or “climate religion” with Greta Thunberg as the leader and those who share her demands as unthinking followers. The more the belief in anthropogenic climate change is presented as a question of faith, the less mandatory it becomes to take action. The AfD therefore challenges serious concerns about climate change by asserting that climate activism is driven by ideology and not based on science. 

While the AfD vehemently opposes climate strikes during school time, they generally concede the right to demonstrate. However, they suggest that the children are puppets, not voicing their own opinions but instrumentalised and exploited by certain adults. In a direct speech to pupils, Götz Frömming talks about the supposed pressure on them to participate in the strikes. Thereby he questions the motivations behind the strikes. Frömming relates today’s climate protests to his youthful worries about nuclear war and forest dieback, threats that – he explained to pupils – never materialised, and climate change probably won’t either. He also emphasises the social pressure on young people to take part in climate strikes, comparing it to the atmosphere under National Socialism in 1930s and early 1940s Germany.

The creation of a corrupt elite, in this case the established parties, is a well-known strategy in populism. Rather than engage with climate science, the AfD turns a scientific discourse into a political one.

Who, then, are the adults supposedly instrumentalising young people for their own agenda? According to the AfD, politicians, especially from the Green party and left-wing lobby groups, are behind the movement, as evidenced by their many party flags flying high at protests. The AfD points to the left-wing positions of many local FFF groups on migration, gender, and capitalism as further proof. For FFF activists, environmental issues are deeply interconnected with social issues, and climate justice and equality are part of their demands. The AfD reads this as evidence that left-wing and green ideas are entangled and that the climate movement poses a threat to the system they want to maintain. 

While other established parties seek to attract young voters by following the green zeitgeist, the AfD’s environmental programme bears the slogan “Stop the Greens – Protect the Environment”. It argues that climate policies harm the German economy and nature. Instead, the AfD presents itself as the only rational party that truly protects and represents ordinary people. AfD co-founder Alexander Gauland warns against the left-green ideology that uses children as a means of exerting pressure to abolish the free market and “reshape democracy”. The creation of a corrupt elite, in this case the established parties, is a well-known strategy in populism. Rather than engage with climate science, the AfD turns a scientific discourse into a political one. Clearly the question of how to respond to climate change is a highly political one, but what the AfD contests is the scientific consensus on the existence of human-caused climate change, presenting it as an invention of elites.

The logic behind the attacks

Casting light on the strategies used to delegitimise climate activists brings us to the question of what drives this campaign. The AfD and young climate activists have opposing interests when it comes to climate change. AfD wants to retain the status quo, while the activists demand radical change in areas ranging from energy production to the economic system. These changes would hit those currently living carbon-intensive lives hardest. As Mark Blyth argues, people living in the countryside who depend on cars or industrial workers whose jobs are threatened by strict environmental policies will have to make more sacrifices than highly skilled urban citizens. In refuting climate action, the AfD purports to act in the interest of those who feel left behind by climate politics. 

The AfD and young climate activists have opposing interests when it comes to climate change. AfD wants retain the status quo, while the activists demand radical change in areas ranging from energy production to the economic system.

While climate activists demand global efforts, the AfD wants to focus on national-bound nature protection and sees international climate treaties as a threat to German prosperity and autonomy. This stance leaves little common ground with climate activists. Nevertheless, there are similarities in the narratives and methods of these two groups. Both consider themselves as resistance to the establishment, albeit from different perspectives. The AfD claims to represent ordinary people against the interests of the corrupt elite, and the youth activists protest for climate action against inactive governments. Both sides employ protests and civil disobedience. Yet the AfD rejects everything that comes from their opponents. As they cannot make minors the only enemy, they direct part of their anger towards the established parties that are “instrumentalising naïve children”.

As the connection between environmental and social justice becomes increasingly recognised in international treaties, the far-right party fears that climate action is just a pretext for redistribution and system change in Germany. Alice Weidel claims that current climate policies are a threat to the country’s prosperity and ordinary people.

A new political opposition

Looking at the relationship between far-right parties and youth climate activism in other European countries reveals similar strategies. In France, politicians from the far-right Rassemblement National dismissed Greta Thunberg in a similar manner to the AfD, and claimed that children were being used to spread “a fatalist message about the world going up in flames”. The right-wing populist People’s Party in Belgium (dissolved in 2019) argued that young climate activists are manipulated. State media in Hungary needs governmental permission before even writing about Greta Thunberg. Anti-climate lobbying reaches far beyond parties. The Covering Climate Now journalism initiative revealed how a network of radical free-market lobby groups with close ties to the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate denial have coordinated aggressive campaigns against Greta Thunberg and climate strikers.

In the years to come, the tension between the far right and the climate movement could escalate further. Climate action will become increasingly urgent and protesters may feel yet more frustrated at inaction and slow progress. The sense of alienation among the “left-behinds” could grow due to a climate-friendly politics that jeopardises their livelihoods. Dealing with climate change is paramount but if adaptation and mitigation fail to consider social inequalities, the political and social divide will surely deepen. In such a scenario it might not only be AfD versus youth climate activists, but the far right versus the Greens more generally could become a primary dividing line in politics.

Baassissetulek ja valmisolek pandeemiaks

Baassissetulek peaks olema osa meetmestikust, mida pandeemiateks hästi valmistunud ja šokikindlate ühiskondade kujundamisel kaaluda tuleks. COVID-19 kriisi poolt esile kutsutud majanduslanguse ja sellest tuleneva ebakindluse taustal on tehtud mitmeid üleskutseid erakorralise baassissetuleku järele. See võib kujuneda võtmetähtsusega päästerõngaks paljude raskesse olukorda sattunud inimeste jaoks. Näiteks töö kaotanud, vähendatud tööajaga või ohtlikel töökohtadel töötavate või riskigruppi kuuluvate tööliste puhul. Kuigi on ebatõenäoline, et valitsuste väljakuulutatud tugiteenuste nimistutesse see veel lähitulevikus jõuab, on argument universaalse baassissetuleku järele jõudu kogumas.

Winston Churchillile on tihti omistatud väidet, et ühtegi head kriisi ei tohiks kunagi raisku lasta. Kuigi COVID-19 pandeemia nõuab mõistetavalt enim tähelepanu siin ja praegu vallanduvate probleemide lahendamiseks, on samuti hea hetk mõtisklemaks, kuidas praegune keeruline olukord meie sotsiaalseid suhteid ja struktuure edaspidi mõjutama hakkab. Praeguste süsteemide varjatud nõrkade külgede ja ebavõrdsuse esile tõustes tunduvad paljud sellised elu osad, mida muidu ei oskaks küsimärgi alla seada, ühtäkki avatud debatile. Surve finantsilisest olukorrast tulenevalt tööle naasta, millega paljud silmitsi seisavad, tugevdab ebakindlust tuleviku osas, õõnestades omakorda katseid haiguse levikut tõkestada. 

Mai alguse seisuga on 88 riigis üle maailma ühe meetmena pandeemiale reageeringuks välja kuulutatud kokku 130 rahaülekandeprogrammi. See on ligi kaks korda enam võrreldes COVID-i eelse ajaga. Enamik programmidest on ajutised, väldates keskmiselt 3 kuud ning ligikaudu veerand programmidest kujutavad endast vaid ühekordset tehingut. Aimatavalt on need programmid rõhuvas osas suunatud kestvate töösuhetega tööliste toetamiseks. Murekohaks on aga toetuste katvuse lüngad jõukuse ja muude tegurite järgi. Üheks koheseks reaktsiooniks üleilmse pandeemia poolt tekkinud sotsiaalsele ja majanduslikule kaosele oli kodanike, meedia ja poliitiliste sfääride üleskutse erakorralise baassissetuleku ehk EBI (Emergency Basic Income) järele. Alates Šotimaa peaministri üleskutsest Ühendkuningriikide valitsusele, loovutada eelarvelised volitused baassissetuleku juurutamiseks, kuni üleeuroopaliste petitsioonideni ideed toetada või koguni meediakõmuni Hispaania valitsuse miinimumsissetuleku ettepaneku suunal (mitte siiski tõeline baassissetulek), selge on üks – baassissetuleku idee on liikunud poliitilise debati keskmesse üle kogu Euroopa.

Erakorraline baassissetulek – vigane aga elutähtis kontseptsioon

Idee iseenesest on küllaltki lihtne. Ajal, mil märkimisväärne osa riigi tööjõust on sunnitud kodus püsima ning kodanikud, perekonnad ja väikeettevõtted majanduslikes raskustes vaevlevad, peaks valitsusepoolne abi adresseerima kõige pakilisemat, ehk saamata jäänud tulu küsimust. EBI on just selline vahend: see pakub kohest rahalist tuge (ilma abikõlblikkuse kontrollidele omaste viivitusteta), on suunatud majanduskriisile kõige haavatavamate osapoolte raskuste leevendamiseks (isegi universaalne makse avaldab enim mõju just ebasoodsaimas olukorras olevatele osapooltele) ning võimendab solidaarsust pandeemia ajal, kujutades endast koormuse jagamise mehhanismi, mis kompenseerib töötuks jäänud või nurjunud ärivõimalustega inimeste ja suure isikliku riskiga meid kõiki teenindavate eesliinitöötajate elujärge. Ettepaneku üheks võtmetähtsusega punktiks on, et see ei hõlmaks pelgalt standardsetes töösuhetes töötajaid, vaid pakuks kiiret tuge ka vabakutselistele ja juhutöölistele ning ka hoolekandevastutusega töölistele, kellest viimastest on huvitaval kombel paljudel juhtudel nüüd saanud „eesliinitöötajad.“ 

Vaja on mõelda sellistele poliitilistele reageeringutele, mis edendaksid sotsiaalset ja majanduslikku paindlikkust ning valmisolekut pandeemiateks. 

EBI ettepanekul on aga ka rida puuduseid. Esimene neist seisneb asjaolus, et tegemist on põhimõtteliselt ajutise lahendusega, mille eesmärgiks on leevendada karantiiniaja tõsiseima majanduslanguse tagajärgi. Eeldatakse, et EBI oleks lühiajaline meede, mida rakendataks mõne kuud vältel. Selle osas, kui pikalt majanduslangus aga kestma jääb, esineb väga suur määramatus. Ökonomistid ennustavad, et COVID-19 pandeemia juhatab meid tõsiseimasse üleilmsesse majanduskriisi pärast 1930-ndaid ning seega võib kriisi mõju avalduda mitmeid aastaid kauem, kui algselt ette kujutatud ja seda eriti kõige haavatavamate ning ebasoodsamates oludes elavate ühiskonnaliikmete jaoks. See ebakindlus õõnestab turvatunnet, mida EBI peaks endaga tooma – valitsuste kiusatus toetusmeetmeid ajaliselt piirata vähendab usku, et pikaajaline tugi on olemas ja kättesaadav siis, kui seda enim vaja on. Lisaks, kui majandus ühel hetkel „uue normaalsuse“ saavutab, jäävad erinevad inimesed ja inimgrupid kriisi pikaldaste mõjude osas olema ka väga erinevalt mõjutatud. Mõnede jaoks võib elukvaliteet eelnevaga üsna sarnaseks kujuneda, paljud jäävad aga kestvasse kitsikusse ja seisavad silmitsi kaljuservaga nii pea, kui toetused kokku kuivavad.

Teine puudus seisneb selles, et praegused kiirete lahenduste pakilisest vajadusest ajendatud üleskutsed EBI järele seisavad vastakuti praktiliste ja poliitiliste tõketega. Poliitilised tõkked on ilmselged, kujutades endast kriisieelselt universaalse kodanikupalga juurutamise poolehoidjatele liigagi tuttavaid vastulauseid. Isegi ajal, mil paljud töötajad on sunnitud töötunde vähendama või oma ametikohtadest üleüldse loobuma, tundub poliitikute vaikimisi reaktsiooniks meetme toetamise asemel reageerida tõrksalt „eimillegi eest raha välja käimise“ ideele. Selle asemel püütakse kindlaks jääda olemasolevate abiprogrammide propageerimisele, olenemata nende sobivusest või kohaldatavusest kriisiolukorraga. EBI kohest rakendamist takistab ka rida praktilisi asjaolusid. Paljudes riikides on näiteks kõikide tuge vajavate kodanike registrisse jõudmise tagamine tunduvalt keerulisem kui võiks arvata. Seda eriti olukorras, kus bürokraatlik võimekus on niigi suure surve all. Sama kehtib ka EBI rakendusmehhanismidele, arvestades üllatavalt suurt ilma pangakontode või registreeritud elupaigata inimeste osakaalu. Selliste praktiliste murekohtade seljatamiseks on vaja aega, ent just aeg on COVID-19 pandeemia valguses kõige suurema väärtusega ressurss. 

Kokkuvõttes on erakorraline baassissetulek pandeemia poliitilise reaktsioonina hea ja potentsiaalselt võtmetähtsusega idee, ent selle kehtestamiseni enamus jurisdiktsioone suure tõenäosusega niipea ei jõua. Kuid mõtleme hetkeks edasi. Olenemata tervishoiuspetsialistide, epidemioloogide ja paljude teiste korduvatest ja aastatepikkustest hoiatustest pandeemiastsenaariumi võimalikkuse ja selle sotsiaalsete ning majanduslike tagajärgede üle, õnnestus COVID-19 pandeemial kogu maailma üllatusena tabada. Suuresti inimkonna ülimalt ühendatud sotsiaalse organiseerituse ning meie jätkuvalt hävitusliku suhte tõttu looduskeskkonnaga, ennustavad needsamad spetsialistid, et COVID-19 on alles esimene ja tegelikult isegi mitte esimene (mõeldes SARS ja MERS pandeemiatele) omanäoline haiguspuhang pikas viiruslike epideemiate eesootavas nimistus. See tähendab, et vaja on ette mõelda ja tunnistada, et uueks normaalsuseks võibki kujuneda maailm, kus tänane majanduslik šokk suure tõenäosusega varsti kordub – võib-olla juba palju varem, kui võiks arvata ning võib-olla palju surmavama ja hävitavama haiguse näol. Seega on vajalik mõelda sellistele poliitilistele reageeringutele, mis propageeriksid sotsiaalset ja majanduslikku vastupanuvõimet ning valmisolekut pandeemiatele. Vastupanuvõime tähendab, et ühiskonnal säilib võimekus viirusliku pandeemia šokile adekvaatselt reageerida. Paindlikud poliitilised lahendused tagavad, et pandeemia kriisiolukorras rahuldatakse inimeste kiireloomulisi vajadusi viisil, mis peegeldavad ühiskondlikke tugiväärtusi nagu kaastunne, võrdsus ja solidaarsus.

Baassissetulek paindlikkuse ja valmisolekutööriistana 

Baassissetulek mängiks sotsiaalse ja majandusliku paindlikkuse tugevdamiseks pandeemiavalmisoleku poliitikana tähtsat rolli. Baassissetulekust ja pandeemiavalmisolekust võime mõelda kahel viisil. Üks viis, kuidas ühiskond enda vastupanuvõimet tõsta võiks, oleks ennast ette valmistada EBI taolise meetme rakendamiseks nii pea, kui olukord seda nõuab. See tähendab vajalike poliitiliste debattide pidamist praegu, mitte keset järgmist kriisiolukorda. Praegune kriisikogemus näitab, et poliitikud ja teised võtmetähtsusega sidusgrupid on vägagi avatud kaaluma häirekindlate majanduslike toetusmeetmete vajadust. EBI väärtuse üle saab selles kontekstis diskuteerida ning uue pandeemia ilmnedes meetme vastuvõtmiseks vajalikke seadusmuudatusi hääletusele saata juba nüüd. Sarnaselt on võimalik välja selgitada EBI rakendamiseks vajalikud ühiskondliku valmisoleku kujundamise praktilised nüansid, käivitades otsustusprotsessi selle osas, kuidas meedet vähendatud tööjõu oludes kasutusele võtta. 

Kaaluda tuleks aga ka üht tugevamat strateegiat. Parim viis ühiskonna pandeemiaks ettevalmistamiseks oleks kehtestada kestev baassissetulek – väike igakuine rahaline toetus kõikidele kodanikele ilma lisatingimusteta. Olemasolev kodanikupalk kõrvaldaks vajaduse poliitiliseks debatiks ning rakenduslike küsimuste lahendamiseks kriisiolukorras. Võib alustada madalast baassissetulekutoetusest, mida pandeemia ilmnedes suurendada saaks. See vajaks vaid poliitilist otsust finantseerimise osas, sest instrument ise oleks juba olemas. Brasiiliast leiame elulise näite taolise strateegia toimimisest. 2020 alguses kehtestas Rio de Janeiro lähedal asuv Maricá omavalitsus madala baassissetuleku, mille alusel maksti ligikaudu 42 000 elanikule 130 reaali (umbes 21 eurot) kuus – mitte päris universaalne, ent umbes 25 protsenti elanikkonnast kattev meede, mida plaaniti ajapikku laiendada. Väga lähedane nägemus universaalse baassissetuleku ideaalile. Nii pea, kui COVID-19 juhtus, suurendas Maricá olemasoleva toetuse pandeemia eriolukorra ajendil 300 reaalile (ligi 50 eurot). Maricá kogemus pakub suurepärase näite sellest, kuidas olemasoleva meetme tugevdamise teel on võimalik kiiresti hädaolukorrale reageerida.

Suurenenud usaldus ja solidaarsus aitaksid omakorda olulisel määral ehitada ka poliitiliste süsteemide vastupanuvõimet, mis hetkel vaevlevad populismi, polariseerumise ning erakondadevahelise võimuvõitluse all. 

Toimiv baassissetulek võimendab vastupanuvõimet ka paljudel teistel viisidel. Majandusliku kindlustatuse mõju rahvastervisele on hästi dokumenteeritud ning pandeemia kõrgendatud stressi oludes tõenäoliselt seda suurem. Kindel rahaline jalgealune tagab, et indiviidid ja pered sisenevad pandeemiast põhjustatud kriisiolukorda suurema majandusliku turvatunde ja valmisolekuga isegi pikendatud sundisolatsiooni puhul. Teadmine kindlast rahalisest kindlustatusest mõjub väga positiivselt stressile ja vaimsele tervisele nii kriisi alguses kui selle kestel. Majanduslik kindlustatus võimendab tõenäoliselt läbi usalduse ja solidaarsuse tõusmise ka sotsiaalseid sidemeid, mis on kogukonna tasandil pandeemiaolukorraga toimetulekuks samuti kriitilise tähtsusega faktorid. Suurenenud usaldus ja solidaarsus aitaksid omakorda olulisel määral ehitada ka poliitiliste süsteemide vastupanuvõimet, mis hetkel vaevlevad populismi, polariseerumise ning erakondadevahelise võimuvõitluse all. Praegu, COVID-19 ajal, rakendavad paljud valitsused kriisimeetmeid lühiajaliste maksete näol, mille sihtrühmaks on peamiselt lepingulised töötajad ning mis tihtipeale ei jõua vabakutseliste või juhutöölisteni. Sellised lühiajalised suunatud lähenemised ei ole suutelised pakkuma piisavat pikaajalist vastupanuvõimet ja kindlustatust, mida suudaks hästi toimiv baassissetulek. Sellegipoolest avavad nad unikaalse võimaluse baassissetuleku kehtestamise vajadusest rääkida. Valitsustel tuleb ühiskondi ette valmistada selleks, et praegust kriisi mitte üksnes üle elada, vaid sarnastega tulevikus ka edukamalt hakkama saada. Juurutades alalise baassissetuleku ideed praegu, loome valmisoleku tulevikupandeemiatega palju paremini hakkama saada.

Tõlkinud ja toimetanud Mattias Turovski.

An EU Foreign Policy for a World in Disarray

With the transatlantic alliance on the rocks and China and Russia asserting their influence, we are living in times of historic upheaval. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the post-World War II multilateral order was revealing its limits. As a new geopolitical era emerges, Franziska Brantner argues that Greens have a responsibility to promote a networked foreign policy capable of securing Europe’s long-term resilience. In an intensely interconnected world, no EU country – Germany included – will be able to go at it alone.

The international system built on the institutions and regulatory framework of the 20th century is showing signs of fragmentation. As political weights shift, power politics, cross-border military incursions, and proxy wars once again sit in the political toolbox. Democracies are at risk worldwide, while calls for national sovereignty and “my country first” grow louder. As a community of values, the West is increasingly shaky, and authoritarian revisionist states such as China and Russia are stepping in to fill the vacuum.

Germany’s defence policy and principles are interwoven with the US. At the same time, Germany depends on trade with China – including in medical products – and relies on Russian energy. Germany is also one of the EU’s major guarantors. These ties mean that, in troubled times, Germany cannot sit on the sidelines as an interested spectator. In the second half of the 20th century, Germany was accepted as part of a new world order based on a common set of values, notwithstanding having committed the greatest conceivable crimes against humanity merely a decade earlier. Germany owes the West, and the world, an ambitious, visionary and solidary contribution to the future world order.

Foreign policy as a Green responsibility

The Greens have always been an internationalist party, working to make the world a better place.  Ecology is globalist par excellence: the ultimate cross-border issue. Neither greenhouse gas emissions nor radioactive fallout are confined by national borders and the climate crisis can only be stopped through international cooperation. This is one of the reasons why the German Green Party is the counter project of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. National populists deny human-caused climate change because to do otherwise would be to admit that solidarity and cooperation with other states are necessary and unavoidable.

Partners of the international human rights movement, the Greens espouse a peaceful but resolute defence of civil rights, solidarity, and global advocacy. A global network of Green democracy activists spans from former Soviet Union states and Africa to the Middle East and Latin America, fighting side by side with women’s rights activists and civil society. Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, the German Green Party, is the child of an alliance forged in 1993 between Bündnis 90, a coalition of three non-communist democratic political groups in East Germany, and the West German Green Party.

Peace is central to the German Green party’s mission. Green politics in Germany came into its own at the height of the peace movement and is the political response to the challenges of the nuclear age that began with the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then, any war is potentially the first step to humanity’s self-destruction. Germans bear a special responsibility for coming to terms with the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the First and the Second World Wars. Scepticism towards the use of military force is one of the core lessons of the past and it forms part of  German Greens’ political DNA, though that does not completely rule out the use of military means. During the Red-Green government years in Germany from 1998 to 2005, decisions on such matters were not taken lightly. Faced with a world in disarray today, Greens are fundamentally guided by German history.

A new geopolitical era

Two key developments are shaping the new geopolitical era. First, the post-Cold War world of the 1990s and 2000s marked by US unipolarity has come to an end. Authoritarian systems are on the rise and China and Russia are trying to reshape the world order. Russian forces have violated the territorial integrity of other states and, with its relentless bombing campaign in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reasserted his country’s challenge to the Western order by filling the power vacuum former US President Barack Obama left in the Middle East.

With its Belt and Silk Road Initiative, Beijing is trying to establish alternative power structures to increase other states’ dependency on China. US President Donald Trump has weakened the transatlantic alliance by treating Germany and Europe as a whole as rivals rather than allies. His “America First” policy undermines all international institutions of which the US is a member. Despite the defence alliance, Germany and Europe find themselves suddenly quite alone. With the international situation unpredictable and unstable, Europe must grow up as a geopolitical player.

Second, globalisation has over the last two decades fundamentally changed the nature of geopolitical competition. The world is closely interconnected: financially, economically, technologically, socially, culturally, and in terms of energy policy. The likelihood of an isolated, binary Cold War-style power bloc confrontation is slim. Today, interdependence makes all actors vulnerable, a fact that is open to misuse as an instrument of power. Russia uses its gas supplies as a weapon. China exerts political pressure via its investment and trade policy, while the United States wields the power of the dollar.

Ground troops and military exercises belong to the geopolitical world of the 20th century. Today, currency wars, commercial spheres of interest, technological dependence, and hostile takeovers are just as relevant.

Globalised interdependencies lie at the heart of the geopolitical balancing act. Connectivity is power. The different political spheres intermingle. It is no longer primarily about economics, but about geo-economics, and it is precisely here that the US and China lock horns in their hegemonic competition. Ground troops and military exercises belong to the geopolitical world of the 20th century. Today, currency wars, commercial spheres of interest, technological dependence, and hostile takeovers are just as relevant. It is not necessary to invade Europe to dominate it; undercutting the euro will suffice. There is no need to bomb Iran to bring the regime to its knees – cutting off financial market access will have the same effect. Why bother with a cyberattack if you already control the 5G network? Armed conflicts have not disappeared but, when fought, they take the form of brutal proxy wars, like in Syria and Yemen. In his keynote defence speech, French President Emmanuel Macron characterised the new geopolitical norm: “the line between competition and confrontation… is now completely blurred.” It will be important not to declare these grey areas war zones, but to recognise vulnerability as such and to prevent and react accordingly.

The coronavirus has shown our vulnerability in an interconnected world [see here for more on geopolitics in pandemic times]. A relatively harmless trade dispute can, under the pressure of climate change and other crises, quickly escalate into new forms of war in cyberspace, outer space, or in territorial disputes such as in the Arctic. Greens alone cannot prevent such an escalation, but they must articulate ways in which Germany and Europe can properly respond to the new reality.

The other political parties, by neglecting to update their policies to this new reality, are making Germany and Europe more vulnerable. Germany’s Social Democrats support Putin’s Nord Stream 2 project, which strengthens Russia’s leverage over Germany and undermines European energy solidarity. For years, the Christian Democratic Union has stood by and watched as foreign state corporations, especially Chinese actors, purchase security-relevant companies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has opted not to exclude Huawei from the German 5G network, making it possible for the Chinese Communist Party to oversee the control centre of Germany’s digital nervous system [see here for more on EU-China relations]. While these may not appear to be questions of war and peace, they affect Germany and Europe’s long-term security and sovereignty. Thus, eventually, this will become an existential question.

A networked and European foreign policy

An effective foreign policy response to these challenges rests on two pillars: networked geopolitics and European cooperation. Networked foreign policy must be thought of broadly. It should be feminist and encompass areas such as digital technology, culture, economic and financial policy, climate and environment, and, last but not least, health policy. The Greens bring decades of experience when it comes to this interconnected, interdisciplinary approach.

If Europe fails to stand together, its members will simply become pawns in a game played between the great powers.

“There is no such thing as Green foreign policy; there is only German foreign policy,” stated the Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer 20 years ago. Today, there is no such thing as a German foreign policy; only a European one is relevant. That must be the premise of all German foreign and security policy in the 21st century. No single European country, not even France or Germany, can stand alone against nations with new “great power” ambitions. If Europe fails to stand together, its members will simply become pawns in a game played between the great powers. German foreign and security policy must acknowledge the new order of international relations and adjust. This context demands a new European patriotism that defends Europe’s freedom and sovereignty wherever it is challenged and defines peace, multilateralism, and liberal democracy as European guidelines in its relations with third countries.

Europe must build up its networks and set the pace in standardisation and standard setting across domains – technological, economic, financial, and environmental – so that it can help shape the world according to the principles of the rule of law and human rights.

The geopolitical reality requires European strategic sovereignty. This is not to be misunderstood as a populist call for a walled-in “Fortress Europe”. Nor is it a demand for self-sufficiency or autarky. Rather, European strategic sovereignty means the ability to act: the ability to make global policy in times of interdependence. It stands for geopolitical resilience and resistance. It is about the ability to preserve the values of the European Union in an interdependent and complex world and pursue European interests accordingly. As early as 2017, the European Commission described resilience as being about “moving from crisis containment to a more structural and long-term approach to global challenges. Particular emphasis is placed on anticipation, prevention and preparedness”.

Europe must continue to pursue its objectives, even if it is dependent on certain networks like the US financial market. In this world, the actors with the most connections and networks will be key players. Europe must build up its networks and set the pace in standardisation and standard setting across domains – technological, economic, financial, and environmental – so that it can help shape the world according to the principles of the rule of law and human rights. The European Union must be an anchor for alliances, and an alternative for all those who do not want to choose between the US and China [see here for more on geopolitics and the European Green Deal]. The possibility of using alternative, European networks creates room for manoeuvre, reduces dependencies and vulnerabilities, and thus strengthens geopolitical resilience. This is Europe’s task.

The Greens can lead by defining what networked foreign policy and European strategic sovereignty mean for different policy areas. Public health policy is a timely area to start with [see here for more on public health and the EU]. A more strategically sovereign approach demands of Europe to again produce key medical products and active ingredients. Essentially, the EU must be able to ramp up medical supply production rapidly in times of crisis. While European production may lead to price increases in the short term, it is incommensurate with the long-term dependency costs.

It is not only in the health sector that the safeguarding of European public goods and services is the core issue. After the coronavirus crisis, Europe needs a new reality: one that remembers that it was those working at supermarket checkouts, driving buses and lorries, collecting rubbish, and caring for people in the health sector, as well as the countless volunteers, who kept us alive through the pandemic – not the millionaires safely tucked away in their second homes. To recognise that critical contribution, European public goods – climate protection, transport and energy infrastructure, food, culture, education and training, social security, and peace – must lie at the heart of strategic sovereignty, and public health and digital infrastructure should be added to the list. The European budget, European industrial policy, and European legislation must be reorganised accordingly.

Europe must be ready to use its regulatory power to resist the pressure of powerful rivals. Control over access to the EU’s internal market – the largest common economic area in the world – makes Europe strong. To use regulation for this purpose, the EU must be able to assert itself in technological as well as economic terms, whether in the fields of artificial intelligence, quantum technology, or system-critical components such as semiconductors. This means it will be important to continue to invest in Europe’s technological and economic capabilities and strengthen and expand the number of existing European players.

Taking the 5G debate as an example, Chinese state-subsidised providers cannot be allowed to force European companies – such as Nokia and Ericsson – out of the market, nor should American companies be able to buy up these European players. The EU should specifically enable and financially support a European 5G consortium composed of Nokia and Ericsson and all the smaller software-based and more innovative 4 and 5G companies. As European companies often struggle to scale up their provision for international demand, more funding opportunities are needed but above all a stricter and differentiated pro-European anti-trust policy. Big tech firms such as Facebook should be broken up, and data giants such as Google cannot be allowed to gain a monopoly over our health data, particularly in the current pandemic. Strong EU regulation of these sectors is essential – both in terms of data security and ethical limits on future developments.

Difficult questions

European strategic sovereignty needs to address the future of the transatlantic alliance and NATO, and demand answers to uncomfortable questions. Germany and Europe share values and interests as well as defence policies with the US. But the Trump administration treats Europe as a vassal at best, even a rival. Europe must rethink the division of labour within the transatlantic alliance. If Europe wants the United States to treat it as an equal partner, it must act appropriately. This means putting the continent in geopolitical order, integrating European military capabilities through synergies, and becoming a player that can act independently when needed but closely linked to the United States.

The EU must ask what division of labour is needed for networked European foreign policy. Germany, France, and their EU partners must jointly develop strategic thinking and action. This exercise must extend across the board – to governments and parliaments, armies and ministries, political parties and citizens. The Greens should ensure that their concerns and reservations, especially about military intervention, are heard loud and clear and factored into the decisions. A common European security culture means accepting differences. France’s nuclear weapons will not disappear overnight, neither will they simply be made available to France’s European partners. They will remain under French command. Macron has already announced his intention to discuss France’s nuclear arsenal with Germany. What does this debate demand from the Greens?

That EU member states have fundamentally different views must not prevent them from acting together. Germany cannot achieve anything on its own. But what price will we have to pay to make this integration possible, to pursue a coordinated, powerful, networked European foreign policy, knowing full well that certain Green ideas and premises will not find any resonance and or understanding with some European partners and allies, no matter who is in power?

These times beg the question of how Europe wants to face the world as an independent actor and contribute to its order. It is up to Greens to offer Germany and Europe a concept for this.

The Greens will also be confronted with dilemmas on the use of military force. What military scenarios should we prepare for? For which scenarios do we, as Europeans, want to be able to act independently? How can we prevent repeated violations of international law, or Russia using its veto in the United Nations Security Council to commit war crimes on the ground, as in Syria? How do we escape from this downward spiral into total abandonment of all international law? How do we help to enforce the responsibility to protect?

These questions are extremely difficult, especially for Greens. But to be able to face the challenges of global politics and take responsibility, Greens must tackle them. We live in geopolitically wild times. European security and sovereignty are under completely new conditions, in a global, networked, high-tech world. These times beg the question of how Europe wants to face the world as an independent actor and contribute to its order. It is up to Greens to offer Germany and Europe a concept for this.

 

Stärkerer öffentlicher Gesundheitssektor, stärkeres Europa

Die COVID-19-Pandemie hat die Grenzen des europäischen Zusammenhalts auf eine harte Probe gestellt. In Krisenzeiten haben die Mitgliedstaaten reagiert, indem sie Grenzen geschlossen und Vorräte gehortet haben, anstatt Ressourcen zu koordinieren und zu teilen. Wir haben mit der Apothekerin und deutschen Grünen-Abgeordneten Jutta Paulus über die Lehren gesprochen, die aus der Reaktion auf Coronaviren in und außerhalb Europas gezogen werden können. Resilienz bedeutet für die EU, die Bedürfnisse der Patienten in den Mittelpunkt der öffentlichen Gesundheit zu stellen und anzuerkennen, dass die menschliche Gesundheit und die Umwelt untrennbar miteinander verbunden sind.

reen European Journal: Von den ersten Anzeichen von COVID-19 bis zum ersten Höhepunkt der Gesundheitskrise im März und April wurden viele nationale Regierungen überrascht und die Institutionen der Europäischen Union hatten Mühe eine Reaktion zu koordinieren. Wie beurteilen Sie die Entwicklung der Rolle der EU in den letzten Monaten?

Jutta Paulus: Die Krise wurde schon früh unterschätzt. Das Europäische Zentrum für die Prävention und die Kontrolle von Krankheiten (ECDC) berichtete dem Ausschuss des Europäischen Parlaments für Umwelt, öffentliche Gesundheit und Lebensmittelsicherheit (ENVI) im Februar, dass es in Europa etwa 3000 Fälle gab, sie jedoch erwarteten, dass die Mitgliedstaaten in der Lage sein würden, die Situation einzudämmen. Ebenso waren die Regierungen zuversichtlich, vorbereitet und angemessen ausgerüstet zu sein und behaupteten, sie brauchten keine zusätzliche Unterstützung. Drei Wochen später wurde klar, dass dies nicht der Fall war.

Die Europäische Union verfügt leider nicht über Zuständigkeiten in Gesundheitsfragen, so dass es weitgehend den nationalen Regierungen überlassen war, Maßnahmen zu ergreifen. Das Europäische Zentrum für die Prävention und die Kontrolle von Krankheiten hat eine koordinierende Rolle, aber kein letztes Wort. Das Zentrum veröffentlichte Teststrategien zur Bestimmung, welche Gruppen priorisiert werden sollten, Ratschläge zu Eindämmungsmaßnahmen usw. Die Mitgliedstaaten entschieden sich jedoch, die Empfehlungen nicht einzuhalten.

Die Erfahrung hat gezeigt, dass es für die Mitgliedstaaten vorsichtiger gewesen wäre, Maßnahmen wie die gemeinsame Beschaffung auf europäischer Ebene zu koordinieren. Zukünftig sollte die EU eine europäische Task Force für Gesundheit einrichten, um auf Ausbrüche zu reagieren. Geschulte Angehörige der Gesundheitsberufe könnten auf Abruf bereit sein, in eine bestimmte Region zu reisen und das lokale Personal im Notfall zu unterstützen. Die Mitgliedstaaten haben den Wert von Gesundheitssystemen mit hoher Kapazität erkannt. Mehr Unterstützung in Norditalien hätte möglicherweise dazu beigetragen, Leben zu retten.

Die EU-Länder sind in unterschiedlichem Maße von der COVID-19-Krise betroffen. Einige Regionen hatten große Ausbrüche, während andere Infektionsraten viel niedriger waren. Was können wir aus diesen Unterschieden lernen?

Jutta Paulus: Der Virologe Christian Drosten war sehr an der Reaktion Deutschlands beteiligt, und seine wertvollen Ratschläge und Maßnahmen trugen dazu bei, dass Deutschland im Vergleich zu anderen Ländern weniger Todesopfer forderte. Die Strategie basierte darauf, frühzeitig große Testkapazitäten einzurichten und so viel Personal wie möglich sowohl an Universitäten als auch in privaten Labors zu schulen. Aufgrund dieser Strategie konnten ausreichende Tests durchgeführt werden, um den Ausbruch einzudämmen. Weitreichende Tests sowie das Absagen großer Versammlungen wie Fußballspiele, um eine Superausbreitung zu vermeiden, sind einige offensichtliche Lektionen. Innerhalb des Europäischen Parlaments würde ich mir wünschen, dass ein Sonderausschuss eingerichtet wird, der diese Erfahrungen sowohl aus der Wissenschaft als auch aus anderen Bereichen sammelt, um besser auf die nächste Pandemie vorbereitet zu sein, die unvermeidlich sein wird. Das Verständnis der Nebenwirkungen ist genauso wichtig wie das Verständnis des Virus selbst. Während sich das wissenschaftliche Verständnis des Virus sowie seiner Auswirkungen auf Themen wie häusliche Gewalt weiterentwickelt, müssen Politiker mit Wissenschaftlern zusammenarbeiten, um ihre Ergebnisse zu verstehen.

Die Erfahrung hat gezeigt, dass es für die Mitgliedstaaten vorsichtiger gewesen wäre, Maßnahmen wie die gemeinsame Beschaffung auf europäischer Ebene zu koordinieren.

Viele EU-Länder lockern ihre Sperren, eröffnen Geschäfte wieder und sprechen über grenzüberschreitende Reisen. Haben wir im Vergleich zu den frühen Phasen der Krise ausreichende Fortschritte bei der verstärkten EU-Koordinierung und beim Informationsaustausch gesehen?

Jutta Paulus: Nun, zumindest haben sie wieder angefangen miteinander zu reden; zuvor schlossen sie nur einseitig die Grenzen. Der Informationsaustausch ist viel stärker, aber es gibt noch Raum für Verbesserungen. Im Idealfall hätten die nationalen Regierungen die Öffnung über das Europäische Zentrum für die Prävention und die Kontrolle von Krankheiten koordiniert, das Leitlinien für die Überwachung und Suche hätte geben können. Aber auch innerhalb Deutschlands verfolgt jedes der 16 Bundesländer einen anderen Ansatz. Auf allen Ebenen sollten wissenschaftliche Ratschläge sowohl von Virologen als auch von Soziologen genauer befolgt werden. Bildungsspezialisten sollten an der Wiedereröffnung von Schulen beteiligt sein und dabei helfen, die Auswirkungen von Monaten ohne Unterricht an verschiedenen Schülern zu bewerten.

Sie haben mit Beamten und Experten aus Ländern wie Taiwan und Neuseeland über ihre Eindämmungsstrategien gesprochen. Was können europäische Länder und die Europäische Union aus ihren Erfahrungen lernen?

Jutta Paulus: Europa hat wichtige Lehren zu ziehen, sowohl wissenschaftlich als auch politisch. Auf der virologischen Seite haben Taiwan und Südkorea die Gesundheitsrisiken frühzeitig erkannt und Schritte unternommen, um sie vollständig zu beseitigen. Nach den Erfahrungen mit SARS waren ostasiatische Länder wie Taiwan und Südkorea bereit und ihre Strategie war Test, Test, Test. Verfolgen Sie die Kontakte, isolieren Sie die Kontakte und machen Sie es den Menschen einfach. In Südkorea wurden Menschen, die sich selbst isolieren mussten, in Hotels untergebracht, betreut und erhielten medizinische Hilfe. Ihnen wurde garantiert, dass Selbstisolation nicht zu finanziellen Schwierigkeiten führen würde, und es wurde Unterstützung für ihre Familien geschaffen. In Deutschland und den meisten anderen europäischen Ländern bestand die Anweisung einfach darin, isoliert zu werden. Aber wenn Sie eine alleinerziehende Mutter mit drei Kindern sind, wie sollen Sie sich selbst isolieren? Was ist, wenn Sie Lebensmittel kaufen müssen?

Der zweite Aspekt ist Führung. Neuseeland hatte eine der strengsten Sperren weltweit, wurde jedoch von einer effektiven Führung dazu geführt. Jacinta Ardern hat es geschafft, die Bemühungen gegen das Virus in die Herzen der Menschen zu bringen. Sie erkannte, wie schwierig es für alle war. Sie machte auch klar, dass wir bereit sein sollten, unter Quarantäne zu stellen, weil wir uns lieben und niemand zurückgelassen werden würde. Der Schutz der Verwundbaren in unseren Gesellschaften macht uns menschlich. Neuseeland konnte die Ausbreitung des Virus relativ früh eindämmen. Natürlich hat Neuseeland leicht zu kontrollierende Grenzen, aber es zeigt die Stärke eines Ansatzes, der auf Empathie basiert. Es ist das völlige Gegenteil der Missachtung der Gesundheit von Menschen, die Führungskräfte wie Donald Trump und Boris Johnson gezeigt haben.

Letzte Woche kündigte die Europäische Kommission ein Wiederherstellungspaket an, das neben der wichtigsten wirtschaftlichen Unterstützung einen Vorschlag für ein EU4Health-Programm in Höhe von neun Milliarden Euro enthielt. Auf den ersten Blick scheint es einige der Vorschläge der Grünen / EFA zu beantworten, wie beispielsweise eine europäische Gesundheitstruppe. Wie zufrieden sind die Grünen mit den Vorschlägen?

Jutta Paulus: Die EU hat begriffen, dass gemeinsam mehr getan werden muss und dass Maßnahmen in Gesundheitsfragen das europäische Projekt stärken können. Insgesamt sind die EU-Vorschläge zur gesundheitlichen Reaktion auf die aktuelle Situation zu begrüßen. Die Gesundheitsmaßnahmen der EU sollten jedoch nicht mit einer besseren Koordinierung, Bevorratung, Datenbanken und einer europäischen Gesundheitstruppe aufhören. Die Europäische Union sollte sich mit den vielen bevorstehenden Gesundheitsproblemen befassen, die nicht mit COVID-19 verbunden sind, wie beispielsweise erschwingliche Medizin.

Nicht jeder konnte vor der Pandemie auf erschwingliche Medikamente zugreifen. Die EU-Arzneimittelstrategie wird später im Jahr 2020 veröffentlicht, und die Grünen werden Maßnahmen fordern, die den Zugang zu Arzneimitteln verbessern können. Der Pharmasektor ist derzeit ausschließlich auf Gewinn ausgerichtet, was normal ist. Es ist sozusagen die Natur des Kapitalismus. Die EU kann die Regeln festlegen, um die Bedürfnisse der Patienten in den Mittelpunkt zu stellen.

Die Europäische Union sollte sich mit den vielen bevorstehenden Gesundheitsproblemen befassen, die nicht mit COVID-19 verbunden sind, wie beispielsweise erschwingliche Medizin.

Europäische Länder haben unterschiedliche Systeme der sozialen Sicherheit, daher wäre ein gemeinsamer Gesundheitsansatz schwierig, aber Leitlinien auf europäischer Ebene, die den Bedürfnissen der Patienten Priorität einräumen, wären wertvoll. Nach der letzten Finanzkrise war die spanische Regierung gezwungen, die Gesundheitsausgaben zu kürzen, und viele Krankenhäuser wurden privatisiert. Private Krankenhäuser haben keinen Anreiz, sich auf Herzinfarkte oder andere schwere Krankheiten zu konzentrieren, und viele bevorzugen es, sich auf profitable Hüftoperationen oder Schönheitsbehandlungen zu konzentrieren. Als die Pandemie ausbrach, hatten viele dieser Krankenhäuser nicht einmal ausreichend qualifizierte Ärzte, um COVID-19-Patienten zu behandeln. Leitlinien, die durch EU-Mittel gestützt werden, könnten dazu beitragen, die Länder zu ermutigen, Maßnahmen zur Stärkung der öffentlichen Gesundheit zu ergreifen, und würden keine zusätzlichen Kompetenzen erfordern.

Geräte- und Medikamentenmangel gefährden Patienten und medizinisches Personal. Wie würde es im Mittelpunkt stehen, die Bedürfnisse der Patienten in den Mittelpunkt zu stellen?

Jutta Paulus: Die Europäische Union muss in Bezug auf die Gesundheitssouveränität denken. Die Menschen waren schockiert zu sehen, dass die Gesundheitspersonal an der Front wochenlang ohne angemessene Ausrüstung auskommen musste. Wir brauchen Systeme, um zu verhindern, dass sie in Zukunft erneut auftreten. Die Europäische Arzneimittel-Agentur und das Europäische Zentrum für die Prävention und die Kontrolle von Krankheiten spielen dort eine Rolle.

Gemeinsame Vorräte für Waren wie Schutzmasken, Handschuhe und Desinfektionsmittel sind unerlässlich, aber der wichtigste Schritt ist ein Plan. Nach der SARS-Erfahrung stellte Taiwan eine Expertengruppe zusammen, die eine detaillierte und umfassende Planung für Pandemien vorbereitete. Als die ersten Anzeichen von COVID-19 auftauchten, schickte Taiwan ein Team nach Wuhan, sprach mit Gesundheitspersonal, zog die Pläne aus der Schublade und setzte sie ein. Innerhalb von zwei Wochen standen Millionen von Masken zur Verfügung. Sie müssen einen Plan haben und entsprechend handeln. In Europa hängt dies von einer guten Zusammenarbeit zwischen den Mitgliedstaaten ab.

Bei Medikamentenmangel sollten Pharmaunternehmen verpflichtet sein, ihre Lieferketten zu diversifizieren. Derzeit produziert Europa nur 20 Prozent der Wirkstoffe. Vor 20 Jahren waren es 80 Prozent. Ein Fabrikvorfall in China könnte die europäische Ibuprofenversorgung leicht unterbrechen, und derzeit müssen alle Pharmaunternehmen bei drohendem Mangel Bescheid geben. Patienten wären besser versorgt, wenn regulatorische Maßnahmen die Marktzulassung für Wirkstoffe mit den Garantien für die Fähigkeit eines Unternehmens zur Erfüllung des Versorgungsbedarfs verknüpfen würden. Unternehmen sollten nachweisen müssen, dass sie über mehrere Produktionsstätten und Lieferanten verfügen, um sicherzustellen, dass der Zugang zu einem bestimmten Arzneimittel nicht von einem Glied in der Kette abhängt.

Die Europäische Union muss in Bezug auf die Gesundheitssouveränität denken.

Die Entwicklung bestimmter Wirkstoffe erfordert auch Unterstützung durch EU-Mittel. Beispielsweise ist die Forschung und Entwicklung von Antibiotika für Pharmaunternehmen nicht rentabel. Die Investitionskosten sind genauso hoch wie bei anderen Wirkstoffen, aber die Verhinderung von Antibiotikaresistenzen bedeutet, dass es nur für eine begrenzte Zeit für eine kleine Anzahl von Patienten vermarktbar ist. Pharmaunternehmen bevorzugen daher Investitionen in Medikamente gegen Bluthochdruck oder Brustkrebs, die Patienten jahrelang einnehmen werden. Die öffentliche Unterstützung für Forschung und Entwicklung, auch auf europäischer Ebene, kann dazu beitragen, diese Lücken zu schließen.

Schließlich sollte in einigen Fällen eine Zwangslizenz erforderlich sein. Ein Pharmaunternehmen, das ein Patent auf ein Medikament besitzt, sollte nicht in der Lage sein, himmelhohe Preise für essentielle Medikamente zu verlangen. Der Preis sollte an die tatsächlichen Kosten gebunden sein. Die Europäische Union sollte insbesondere mit der Weltgesundheitsorganisation (WHO) an der Zwangslizenzierung arbeiten, da hohe Preise sowohl den globalen Süden als auch Europa betreffen. Länder, die sich keine exorbitanten Arzneimittelpreise leisten können, sollten über ein ausreichendes Angebot verfügen, um die Bedürfnisse ihrer Patienten zu einem angemessenen Preis zu erfüllen.

Würden Sie die Widerstandsfähigkeit der Lieferketten und die Bereitschaft zur Verlagerung der Produktion von pharmazeutischen und medizinischen Geräten in die EU betonen?

Jutta Paulus: Die beste Strategie würde einige von beiden beinhalten. Zum Beispiel lebe ich in der Nähe eines sehr großen chemischen Industriegebiets, das einem globalen Chemieriesen gehört. Zu Beginn der Pandemie boten sie an, Desinfektionsmittel herzustellen, und setzten sich mit der Regionalregierung in Verbindung, um zu klären, wie sie eingreifen könnten. Die Lizenzierung dauerte einige Tage, aber dann produzierte eine ihrer Anlagen große Mengen an Desinfektionsmitteln, um den Notfallbedarf zu decken. Ich möchte nicht, dass ein nicht-pharmazeutisches Unternehmen ständig Desinfektionsmittel herstellt, da diese nicht darauf spezialisiert sind, aber ein solcher Notfallplan sollte vorhanden sein. Ein Umzug ist nicht für alle Bereiche erforderlich, es muss jedoch eine Ersatzoption vorhanden sein.

Die Kernidee ist, dass eine gesunde Umwelt eine Voraussetzung für eine gesunde Gesellschaft ist und dass der Aufbau einer gesunden Gesellschaft kein Mittel zur Verlängerung unseres Arbeitslebens ist, sondern ein Ziel an sich.

Vorsorge, Impfstoffe und medizinische Vorräte sind für die öffentliche Gesundheit von entscheidender Bedeutung. Aber die Gesundheit hört hier nicht auf. Sehen Sie eine Rolle für die Grünen darin, Gesundheit mit Themen wie Luftverschmutzung, Ernährung und Wohnen in Verbindung zu bringen?

Jutta Paulus: Auf globaler Ebene wurde der Ansatz „One Health“ entwickelt, um die Verbindungen zwischen der Gesundheit von Mensch, Umwelt und Tier herzustellen. Die europäische Gesetzgebung könnte in Bezug auf Substanzen wie endokrine Disruptoren, die Menschen und Tiere ähnlich wie Hormone beeinflussen und viele gesundheitsschädliche Auswirkungen wie Unfruchtbarkeit bei Frauen und Sterilität bei Männern verursachen, viel strenger sein. Unabhängig davon, ob es sich um endokrine Disruptoren, Pestizide oder Luftschadstoffe handelt, werden die Grünen darauf drängen, dass die Europäische Union einen ungiftigen Umweltansatz verfolgt. Eine Kreislaufwirtschaft kann keine toxischen Substanzen enthalten, da Materialien per Definition innerhalb des Kreises bleiben. Die Kernidee ist, dass eine gesunde Umwelt eine Voraussetzung für eine gesunde Gesellschaft ist und dass der Aufbau einer gesunden Gesellschaft kein Mittel zur Verlängerung unseres Arbeitslebens ist, sondern ein Ziel an sich.

Sollten wir uns Sorgen machen, dass die Regierungen auf die Pandemie reagieren, indem sie Handschuhe lagern und Anpassungen an den Rändern vornehmen, aber nicht die weiteren Verbindungen zwischen Gesundheit und Umwelt herstellen?

Jutta Paulus: Der Zusammenhang zwischen dem Verlust der biologischen Vielfalt und Pandemien ist gut etabliert und Grund, nüchtern über unsere Lebensweise nachzudenken. Die industrielle Landwirtschaft führt zur Zerstörung des Regenwaldes, setzt die Wildnisgebiete unter Druck und treibt wilde Tiere – in diesem Fall Fledermäuse – in engeren Kontakt mit Menschen. Aus dieser Dynamik entstehen neue Pandemien. Das Schicksal Roms: Klima, Krankheit und das Ende eines Reiches von Kyle Harper untersucht, wie Umweltveränderungen und Pandemien zum Untergang des Römischen Reiches beigetragen haben. Anhand archäologischer, biologischer und historischer Quellen erklärt er, wie Handelsverbindungen entlang der Seidenstraße den Schwarzen Tod verbreiteten und wie Klimaveränderungen dazu führten, dass Bevölkerungsgruppen wie die Hunnen aus Zentralasien in Richtung Reich zogen. Keine Gesellschaft kann unabhängig von ihrer Umwelt verstanden werden.

Die Vereinigten Staaten haben sich aus der WHO zurückgezogen, deren Unterstützung für Länder im globalen Süden am wichtigsten ist. Was kann die Europäische Union tun, um Gemeinden zu unterstützen, die weltweit gesundheitlichen Risiken ausgesetzt sind?

Jutta Paulus: Die Europäische Union muss enger mit der WHO zusammenarbeiten, obwohl ein Teil der Kritik an ihrem Umgang mit der Pandemie berechtigt ist. Die WHO lobte China stark in der Hoffnung, zusätzliche Informationen zu erhalten, und übersah, wie China Informationen unterdrückt hatte, und überließ es Whistleblowern, über die Gesundheitssituation zu sprechen. Trotz ihrer Probleme ist die WHO die einzige weltweite Organisation, die wir haben. Derzeit stammen fast 80 Prozent der WHO-Mittel aus privaten Quellen. 80 Prozent würden aus staatlichen Mitgliedsbeiträgen und die restlichen 20 Prozent von privaten Sponsoren stammen.

Die Europäische Union muss auch ihr Handelssystem im Interesse der Gesundheit im globalen Süden ändern. Das derzeitige Modell basiert auf der Ausbeutung von Arbeitskräften und der Unterschreitung von Sozial- und Umweltstandards. Hier können die Sorgfaltspflichten der Europäischen Union Fortschritte erzielen. Unternehmen sollten für ihre Lieferketten und die Unternehmen, mit denen sie zusammenarbeiten, verantwortlich sein.

Die Europäische Union muss auch ihr Handelssystem im Interesse der Gesundheit im globalen Süden ändern.

Beispielsweise ist die Antibiotikaresistenz derzeit in Indien ein großes Problem, da in Hyderabad viele Wirkstoffe hergestellt werden. Die Qualität des Produkts ist ausgezeichnet und die Produktionsanlagen werden regelmäßig auf Prozesse und Mitarbeiterschulungen überprüft, die den weltweiten Standards entsprechen. Die Inspektoren befassen sich jedoch nicht mit Arbeits-, Sozial- oder Umweltproblemen. Das Ergebnis ist, dass das Abwasser der Fabrik in den örtlichen Fluss geleitet und für Trinkwasser und Bewässerung verwendet wird. Studien an Wasserproben haben Bakterien gefunden, die in beispiellosem Ausmaß gegen Antibiotika resistent sind. Ein bestimmtes Handelsmodell beeinträchtigt daher die Gesundheit von Menschen, die in der Nähe von Produktionsstätten und möglicherweise weltweit leben, und diese sozialen und ökologischen Faktoren sollten berücksichtigt werden. Die Pharmaindustrie ist stark automatisiert, daher ist die Umweltregulierung ein wichtigerer Faktor für die Herstellung eines Produkts als die Arbeitskosten. Unternehmen sollten nicht nur in Indien produzieren, um die Kosten für die Reinigung ihres Abwassers zu vermeiden.

Europa wurde im 21. Jahrhundert von Krise zu Krise erschüttert: Wirtschaftskrach, Terrorismus, Brexit, jetzt COVID. Was braucht Europa, um gegenüber der nächsten unerwarteten Krise widerstandsfähiger zu werden?

Jutta Paulus: Die Leute sagen mir oft, dass es eine schlechte Zeit für Europa ist. Die Mitgliedstaaten gehen ihre eigenen Wege und streiten untereinander. Wo können wir Hoffnung finden? Robert Schuman erkannte vor 70 Jahren, als die allgemeine Stimmung nach einem Krieg mit Millionen von Opfern und den Gräueltaten im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland sicherlich nicht besser war als heute, dass wir nur durch Zusammenarbeit aus Krisen hervorgehen können. Angesichts des Klimas und der Krise der biologischen Vielfalt wird es nicht ausreichen, allein mitzumischen. Sie müssen nur in die USA schauen, um zu sehen, wie weit „mein Land zuerst“ Sie bringt.

Renda Básica e preparação para pandemia

Ao pensarmos em construir sociedades que possam estar prontas para pandemias e resistentes a choques, a renda básica precisa fazer parte desse cenário. A insegurança e as dificuldades causadas pelas consequências econômicas da crise do COVID-19 levaram a necessidade da renda básica emergencial. A proposta pode ser vital para as pessoas em muitas situações diferentes: fora do mercado de trabalho, microempreendedores ou trabalhadores em condições insalubres. Para além do contexto de crise de saúde, a necessidade de uma renda básica universal permanente se torna mais forte.

Winston Churchill é frequentemente lembrado pela frase de que não se deve desperdiçar uma boa crise. Embora a pandemia do COVID-19 force, compreensivelmente, nossa atenção para o imediato aqui e agora, é oportuno refletir também sobre como nossa situação atual afetará nossas relações e estruturas sociais no futuro. Áreas da vida que por muito tempo pareciam intocáveis ​​estão subitamente abertas a questionamentos, a medida que as fraquezas e desigualdades nos sistemas atuais são colocadas em primeiro plano. Em particular, a incerteza e insegurança contribui para as pressões que muitas pessoas estão enfrentando, minando as tentativas de retardar a propagação da doença devido à necessidade financeira de permanecer no trabalho.

No início de maio, 88 países em todo o mundo anunciaram 130 políticas de transferência de renda como parte da resposta a pandemia, representando quase o dobro do número de programas existentes pré-COVID. A maioria das políticas é temporária, com duração média de três meses. Cerca de um quarto das políticas oferece apenas uma transferência única. Previsivelmente, essas transferências são fortemente direcionadas aos trabalhadores registrados e ainda existem lacunas de cobertura dos informais. Um efeito imediato das consequências sociais e econômicas da resposta global a pandemia é um aumento repentino no apoio cívico, midiático e político a Renda Básica Emergencial (RBE). Desde pedidos do Primeiro Ministro da Escócia para que o Reino Unido dedique orçamento para fazer a política, petições pan-europeias para a ideia ou até a empolgação da mídia pela proposta de renda mínima do governo espanhol (não uma renda básica), é claro que a ideia mudou-se para o centro do debate político em toda a Europa.

Renda básica emergencial: falha, mas ainda essencial

A ideia é bastante simples. No momento em que uma parcela significativa da força de trabalho é forçada a ficar em casa e indivíduos e famílias, assim como pequenas empresas, sofrem dificuldades econômicas, a assistência do governo deve abordar diretamente o problema mais urgente – a perda de renda. A renda básica emergencial é um instrumento desse tipo: oferece assistência imediata em dinheiro (sem atrasos ou atrasos devido a verificações de elegibilidade), tem como alvo os mais vulneráveis ​​à crise econômica (mesmo um pagamento universal tem o maior impacto sobre os mais desfavorecidos) e aumenta a solidariedade durante a pandemia, oferecendo um mecanismo de compartilhamento de encargos que compensa aqueles que perderam oportunidades de trabalho ou de negócios e os trabalhadores essenciais que continuam a prestar serviços a todos nós, sob considerável risco pessoal. Uma vantagem crítica da proposta é que ela cobriria não apenas aqueles que trabalham em empregos comuns, mas também ofereceria apoio urgente de renda a trabalhadores independentes, precariamente empregados e com pessoas empregadas em cuidados a idosos ou crianças – paradoxalmente, em muitos casos, agora considerados “trabalhadores essenciais”.

É necessário pensar nas respostas políticas para promover resiliência social e econômica, preparando a sociedade para uma pandemia.

A proposta da RBE tem várias desvantagens, no entanto. A primeira é que é essencialmente uma medida temporária, destinada a cobrir o período de graves consequências econômicas provocadas pelas medidas de bloqueio. A suposição é que a RBE seria uma resposta de curto prazo para vários meses. Mas ainda existe uma séria incerteza quanto ao tempo que as consequências econômicas durarão; economistas preveem que o COVID-19 nos levará à crise econômica mais grave desde os anos 30 e assim o impacto, especialmente nos membros mais vulneráveis ​​e desfavorecidos de nossa sociedade, pode se estender anos além do prazo inicialmente previsto. Essa incerteza mina o impulso a segurança que uma RBE deve trazer – a tentação dos governos de limitar o apoio a medidas de curto prazo reduz a crença de que o apoio de longo prazo estará disponível quando mais necessário. Além disso, à medida que a economia se restabelecer, seja qual for o “novo normal”, os efeitos remanescentes serão sentidos de maneira muito diferente por indivíduos e grupos diferentes. Alguns podem achar suas vidas restauradas para algo semelhante à sua qualidade anterior, mas muitos enfrentarão dificuldades contínuas e enfrentarão difícil período assim que o apoio se esgotar.

Uma segunda desvantagem é que os pedidos atuais de uma RBE enfrentam obstáculos práticos e políticos em um momento em que são necessárias medidas imediatas com urgência. Os obstáculos políticos são óbvios e familiares para quem defendeu a renda básica em tempos pré-pandêmicos. Mesmo em um momento em que os trabalhadores são efetivamente forçados a reduzir horas ou desistir de seus empregos, a resposta instintiva dos políticos a benefícios universais é se opor a dar “dinheiro aos preguiçosos” e insistir em confiar nos programas existentes, independentemente de quão adequados ao seu objetivo estejam nas atuais condições de crise. Existem obstáculos práticos que impedem a implementação imediata de uma RBE. Em muitos países, é mais fácil dizer do que fazer para assegurar que cada indivíduo esteja em um registro que lhes dá direito à Renda Básica, especialmente em uma situação em que a capacidade burocrática está sob forte tensão. O mesmo se aplica ao mecanismo de entrega da RBE, tendo em mente o número surpreendentemente grande de indivíduos sem contas bancárias ou domicílio fixo. Esses são obstáculos práticos que podem ser superados com o tempo, mas o tempo é precisamente o que vale mais no meio da pandemia do COVID-19.

Em suma, a RBE é uma boa ideia e uma ferramenta potencialmente vital em uma resposta abrangente a pandemia, mas a introdução imediata não é possível de acontecer em muitas jurisdições. Mas vamos pensar no futuro por um momento. O COVID-19 pegou o mundo de surpresa, apesar de autoridades de saúde pública, epidemiologistas e muitos outros nos alertarem por muitos anos sobre a possibilidade de um cenário de pandemia e suas consequências sociais e econômicas desastrosas. Em grande parte devido ao nosso contínuo relacionamento destrutivo com o meio ambiente e nossa organização social altamente conectada, os mesmos profissionais preveem que o COVID-19 é apenas o primeiro – e, de fato, nem o primeiro, pense em SARS e MERS – em uma longa linha de epidemias virais. Isso significa que precisamos pensar no futuro em termos de preparação e reconhecer que o novo normal pode ser um mundo em que o tipo de choque econômico que experimentamos hoje provavelmente ocorrerá novamente – possivelmente mais cedo do que o esperado e possivelmente na forma de um doença ainda mais mortal e destrutiva. É necessário, portanto, pensar nas respostas políticas que promovam a resiliência social e econômica e a preparação para pandemia. Resiliência é garantir que a sociedade mantenha a capacidade de responder adequadamente ao choque repentino de uma pandemia viral. Políticas resilientes garantirão que as necessidades humanas urgentes continuem sendo atendidas durante a crise da pandemia de uma maneira que reflita os principais valores sociais – compaixão, justiça, solidariedade.

Renda básica como ferramenta para resiliência e prontidão

A renda básica teria um papel importante em termos de promoção da resiliência social e econômica como parte da política de preparação para uma pandemia. Podemos pensar na renda básica e preparação para pandemia de duas maneiras. Uma maneira pela qual a sociedade pode se tornar mais resiliente é se preparar para implementar uma RBE assim que a situação o exigir. Isso significa ter os debates políticos necessários agora, e não no meio da próxima crise. A atual experiência de crise significa que os políticos e outras partes interessadas estão muito atentos à necessidade de um programa robusto de apoio econômico. Os méritos da RBE neste contexto podem ser debatidos antecipadamente e a legislação que permite desencadear sua introdução em um contexto de pandemia pode ser votada. Além disso, os aspectos práticos da preparação da sociedade para a introdução urgente da RBE, quando necessário, podem ser abordados com bastante antecedência, com a tomada de decisões apropriadas sobre como executar a medida em um momento de menor atuação da força de trabalho.

Há uma estratégia mais forte a considerar, no entanto. A melhor maneira de preparar a sociedade para a pandemia é instituir uma renda básica adequada e permanente: uma pequena renda mensal paga em dinheiro a todos os indivíduos sem contrapartida. Ter uma renda básica real já existente evita a necessidade de debate político ou a busca de soluções para as preocupações de implementação no meio de uma crise. Pode ser que comecemos com uma política com renda básica de menor valor que precisa ser aumentado para um nível muito mais alto no meio da crise da pandemia, mas isso exigiria apenas uma decisão política sobre o financiamento enquanto o próprio instrumento estiver prontamente disponível. Encontramos um exemplo real dessa estratégia no Brasil. No início de 2020, o município de Maricá, perto do Rio de Janeiro, já havia instituído uma renda básica mensal no valor de 130  reais para cerca de 42.000 residentes – não exatamente uma renda universal, porém com 25% da população coberta e planeja expandir ao longo do tempo uma aproximação aproximada do ideal de renda básica. Assim que o COVID-19 atingiu Maricá, foi construído com base no esquema de renda básica existente e agora está pagando aos mesmos indivíduos 300 reais como parte da resposta a uma pandemia de emergência. A experiência de Maricá oferece um excelente exemplo de como podemos implementar uma resposta rápida em tempo real a uma emergência, desenvolvendo um esquema pré-existente.

O aumento da confiança e da solidariedade também seria uma característica essencial para a construção de resiliência em sistemas políticos que atualmente estão sob o fio do populismo, da polarização e do partidarismo.

Ter uma renda básica em vigor aumenta a resiliência de muitas outras maneiras. Os efeitos da segurança econômica na saúde pública já estão bem documentados e provavelmente serão ainda maiores sob o estresse adicional de uma crise de pandemia. A existência e a experiência de um piso de renda garantirá que indivíduos e famílias entrem em uma possível crise de pandemia – incluindo restrições prolongadas de bloqueio – muito melhor preparados e menos preocupados com sua segurança econômica. A expectativa de assegurar renda terá um impacto positivo crítico no estresse e na saúde mental, tanto no início quanto durante uma crise de pandemia. A existência de um piso de segurança econômica também provavelmente aumentará as relações sociais, aumentando a confiança e a solidariedade, que novamente é um recurso crítico para lidar com uma pandemia no nível da comunidade. O aumento da confiança e da solidariedade também seria uma característica essencial para a construção de resiliência em sistemas políticos que atualmente estão sob o fio do populismo, da polarização e do partidarismo.

Neste período do COVID-19, muitos governos ao redor do mundo estão implementando transferências de renda de curto prazo, embora principalmente voltadas para os trabalhadores formais e muitas vezes falhando em cobrir trabalhadores informais e microempreendedores. Essas abordagens direcionadas de curto prazo não podem oferecer a resiliência e segurança de longo prazo que a renda básica pode e daria, mas abrem uma janela única de oportunidade para defender a renda básica. Os governos precisam criar as condições que nos permitam não apenas sobreviver à crise atual, mas também reconstruir sociedades mais fortes para prosperar no futuro. Desenvolvendo agora a estrutura para uma renda básica permanente, criamos uma base que nos preparará melhor para futuras pandemias.

The Green Surge in the French Locals Explained

Local elections in France this June augured change in the political landscape as Greens celebrated major gains in key cities. The Green surge unequivocally signals widespread discontent with French President Macron’s slide to the centre-right and the unwavering dominance of climate issues despite (or even because of) the COVID-19 pandemic. Ahead of the 2022 presidential elections, the challenge for Greens will be to consolidate their credibility by building successful green-left alliances and bridging the ecological and the social so as to leave none behind.

On June 28, the Greens of Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV) confirmed their role as change makers in French politics.

The second round of the local elections saw Green-led coalitions win key French cities including Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Besançon, Tours, and Poitiers. With Greens in the executives of 15 of the 30 biggest French cities, they are now a central political force in France. 

The results were heralded as a “green wave”, something now clear from the numbers and electoral maps that have since emerged. It is true that voter turnout plummeted to around 40 per cent due to the coronavirus crisis. It is also true that the centre-right Republicans managed to hold around half of the French cities with over 9000 inhabitants, and that the Socialists remain the leading force in Rennes, Nantes, Lille, and Paris.

Now over 1.9 million French citizens (out of a total 67 million) have a registered Green mayor and the party can count on over a 1000 affiliated local officials (most of France’s 600 000 council officials are unaffiliated). Those numbers may look small, but the Greens have the political momentum.

A primary factor in the Green victory is French President Emmanuel Macron’s definitive shift to the centre right. His centrist-liberal party, La République en Marche (LREM), lost its core voters: city-centre residents and the highly educated. Almost all of LREM’s candidates underperformed and failed to impress voters by teaming up with the Republicans in an effort to block Green candidates. “Most Macron voters refused to join the Right in Bordeaux or Strasbourg. This strategy from the anti-climate bloc failed as Macron’s electorate [at the 2017 French presidential election] remained social-democrat,” explained Simon Persico, a political scientist at Sciences Po Grenoble in a phone interview.

Yet the centre-right’s anti-climate campaign was not necessarily against all ecological aspirations. From new transport infrastructure to bike lanes and planting tens of thousands of trees, environmental pledges were recurrent talking points in the campaign, including for centre-right candidates. But liberal and conservative forces fearmongered by portraying Green candidates as the far left in disguise.

If the Greens positioned themselves on the left of the political spectrum, most of their candidates (aside from their activists) were former local civil society figures, ordinary citizens, or from other left-wing parties in localities where they decided to run on a united Left ticket.

Elections in times of COVID-19

The fearmongering of the centrist and right-wing parties was doomed to fail in a campaign that took place in the midst of a pandemic. Millions of voters were locked down, but they were not shut down. Their support for action on climate and the environment did not diminish, and now they want to see rapid steps taken at all levels.  

According to Simon Persico and Florent Gougou in Le Monde op-ed, the confinement even allowed organisations and intellectuals to link the health, social and ecological crises in reflections on the post-pandemic world.

This ability to swiftly change gears during the lockdown (which came into force days after the first round of the elections on March 15) was also a sign that the Green mayors were not new to the scene. The new mayor of Bordeaux, Pierre Hurmic, was a candidate for the job back in 1995. Besançon’s new leader, Anne Vignot, was the deputy mayor of the city’s left-leaning majority from 2014 (though the outgoing mayor became affiliated to LREM after the 2017 presidential election). Bruno Bernard, the new president of the Lyon Metropolitan council, has been in politics since 2008.

According to Margot Belair, the health crisis has also reshuffled some of the pledges at the top of their agenda – such as food checks to supply low-income families with local organic food to compensate for the extra expense of daily meals for their children due to school canteen closures.

Meanwhile, mayor of Grenoble Eric Piolle, the only Green leader of a large French city before the elections,  was re-elected in a landslide victory with 53 per cent of the vote (he faced off three other candidates in the second round, all of whom won less than 23 per cent). 

“It’s somehow a new beginning. We’re not starting from scratch but being re-elected will bring new momentum and new priorities”, said Margot Belair, a newly elected Grenoble official. She embraces a “more radical” approach with a stronger focus on social issues that will require significant citizen involvement on, for instance, making public spaces near schools safer and traffic free. According to Belair, the health crisis has also reshuffled some of the pledges at the top of their agenda – such as food checks to supply low-income families with local organic food to compensate for the extra expense of daily meals for their children due to school canteen closures. “Food is at the heart of a lot of things, like our health; it highlights social inequalities but is also important for local economic development”, she added. 

Making the case for strong local economies helped boost the Greens’ credibility in the campaign. Lyon’s new leaders, Grégory Doucet (for the city) and Bruno Bernard (for the metropolitan area) promote a new innovation cluster for the biking industry, while the youngest of the new Green mayors, 30-year-old Léonore Moncond’huy from Poitiers, advocates closing the city’s airport with a view to re-investing the generous local subsidies used to keep it afloat in the local economy. After all, Poitiers (and its 88 000 residents) is less than a two-hour journey from Paris by high-speed train.

The fight is far from over

Local executives are now taking shape, and by the end of July we should know if they have managed to change the tide in metropolitan councils. These bodies group big cities and their suburbs and are key to implementing green policies in areas like transport, housing, infrastructure, and waste management. Important yet little known, the biggest metropolitan councils manage annual budgets of over 1 billion euros, higher than the budgets of city councils.

The newly elected Greens may find themselves at odds with the mayors of smaller cities and villages with other political leanings. Majorities could be slim and fragile, which might curb or moderate their ambitions. The suburbs often headed by centre-right figures (or independent mayors for small villages) are likely to resist putting a break on road developments and big infrastructure projects. They are also wary of a Green agenda that is sceptical of urban sprawl (for them a source of tax revenue, especially for villages that lack strong economic activities) and in favour of scrapping new shopping centres and tackling high car dependence in areas outside of city centres.

Having the metropolitan areas on board will be key for the Greens to avoid what many fear may be their downfall: failing to reconcile the urban-rural divide.

While talks are ongoing, the metropolitan areas of Tours, Strasbourg, Poitiers and Besançon may end up with leadership from centre-left local figures. Eric Piolle is hoping for a friendlier metropolitan executive after his allies won cities in Grenoble’s suburbs, firming up his green-led majority. The Green success in Lyon (the only city where metropolitan councilors are directly elected) was matched by the Printemps Marseillais coalition with a historic gain from the conservatives in Marseilles city, though they proved unable to unseat the Right in the metropolitan area. 

Having the metropolitan areas on board will be key for the Greens to avoid what many fear may be their downfall: failing to reconcile the urban-rural divide. Will they able to green cities with parks, better transport, and new ways of thinking about public space without antagonising middle-class suburbs that feel left behind and beyond the reach of the social changes green politics can bring? 

In an article in Libération, philosopher Pierre Charbonnier summed up the challenge for the new Green cities: “will they confine themselves to a space which is disconnected from its surroundings, with a population that closes its eyes to the fate of its neighbors, or will they engage in a process of social and ecological decompartmentalisation?”

Going solo: a strategy doomed to failure

One thing is certain: if the ecological transition neglects social aspects, it will endanger Greens’ electoral success. This is the big challenge that lies ahead, both ideologically and in terms of local policies. Most of the newly elected officials will have to quickly learn how to govern cities while building and maintaining coalitions with the myriad of French leftist parties.

Some form of environmentalism may now be widely found in left-leaning parties in France, but Green aides and officials have pointed to the key importance of highlighting social issues and widening the voter base to include less educated people or poorer districts in order to avoid a new “yellow vests” movement. The spark for the yellow vests protests was Macron’s proposal to raise fuel duty while cutting taxes for the highest earners. Many have also suggested that the temptation of rejecting alliances in favour of “going solo” would not be a good strategy.

“No party has the monopoly of ecology, no party has the monopoly of the Left, no party has the monopoly of the opposition, or of insubordination,” asserted a group of young, left-wing political activists in Journal du Dimanche. Their op-ed came with a warning: if the Greens have become the new alternative to liberalism and conservatism, they must resist “hegemonic temptations” – to which the Socialist Party succumbed for decades, and which la France Insoumise, the left-wing party led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has flirted with since the 2017 presidential election. “The roadmap is clear: we must take power. And the conditions for seizing power are also clear: scattered and divided, we will not succeed,” the young activists added. 

Looking to 2021, local elections (for départements and regions) will confirm whether Greens are able to become the leading force on the Left, either by putting Green activists in power or helping to build successful alliances with a transformative ecological agenda. Further successes will boost hopes for a united Left ahead of the 2022 presidential elections, and may even manage to win over citizens mistrustful of politics or disillusioned by Macron’s failure to change French politics for the better.

Many factors, including a potential second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in autumn 2020, will decide whether a convergence between issues of ecology and solidarity is possible.

New ideas to fortify the Left and secure the centrality of ecology in this process are also being put forth. The new mayor of Tours, Emmanuel Denis, has floated the idea of a congress in his city in December 2020.

According to Ludovic Lepeltier-Kutasi, the mayor’s chief of staff, the congress will aim “regroup the Left and link ecology and social justice.” The last Tours Congress took place a century ago in December 1920 and has come to symbolise the split between Communists and Socialists. “We want to bring a European dimension as we’re not the only ones to ask such questions. We must overcome national differences. Europe is not only its treaties,” added Lepeltier-Kutasi, who also holds a Hungarian passport and previously lived in Budapest.

Many factors, including a potential second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in autumn 2020, will decide whether a convergence between issues of ecology and solidarity is possible. But climate change and the fate of our planet are not going anywhere. The day after the June 2020 elections, Macron approved most of the over 140 proposals of the Citizens’ Convention on Climate Change. These overwhelmingly endorsed bold reforms to limit urban sprawl, invest massively in green jobs, and stop short plane routes (equivalent to less than a 4-hour train journey) by 2025. A referendum could take place on those proposals in 2021. 

Will it be enough for the youngest ever French president to win back his core voters? Macron’s bet is he will be the only alternative to the far-right candidacy of Marine Le Pen, allowing him to both speak to his left on climate while expanding to his right (after all, the new French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, was previously an aide to the former and very conservative president Nicholas Sarkozy). But as no Green nor any centre-left figures were successfully poached by Macron during the July government reshuffle, the French Greens find themselves faced with a clear opportunity to consolidate their position.

The End of Neoliberal Ideology

Are government responses to the coronavirus crisis across the globe evidence that neoliberalism’s days are numbered? Already on the rocks since 2008, its ideological offer no longer poses a credible route out of our multiple crises. Igor Matutinovic explains the neoliberal worldview and its social and ecological consequences. From pandemics to growing inequalities and climate breakdown, the complex problems of our times call for new solutions.

With the US Congress approving up to 3 trillion dollars of federal spending on Covid-19 relief and the EU proposing 750 billion euros on post-pandemic economic recovery, neoliberalism – with its emphasis on the market and minimal state interference – may seem increasingly irrelevant. Two massive state interventions in the economy, first after the 2008 financial crisis and now once more, surely must mean the end of neoliberalism’s already shaky ideological sway. History shows, however, that powerful ideas die hard. Even when they collapse, they are never entirely extinct, especially if taught at universities as uncontested truths. But can we afford to leave the next pandemic to the private health sector? As Yanis Varoufakis has pointed out, it has done little in the current pandemic. Or is it time to reinforce the public health system and the social safety nets in order to make future crises less severe? Before addressing visions of a better future, a critical review of the principles of neoliberalism and their consequences must take place.

The history of an ideology

Neoliberalism has evolved since the end of World War II as an entangled set of values, beliefs, theoretical concepts, political orientations, and vested interests. Its origins trace back to the Mont-Pelerin Society founded by Friedrich von Hayek in 1947, which brought together renowned scholars such as Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Karl Popper. These thinkers were motivated by fear of communist, state-controlled, non-democratic societies. As Victor Shammas observed, “the Mont-Pelerin Society was committed to quasi-evangelical proselytism of the market creed.” Its members saw danger in government power and expansion. Their belief in the supremacy of markets and distrust in government harks back to classical liberal economists such as Adam Smith. Smith considered that the state should play the role of the “night watchman”, not intervening in the economic process and merely enforcing contracts between economic subjects. However, as Eric Hobsbawm put it, “neoliberalism was a reduction ad absurdum of Adam Smith’s ideas.”[1]

One of the major neoliberal contradictions lies in the belief that the market economy is in itself stable, a view shared by monetarists such as Milton Friedman, and orthodox economists more generally. The historical experience of recurrent recessions and financial crises, which invariably lead to state intervention, points to the contrary. Friedman’s attitude towards freedom was central to his commitment to neoliberalism. He once stated: “If the free-market economy were not the most efficient system, I would even then want it – because of the values it stands for: freedom of choice, facing challenges, taking risks.”[2] But the idea that neoliberalism is about risk-taking is undermined by the repeated systemic reliance on the state for bailouts and stimulus packages. Neoliberals do not oppose state intervention when it funnels taxpayer money to cover economy-wide private sector losses. Afterwards, however, they invariably ask governments to move away and shrink social and welfare expenditures to foot the bill. This inconsistency serves the corporate sector’s interest. Pseudo-scientific libertarian think-tanks can be relied upon to make the case for policies – from income tax reductions to banking deregulation – that benefit this tiny but powerful minority.

[…] social behaviour is simply seen as the sum total of the actions of many individuals; it is not understood as part of a coherent political or social system.

Neoliberal tenets such as public choice, rational choice, supply-side economics, and monetarism are taught to the business and political elites as part of the standard curricula of mainstream economics. These theories are based on absurd assumptions that Adam Smith would never have entertained, such as the idea that humans operate like rational, egoistic agents who maximise their self-interest from a stable set of preferences and act based on perfect information. These assumptions are applied across the board, to consumers, entrepreneurs, voters, legislators, bureaucrats, and even couples considering marriage. Aggregate social behaviour is simply seen as the sum total of the actions of many individuals; it is not understood as part of a coherent political or social system. A famous quote from Margaret Thatcher exemplifies this mindset: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families”. Where there is no society, there is no social solidarity, no common goals or aspirations, much less responsibilities towards future generations or the environment on which we depend. What is left is purposeless economic growth and individual wealth accumulation for the few. Until, that is, the next crisis when government and taxpayer money are discovered once more. Private sector bailouts followed by austerity: this is the political platform of neoliberalism, concealed behind false promises of self-regulating markets and the technicalities of an obsolete monetary theory. 

In the past 40 years, neoliberal ideology has enabled the financialisation of the economy and financial sector deregulation. The economy is more unstable and corporate investments have dropped. It has led to decreasing productivity and growth rates, the shrinking of public sector services, the growth of public debt, a sharp rise in insecure work, and an upsurge of income inequality. As the current pandemic crisis reveals, it has created an extremely weak private sector in terms of capital reserves. Many businesses cannot withstand two months of inactivity without largescale layoffs and government aid. With neoliberalism, capitalism may have touched its lowest levels of resilience. A question immediately arises: how has it managed to survive so long? Robert Kuttner offers a plausible answer: “neoliberal theory lived on because it was so convenient for elites, and because of the inertial power of the intellectual capital that had been created.” The disappearance of countervailing ideologies after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequent damage to socialist ideas and left-wing parties certainly played a part too.

A recipe for disaster

We live in a world that is pressing on its biophysical boundaries, especially regarding climate change and biodiversity loss. Continuous human expansion into natural habitats and species extinction are opening the door for the transmission of new pathogens, such as Covid-19. These diseases challenge both health systems and our everyday lives. Extreme income inequality – both between and within nations – is unravelling the social fabric and undermining global stability. Massive investments in infrastructure, welfare, health, and education systems are needed to face these problems in an effective manner. We must rethink our relationship with nature, our lifestyles, and our values more generally. Imagine confronting all these unprecedented challenges with an ideology that makes no room for society, that leaves the future to the whims of markets, and that is committed to unbridled economic growth.

By rejecting the reality of society, neoliberalism fails to recognise sociality as the fundamental property of human species. We did not survive as isolated and selfish individuals lumped in abstract groups but on the contrary as members of culturally distinct communities bound together with common values, beliefs, and a sense of belonging. An individual becomes genuinely human only through socialisation, and this never takes place at the level of a nuclear family alone. All significant human accomplishments have a social base: from the use of fire to the Moon landing, from the Neolithic revolution to complex industrial societies. Our gravest aberrations and pathologies – from common warfare motivated by plunder to the Holocaust tragedy – also happen at the societal level. The idea that there is no society does not stand up to scrutiny and is no base for sound economic and public policy.

Imagine confronting all these unprecedented challenges with an ideology that makes no room for society, that leaves the future to the whims of markets, and that is committed to unbridled economic growth.

The premise of methodological individualism – where group dynamics arise spontaneously from individual properties alone – fails to recognise that, in complex systems, new organisational levels bring emergent properties, which cannot be predicted from the characteristics of individual agents. Apart from our biologically innate cognitive abilities and instinctive behaviours, all other non-trivial skills are formed through socialisation. Individuals are embedded in and shaped by our constitutive societies: our behaviour is constrained by institutions, values, and beliefs that arise at the higher hierarchical level, that of society. Societies, not individuals, face and manage large-scale crises, from natural disasters and pandemics to climate change.

Addressing climate change, which concerns many future generations in many distinct societies around the world, depends on the concept of society and a vision of a common future. Indeed, we need to move one level up, transcend the interests of our local societies and think in terms of our species and as one interconnected global society. The much-needed investment in climate mitigation and adaptation should not be bound by arbitrary debt ratios or the recourse to private markets when other, more rational means to finance public spending are available. Using neoliberal ideology to address the challenges that lie ahead would be like facing a bear armed with a needle.

After neoliberalism?

If neoliberal ideology is descending rapidly into the dustbin of history, what will replace it? For sure, many of its ideas will linger on in the graduate courses of neoclassical economics, the public musings of orthodox economists, and the rhetoric of conservative politicians. Yet the past decade has seen a reignition of alternative ideas in heterodox economics, from Keynesianism and old institutionalism to ecological economics.

These new ideas will likely be compatible with the political orientations of social democratic and green parties. A generation of political economists like Mariana Mazzucato is breaking with long-established dogmas to supply fresh thinking about the importance of the government for the climate crisis, income inequality, and building a good society. Her work focuses on shaping the new economy – one that works for the common good – by the state taking the “economy on a mission”, instead of abiding by the passive and minimal role imposed on it by neoliberalism.[3] She is not alone in such thinking. Other unorthodox economists such as Ha-Joon Chang have argued that the best way for the government to keep the economy stable, equitable, and dynamic is to build a stronger welfare state, properly regulate the financial sector, and set industrial policy.[4] In the context of industrial policy for sustainability, for example, the government would define social priorities, such as the shift to a circular economy, and then streamline the private sector so as to accomplish them. Guided by the state, the private sector would have two key functions: first, to self-organise around fulfilling specific needs and objectives as set by industrial strategy, and second, to generate the innovations under the joint stimulus of subsidies and competitive processes. Where necessary, the government can step in with investment, ownership, or the funding of primary research.

[…] we need competent governments with efficient and widely accessible public institutions and services.

In dealing with complex problems such as climate change, income inequality, or lockdowns, we need competent governments with efficient and widely accessible public institutions and services. Markets are too narrowly focused and short-term oriented to respond to such challenges. They can act as distributed problem-solving systems but cannot provide society with an orientation, contrary to free-market orthodoxy.

Another unorthodox economist and proponent of the Modern Monetary Theory is Stephanie Kelton. Kelton, who advised Bernie Sanders’s US presidential campaign, is overturning common understandings about the limits of government debt by relating public spending to “potential GDP” and real resource constraints. The argument is that if a national economy has available resources – human, capital, and natural – they can be immediately put to use to meet societal priorities without creating inflationary pressure (that is, staying within potential GDP). For example, under the Money-Financed Fiscal Program, the central bank can credit the Treasury with new money, or the government can increase its debt by issuing bonds. The central bank agrees to buy and hold the bonds indefinitely, rebating any interest received to the Treasury. In both cases, there is no burden of future debt repayment nor the need for future tax increases. This policy was not possible in preindustrial societies where any new issuance of coinage would bump immediately against the technical impossibility to increase output and thus result invariably in inflation. Today’s highly productive, technology-based societies do not face the same limits. There is no need to create a formal debt nor to be constrained by arbitrary debt-to-GDP ratios in pursuing policies for the common good. There is only the resource constraint. Accepting this view may be one of the major game-changers in solving pressing problems such as climate change, which require timely, large-scale investments and broad political support.

There is no resource constraint to prevent starting the Green New Deal for Europe tomorrow.

The resources needed to confront the pandemic-induced recession in the short term and the climate crisis in the long term are at hand. There is no resource constraint to prevent starting the Green New Deal for Europe tomorrow. In April 2020, the EU capacity utilisation in industry stood at 70.1 per cent and in the past 25 years, it never went above 85 per cent, meaning that there is sufficient spare capacity to absorb new government spending without pushing up inflation. Imposing austerity policies in today’s situation would be without sound economic basis. It would be patently counterproductive, with the only likely consequence being to push voters into the arms of the populist right – as happened after the 2008-2009 recession – and thus undermine the future of the EU. We cannot forget the fatal mistakes of 20th-century nationalism yet.

The leaders of a large portion of the corporate sector, like those gathered around the US Business Roundtable, are publicly rejecting one of the pillars of neoliberal ideology – that of serving the interests of shareholders only – and expressing their commitment to all of their stakeholders. Another large group of companies, worth a combined 2.4 trillion dollars and based mostly in Europe, have added their voice to a growing chorus calling for the economic recovery from the coronavirus to be green. These, as well as other initiatives, show that the private sector is ready for change. Governments have to use this opportunity to move towards sustainable and just economies and the Social Democrats, the Greens, and other progressive parties on the Left should take the lead.

Neoliberal ideology did not originate as a spontaneous evolution of capitalism. It is an intellectual construct, based on bad science, that arose under specific political circumstances in the aftermath of World War II. It spread into the political arena through influential economists at a particular historical moment in the late 1970s. Its fathers are long dead, and it is time for us to put it under the tombstone of history.

Footnotes

[1] Eric Hobsbawm (2011). How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism. London: Little, Brown.

[2] S. K. Sarkar (2012). The Crises of Capitalism: A Different Study of Political Economy. Counterpoint Press.

[3] Mariana Mazzucato (2018). The Value of Everything. London: Penguin.

[4] Ha-Joon Chang (2012). 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. USA: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Agroecology as the Answer to Global Food and Climate Crises

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the fragility of today’s global food systems, and the risk of a food crisis is higher than ever. Yet the failures of industrial food production have long been clear, manifest in persistent global hunger and malnutrition as well as environmental destruction that is driving the climate and biodiversity crises. Faced with this, agroecology is an alternative on the rise. Doina Popusoi traces agroecology’s evolution and argues that the moment is now to redefine our food systems around principles of sustainability and justice.

The last decade has seen agroecology become one of the most notable topics in discussions about the future of food and agriculture. It has gained popularity among farmers in different regions of the world; been mainstreamed in university curricula; been researched by different organisations and institutions (including the UN); and been employed by governments searching for more sustainable agricultural policies. Through agroecology, societies benefit from local circular economies that increase producers’ income and from reducing the negative environmental impacts of agriculture. By creating synergetic natural ecosystems, agroecology unlocks positive interactions, thereby reducing the need for harmful and expensive chemicals. As the need for a sustainable food system becomes ever more critical, agroecology is rising up the global agenda through international institutions and in farming practice.

A holistic approach to agriculture

Agroecology’s roots go back the 1920s and 1930s when scientists Karl Klages and Basil Bensin defined it as applying ecological principles to agriculture.[1] In the 1980s, Stephen Gliessman and Miguel Altieri – the pioneers of modern agroecology – carried on the debate by centring traditional and diverse agro-ecosystems in debates on sustainable farming in the US and Latin America. Parallel to this, Cuban universities in the 1990s developed the concept of “food sovereignty” which would guide grassroots organisations to overcome the so-called Green Revolution of 20th-century industrial food production through an agroecological transformation of farming systems. 

Gliessman describes agroecology today as “the integration of research, education, action and change that brings sustainability to all parts of the food system: ecological, economic, and social.” He adds that it is transdisciplinary in valuing all forms of food systems knowledge and experience, and participatory in “the involvement of all stakeholders from the farm to the table and everyone in between.” Finally, it is action-oriented because “it confronts the economic and political power structures of the current industrial food system with alternative social structures and policy action.” Agroecology has therefore evolved in this way to become a holistic approach to agriculture and food systems in their entirety. 

Gliessman describes agroecology today as “the integration of research, education, action and change that brings sustainability to all parts of the food system: ecological, economic, and social.”

Today’s global food systems are unsustainable, from their negative environmental impact to their general failure to produce a plentiful supply of healthy and safe nutrition. Despite decades of dialogue on tackling global warming, greenhouse gas emissions keep growing, as outlined in the UN’s 2019 report on climate. Considerable measures are still needed to meet the Paris Agreement limit of a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise. According to the report, agriculture is responsible for 23 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions through its exhaustive agricultural production and unsustainable land use. This includes large-scale monocultural cultivation, intensive livestock and fisheries production, deforestation, and more – all of which lead to soil degradation and natural resources depletion, provoking loss of biodiversity and weakening our ecosystems.

Meanwhile, it is undeniable that global hunger has been reduced with impressive results in the last decades. But while increased yields in the last 50 years have succeeded in providing enough food supply, persistent hunger and malnutrition continue to be a key problem – and one which has grown between 2015 and 2019, according to the latest available data. 820 million people worldwide are exposed to chronic hunger and undernourishment according to the most recent UN report on global hunger based on 2018 data.

Agroecology has the potential to reverse these trends by using a systemic approach, as defined through the Ten Elements of Agroecology approved by the Council of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Applying agroecological principles can reverse biodiversity loss and enhance the resilience of ecosystems to climatic shocks.[2] Integrating crops, livestock, and fisheries within diversified farming systems would help producers overcome reliance on harmful chemical inputs, thus avoiding both their severe consequences on human health and their extortionate cost, which the rural poor simply cannot bear. The application of agroecological methods to agriculture is the most promising strategy to support smallholders – responsible for 80 per cent of global food production – in producing healthy and nutritious food for all. Importantly, agroecology responds to the urgency of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 articulated in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This agricultural approach alone directly covers more than half of the SDGs, and it positively affects all of them. 

Evolution in the international arena

During the 1980s, social movements around the world started mobilising to counter the Green Revolution agenda that for a decade had been guiding global agriculture towards industrialisation. They proposed an agricultural transformation that recognised farmers as central pillars for a fair food production. La Via Campesina, one of the largest movements fighting for food sovereignty since 1993, gathered around 200 million farmers from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America to affirm their rights to access land and seeds, and to promote agroecology as the way forward. Capable of creating a fair society in which women and men are equally recognised, agroecology represents the voice of peasants, fisher-folks, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples.

Along with La Via Campesina, many other international organisations, networks, and civil society organisations have shown support. Funders are also getting involved: the Global Alliance for Future of Food – a consortium of philanthropic private organisations – supports agroecology as a core solution to the transition to sustainable food systems. 

Capable of creating a fair society in which women and men are equally recognised, agroecology represents the voice of peasants, fisher-folks, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples.

Finally, agroecology has been widely endorsed by scientists and farmers’ organisations. Its unique ability to transform the whole food system and to reconcile the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability has been recognised by the World Bank, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and landmark publications such as the IPCC report on Climate Change and Land.

The role of the United Nations

The year 2014 was crucial for the “internationalisation” of agroecology, as the global community began to grasp its importance for food security and nutrition. FAO began running regional and international symposiums on how governments, policy-makers, scientists, and farmers could work together to transform food systems. Its Second International Symposium on Agroecology was particularly significant for highlighting how agroecology could help reduce poverty and achieve the SDGs. 

It kickstarted a dialogue on how to expand and upscale the practice by establishing the Scaling-up Agroecology Initiative. This brought together UN agencies with international organisations working on agriculture, food systems, and the environment, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), the World Bank, and Biodiversity International. It also offered support for national-level programmes that supported the transformation of food systems. Senegal, Mexico, and Nicaragua amongst others are currently developing such programmes, while the state of Andhra Pradesh in India has adopted the Zero Budget Natural Farming model, applied successfully to 580 000 farms.

IFAD, the UN financial institution investing in rural development, is particularly committed to promoting agroecology. Through a bottom-up process of consultation and dialogue, its Farmers’ Forum brings smallholder farmers and rural producers all over the world together with IFAD and its member states.

The 2020 Farmers’ Forum reaffirmed the will of the majority of farmers to engage in agroecology in order to combat climate change. IFAD amongst others is conducting a study to compare agroecology’s effectiveness in improving food security and nutrition in rural areas to other farming approaches. Similarly, the FAO’s Tool for Agroecology Performance Evaluation provides an instrument to assess the performance of agroecology.

The Committee on World Food Security 

In July 2019, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) released its report on agroecology and other innovative sustainable agriculture approaches. The Committee comes together every October to discuss food security and nutrition issues. The expert report analyses the diversity of sustainable agricultural innovations and calls for a profound agricultural transformation to combat hunger and malnutrition.

It describes agroecology as a “transdisciplinary science” oriented towards solving real global issues using reflexive, collaborative, and participative methods. Its social dimension means that besides being a science, agroecology is a set of non-prescribed practices that consider ecological processes and human values within agricultural production. As such, it safeguards family farming collective rights. 

The key word in the agroecological transformation is “innovation”, which must be responsible, democratic, and promote the “co-creation of knowledge”, a fundamental pillar of a cutting-edge agricultural transformation. Moreover, the report continues, innovative principles need to be applied at a local level and therefore adapted to different environmental and socio-economic contexts. Agroecology is by necessity a holistic vision, which sees the challenges in food systems as deeply interconnected and only tackled if addressed in a coordinated and comprehensive manner. This systemic approach can address all these challenges at the same time and unlock a paradigm shift at a food systems level.

Agroecology and sustainable agriculture innovations vary widely to suit distinct global, regional, and country contexts and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, the driving principle must be sustainability.

The report concludes with five sets of recommendations discussed during the Committee on World Food Security conference later that year in October 2019. Two strong positions emerged from the countries and organisations at the session. The first endorsed supporting innovative food systems based on agroecological approaches and was backed by the majority of Global South countries, such as Iran, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, as well as the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism and Switzerland. The second position, taken by some Global North countries such as the United States and Aust­­­ralia, the Private Sector Mechanism, and Brazil, was reluctant to focus on agroecological food systems alone, either considering it as one strategy amongst many, or eschewing it altogether in favour of technological solutions like biotechnology or precision agriculture. 

A more neutral position was taken by the EU, France, Spain, Hungary and China, which saw agroecology as a promising way to improve food systems. Thailand also recognised the potential while demanding – along with other countries – for more scientific evidence. 

Agroecology and sustainable agriculture innovations vary widely to suit distinct global, regional, and country contexts and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, the driving principle must be sustainability. At a time when food systems are unsustainable for the environment, economy, and society, such transitions are vital.

Time for an agroecological transformation

In a statement on the Covid-19 pandemic, the FAO warned of a “looming food crisis” if measures were not taken to mitigate the impact of border closures, quarantines, and global food supply chain disruption. “There is no need to panic”, it ended, “globally, there is enough food for everyone.”

We need to ask ourselves why hunger and malnutrition remains such an endemic, serious problem and what price we are paying for a developed Global North and an underdeveloped Global South, with inequalities growing on both sides. Our economic systems need to be rethought, with economic development taking the environment into account. Perhaps the closing of borders can be seen as an opportunity to strengthen local food systems and achieve food sovereignty. More than ever, the most vulnerable need protecting and ways must be found to prevent more people from being pushed into vulnerability. Redefining food systems means reaching the at-risk living in rural areas – who are responsible for our food production – whilst ensuring that food systems are resilient in times of crises.

The risk of a global food crisis has never been greater. Already, global economies are suffering the effects of the pandemic. Echoing the FAO, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems stated that restrictions on the movement of people and goods was already “putting major strains on local, regional, and global supply chains, and testing the resilience of food systems”. Improving food insecurity also helps to tackle other related emergencies, from climate change and health issues to economic recession. From intensive farming to deforestation, our current agricultural practices make pandemics worse by provoking human-wildlife interactions that spread diseases. Agroecological practices on the other hand mitigate their effects. Sustainable land management, extensive (as opposed to intensive) animal production, and the protection of forests and other wild habitats help to prevent the spread of diseases.

We need to ask ourselves why hunger and malnutrition remains such an endemic, serious problem and what price we are paying for a developed Global North and an underdeveloped Global South, with inequalities growing on both sides.

Governments and international organisations are preparing to mitigate the pandemic’s most severe impacts. Authorities have already reacted by regularising migrant workers while local food networks linking producers and consumers, such as the Community Supported Agriculture scheme, have re-emerged around the globe. UN agencies are also engaged in responding to the Covid-19 emergency. The FAO has encouraged states to cooperate in support of the global food value chain; IFAD has established a fund to support smallholders and prevent a food crisis; and the WFP is engaged in immediate interventions providing food aid to those most in need.

The 2021 Food Systems Summit will be a crucial occasion to redefine what we want food systems to look like and to call for innovative agroecology programmes, taking into consideration the priorities of family farmers including peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, and fisher-folks. As the world responds to the imminent food crises induced by the pandemic, it is increasingly clear that only a long-term agroecology-related transition of food systems can overcome current fragilities and create a resilient society composed of healthy ecosystems and conscious individuals.


Footnotes

[1] Steve Gliessman (2018). “Defining Agroecology”. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 42:6, 599-600.

[2] Clara Nicholls and Miguel Altieri (2016). “Agroecology: Principles for the Conversion and Redesign of Farming Systems”Journal of Ecosystem and Ecography.

Trzy plemiona ekologii politycznej

Relacja ludzkości z naturą była tematem, dostarczającym ekopolityce szeroką, materialną bazę do analizy przeszłości. Problemy z funkcjonowaniem tej relacji sprawiają, że analiza ta staje się coraz bardziej potrzebna. Filozof Pierre Charbonnier pokazuje trzy siły, kształtujące oblicze ekologii politycznej – zielony socjalizm, radykalną krytykę nowoczesności oraz elitarną technokrację. Choć ich diagnozy fundamentalnie się od siebie różnią, to od ich współpracy zależy dziś naprawdę wiele.

Zakończoną w roku 2020 dekadę można określić jako czas globalnego lenistwa w zakresie ochrony klimatu. Nasza niezdolność do transformacji systemów ekonomicznych w stronę ich funkcjonowania w obrębie ograniczeń ekosystemowych niewątpliwie definiować będzie opis początku XXI wieku.

Porażkę tę można wytłumaczyć rozziewem między istniejącymi strukturami politycznymi, nakierowanymi na konkurencyjność i produktywność (co służyć ma polityce zatrudnienia), a imperatywami środowiskowymi i klimatycznymi, wyznaczonymi przez nauki o ziemi. Lekceważenie negatywnych kosztów zewnętrznych taniej energii, umożliwiającej funkcjonowanie aktualnie funkcjonujących łańcuchów dostaw, staje się dziś niemożliwe. Co więcej – wysiłek ekonomiczny, podejmowany w celu odpowiedzi na naszą potrzebę sprawiedliwości społecznej czy materialnego dobrobytu zagraża realizacji tychże potrzeb. Naszą epokę charakteryzuje rozziew między strukturami, które odziedziczyliśmy, a tym, co rysuje się już na horyzoncie.

Staliśmy się dziś więźniami systemów technologicznych i ideologicznych, stworzonych w dużej mierze nieistniejącym już dziś świecie obfitości i stabilnego klimatu. Świat, w którym przyjdzie nam żyć będzie fizycznie różnił się od tego, który doświadczały poprzednie pokolenia – ale mimo tego faktu spora część myślenia, kształtującego podejmowane dziś decyzje polityczne, wciąż wywodzi się z tego utraconego przez nas świata. Szczególnie tyczy się to kwestii praw własności oraz dążenia do ciągłego podnoszenia produktywności. Współczesne subiektywności, objawiające się w sferze prywatnej i napędzane technologiami indywidualnej mobilności wydają się odległe od potrzeb i możliwości dnia dzisiejszego. Świat, który rodzi się na bazie tego projektu czyni sporą jego część nieaktualną.

Naszą epokę charakteryzuje rozziew między strukturami, które odziedziczyliśmy, a tym, co widać już na horyzoncie.

Część problemu tkwi w tym, iż przeszacowujemy skalę naszego uzależnienia od dotychczasowych wzorców myślenia i działania. Historia uczy nas, że opierające się na wzroście społeczeństwa nie omijają konflikty – są one bowiem produktem kruchej równowagi między nauką, technologią i polityką, w obrębie której istnieje potencjał do zaistnienia ruchu oporu wobec niej. Bezwład dużych systemów technologicznych oraz ideał postępu nie powinny być mylone z nieuchronną koleją rzeczy. Nasza relacja z przyszłością oraz narzędziami, które mogą służyć zmianom, powinna zostać na nowo przemyślana.

Jednym z problemów – zarówno politycznym, jak i intelektualnym – jest ustalenie, co dokładnie odziedziczyliśmy, co z tego warto zachować, a co odrzucić. Odpowiedź zależy od naszego punktu wyjścia. Z tego też względu ekologii politycznej ściśle towarzyszy myślenie o czasie, którego horyzont stawia na głowie kryzys klimatyczny.

Kreślenie rozwiązań

Przydatne w myśleniu o stojących przed nami wyzwaniach politycznych są co najmniej trzy perspektywy czasowe. Na poziomie długoterminowym zazielenianie społeczeństw powinno być traktowane jako przejęcie struktur, które kształtują nasze relacje z naturą. Zgodnie z tym spojrzeniem celem staje się powrót do korzeni projektu nowoczesności oraz renegocjacja naszych relacji z istotami żywymi i ze światem. W perspektywie średniookresowej, ważnej z punktu widzenia przemysłowego kapitalizmu i jego krytyków, ekologia polityczna może być postrzegana jako nowy głos na rzecz okiełznania kapitału i sprawiedliwości społecznej. Patrząc się z kolei krótkoterminowo, biorąc pod uwagę powojenne Wielkie Przyspieszenie oraz zmianę pozycji gospodarczej Azji, wizja technokratyczna kładzie nacisk na zakończenie wzrostu zużycia paliw kopalnych przez globalne supermocarstwa poprzez finansowanie dekarbonizacji sektora produkcji.

W zależności od przyjętej przez nas skali czasowej przed oczami pojawiają się nam różne polityczne imaginaria, narzędzia na rzecz zmian oraz apelujące o ich użycie ruchy. Powodzenie zielonej transformacji zależy od współpracy tych trzech projektów i ich zdolności do tego, by nie traktować siebie nawzajem z pogardą.

Najwięcej przestrzeni zajmuje dziś ta pośrednia perspektywa. Główny napęd dla politycznego podejścia do ekologii dostarczają dziś środowiska tradycyjnej lewicy, mające swoje korzenie w ruchu pracowniczym i poszukujące nowej, wielkiej opowieści po klęsce projektu lewicowo-populistycznego. Różne wersje Zielonego Nowego Ładu łączy wizja spójnej odpowiedzi sektora publicznego na wyzwania ekologiczne. ZNŁ odzwierciedla przekonanie, że moc kapitału może być ograniczona jedynie poprzez interwencje rządów, wsłuchujących się w równościowe żądania – i że żądań tych nie da się oddzielić od okiełznania opartego na paliwach kopalnych systemu ekonomicznego. Podobnie jak prawo pracy czy sieć zabezpieczeń społecznych stanowiły odpowiedź na wady przemysłowego modelu rozwojowego, tak dziś projekt socjalistyczny odpowiadać musi na szkody, jakie czynione są w środowisku.

W opublikowanym niedawno manifeście „Planeta do wygrania” (A Planet to Win) widać, że związek aktywizmu ekologicznego i socjalizmu opierać się ma na odświeżeniu tradycyjnego języka walki klasowej. Jego głównym założeniem jest to, że rosnącej niepewności ekonomicznej towarzyszy również rosnąca niestabilność ekologiczna, a konflikty związane z nierównościami ostatecznie staną się również konfliktami środowiskowymi. W czasie, gdy osoby z klasy pracującej zostały w dużej mierze przekonane przez konserwatywny neoliberalizm Trumpa czy brexitowców, którym skutecznie udało się zhakować opowieść o ochronie i społeczności (zrównywanej dziś z tożsamością), wyzwaniem staje się odzyskanie rządu dusz w tej grupie. Jasno widać, że strategia ta opiera się na dziedzictwie dziewiętnastowiecznej rewolucji przemysłowej – i że ogranicza ją dawna wiara we wzrost i rozwój przemysłowy. Sprawiedliwość społeczna z kolei zależy dziś od resetu systemu i, za pomocą gwarancji zatrudnienia, na uniemożliwieniu szantażu ekonomicznego ze strony elit ekonomicznych. 

Zielony socjalizm wydaje się dziś najbardziej wiarygodną strategią polityczną w Stanach Zjednoczonych, zdobywa również przyczółki w Europie. Wiąże się ona jednak z dwoma ograniczeniami. Po pierwsze stawia ona na pewną formę etatyzmu. Wraz z przyjęciem tej wizji w wyniku zwycięstwa wyborczego żądania sprawiedliwości ekologicznej mają być realizowane poprzez regulacje oraz zmiany priorytetów inwestycyjnych. Nie należy jednak lekceważyć ryzyka oporu wobec tego typu transformacji wewnątrz aparatu państwowego, podobnie jak obaw przez reakcjami prywatnego kapitału. Wizja ta stawia nam przed oczami obraz totalnej mobilizacji, podobnej do tej, doświadczanej w okresie działań zbrojnych. Oznacza ona wypowiedzenie wojny wrogu, o którym nie wiemy nawet, czy jest wewnętrzny (przemysł paliw kopalnych) czy zewnętrzny (np. naftowe monarchie w rodzaju Arabii Saudyjskiej) – w tym drugim wypadku wymagać to może zresztą opracowania odpowiedniej polityki zagranicznej. Drugim istotnym ograniczeniem jest fakt, że podobnie jak w wypadku powojennego państwa dobrobytu opierałby się on na uprzywilejowanej pozycji Globalnej Północy wobec Południa, któremu brakuje środków na przeprowadzenie tego typu transformacji i które będzie najmocniej dotknięte przez kryzys klimatyczny.

W zależności od przyjętej przez nas skali czasowej przed oczami pojawiają się nam różne polityczne imaginaria, narzędzia na rzecz zmian oraz apelujące o ich użycie ruchy.

Etatyzm i (względny) brak globalnego myślenia to dwa aspekty zielonego socjalizmu, które generują niemało nieufności i krytyki ze strony kolejnego projektu ekologicznego. Wywodzi się on z bardziej radykalnego myślenia o relacjach między społeczeństwem a naturą i stawia sobie za cel obalenie struktur, stojących za sprowadzaniem środowiska do roli czynnika produkcji. Punktem odniesienia jest tu nie kryzys społeczeństwa przemysłowego, ale początek nowoczesnego myślenia naukowego i związanego z nim odczarowania świata. W poszukiwaniu źródeł tego procesu cofamy się co najmniej do XVI wieku, a więc okresu rewolucyjnych odkryć z zakresu astronomii czy fizyki, które w centrum świata postawiły ludzki rozum. Okres ten stał się zarazem bazą dla zachodniej dominacji nad resztą świata. Krytykę tę podziela szereg pozostających na peryferiach geograficznych czy kulturowych szkół myślenia, takich jak te ze rdzennych społeczności Amazonii, Arktyki czy obu Ameryk, których relacje ze światem przyrody nie dają się wpisać w ramy przywłaszczania i eksploatacji. Podzielają ją również ruchy zrodzone z nowoczesności, chcące jednak zerwać z jej dominującymi paradygmatami. Lokalny opór przed państwową suwerennością, realizującą najczęściej cel wzrostu dobrze wpisuje się w ten model. W wypadku Francji symbolem więzi z ziemią, opierającej się na wizji radykalnej autonomii jej użytkowników i obrońców, stał się przykład Notre-Dame-des-Landes, długotrwałego obozowiska osób protestujących przeciwko budowie lotniska. Tego typu ruchy opowiadają się dziś przeciwko suwerenności, własności oraz wyzyskowi – elementom, tworzącym fundament nowoczesności.

Siła tych ruchów, wywożąca się z ich radykalizmu, jest równocześnie ich słabością. Starają się odzyskać – jedną po drugiej – wyspy autonomii, stawiając na powolne zmiany w paradygmatach kulturowych i prawnych. Wymagają sporych inwestycji na poziomie jednostkowego zaangażowania i tym samym pozostają niedostępne dla osób, które z konieczności życiowej muszą podejmować pracę na dzisiejszym, konkurencyjnym rynku pracy i nie mogą sobie pozwolić na rezygnację z korzystania z sieci zabezpieczeń społecznych. Umieszczanie walki na poziomie metafizycznym oznacza stawianie na szeroko zakrojonym horyzoncie czasowym współistnienia struktur ludzkich i naturalnych. Każda krytyka ma swoje własne tempo i rytm – w tym wypadku wydaje się ono niezwykle powolne w świetle wymogów, stawianych przez naukę o klimacie.

Trzeci poziom mobilizacji wydaje się mniej radykalną praktyką, ale za to operuje w znacznie bardziej namacalnej perspektywie czasowej. Na pat klimatyczny można patrzeć nie tylko jako efekt długotrwałych procesów, których przeszłość sięga początków współczesnej kosmologii, ani nawet jako na konsekwencję uprzemysłowienia, ale jako efekt Wielkiego Przyspieszenia. Mowa tu o zjawisku, łączącym w sobie łatwość w dostępie do energii z ropy, stworzenie technosfery, opartej na indywidualnej mobilności i masowej konsumpcji, a także instytucji państwa opiekuńczego funkcjonujących dzięki mierzeniu i wzrostowi PKB. Jego cechy charakterystyczne – ropociągi, lotniska czy nieruchomości – wskazują na to, że jest on kontrolowany przez ekonomiczną i technologiczną elitę, skupiającą się w niewielkim zestawie wielkich firm (szczególnie w sektorze energetycznym oraz agroprzemysłowym), a także w kluczowych pozycjach władzy i wiedzy, w tym w ponadnarodowych ciałach regulacyjnych, kształtujących oblicze wolnego rynku, ale też rzecz jasna również w obrębie głównych graczy geopolitycznych.

Póki żelazo jest gorące

Ruch klimatyczny wydobył na światło dzienne fakt, iż te struktury decyzyjne są zarazem bardzo potężne, ale też znacznie bardziej kruche, niż nam się wydaje. Efektywne kampanie na rzecz dezinwestycji w najbardziej destrukcyjne sektory gospodarki – szczególnie, jeśli za ich głosem decydują się iść banki centralne – są w stanie sparaliżować struktury kapitalizmu kopalnego, a tym samym nieefektywne, generujące nierówności łańcuchy dostaw, które dziś kształtują nasze życia. Wzmocnienie pozycji urzędników czy inżynierów, uwolnionych od arbitralnych ograniczeń budżetowych, może pozwolić kreować im spójną, realną transformację ekologiczną miast, systemów transportowych czy budynków. Ukształtowanie nowej praktyki władzy, która nie będzie kierować się żądaniami dalszego wzrostu, za to słuchać będzie eksperckich porad, brzmi na sensowne pragnienie. Równocześnie jest mniej romantyczne niż idealistyczne nawoływania do cywilizacyjnych zmian czy bezwarunkowej hojności wobec świata przyrody. Test władzy będzie kolejnym, niezbędnym krokiem – prawdopodobnie mniej ekscytującym niż stworzenie nowego paradygmatu kulturowego, ale za to prostszym do szybkiego wdrożenia.

Połączenie sił bez wątpienia będzie mieć czasowy charakter – jak jednak zauważał Machiavelli polityka jest sztuką wykorzystania odpowiedniego momentu do działania.

Ta nowa, zielona elita nie wywodzi się z tego samego rodzaju ludzi, którzy tworzą dwa poprzednie ruchy. Zauważalne są dziś (realne bądź wyobrażone) animozje między postkolonialnymi, autonomistycznymi utopistami, eko-jakobinami spod znaku Zielonego Nowego Ładu oraz liderami technokratycznej rewolucji. Z perspektywy teoretycznej możemy przekonywać, że każdy ze wskazanych przez nich problemów należy rozwiązywać w dostosowanym do tego celu horyzoncie czasowym – niezależnie od tego, czy mówimy o kosmologicznych strukturach nowoczesności, kosztach uprzemysłowienia czy Wielkiego Przyspieszenia. Podobnie jak te trzy, wspomniane perspektywy nie stoją ze sobą koniecznie w sprzeczności, tak również stojące za nimi trzy (kontr)ruchy nie są skazane na pozostawanie w konflikcie. Muszą za to uczyć się przekonywać siebie nawzajem i tworzyć wspólną podstawę do dalszego działania.

W rzeczywistości bowiem – pomimo różnych politycznych tożsamości, taktyk czy praktyk władzy – ich obiektywne interesy są ze sobą powiązane, stanowiąc coś, co we Francji określamy mianem „schodzenia się walk”.  Połączenie sił bez wątpienia będzie mieć czasowy charakter – jak jednak zauważał Machiavelli polityka jest sztuką wykorzystania odpowiedniego momentu do działania.

Tłumaczenie: Bartłomiej Kozek.

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