When the pandemic comes into play



What makes the current pandemic unique is the fact that it adds to several systemic crises that threaten humanity, and this precisely at a time when it is no longer possible to postpone decisions that will crucially affect, and very soon, the habitability of the planet

The year 2020 will be remembered as the year in which the pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus precipitated a major disruption in the functioning of contemporary societies. It will probably also be remembered as the moment of a rupture from which our societies have never fully recovered. This is because the current pandemic intervenes at a time when three structural crises in the relationship between contemporary hegemonic societies and the Earth system are reciprocally reinforcing, converging towards a global economic regression, albeit with occasional cyclical outbreaks of recovery.

These three crises are, as reiterated by science, the climate emergency, the ongoing annihilation of biodiversity and the collective sickening of organisms, intoxicated by the chemical industry. [1]. The increasingly overwhelming impacts resulting from the synergy between these three systemic crises will henceforth leave societies, even the richest, even more unequal and more vulnerable, less able, therefore, to recover their previous performance. It is precisely these increasingly frequent partial losses of functionality in the relationship between societies and the environment that essentially characterize the ongoing process of socio-environmental collapse (Homer-Dixon et al. 2015; Stefan et al. 2018; Marques 2015/2018 and 2020).

Inflection of human history

Due to its global extension and the trail of deaths left in its wake, exceeding 250 victims (officially notified) in just over four months, the current pandemic is a fact whose gravity it would be difficult to exaggerate, all the more so because new outbreaks may still occur. over the next two years, according to a report by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota (Moore, Lipsitch, Barry & Osterholm 2020).

But even more serious than the immense toll of deaths is the moment of the pandemic's incidence in human history. Other pandemics, some much more lethal, occurred in the XNUMXth century without profoundly affecting societies' ability to recover. What makes the current pandemic unique is the fact that it adds to several systemic crises that threaten humanity, and this precisely at a time when it is no longer possible to postpone decisions that will crucially affect, and very soon, the habitability of the planet. Science conditions the possibility of stabilizing global average warming within, or not far beyond, the limits sought by the Paris Agreement to an unavoidable fact: CO emissions2 should peak in 2020 and start to decline sharply thereafter. The IPCC has outlined 196 scenarios through which we can limit global average warming to around 0,5oC above current average warming relative to the pre-industrial period (1,2oC in 2019). None of them, recall Tom Rivett-Carnac and Christiana Figueres, admits that the peak of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be postponed beyond 2020 (Hooper 2020). No one expresses the significance of that deadline more peremptorily than Thomas Stocker, co-chair of the IPCC from 2008 to 2015:[2]

“Delayed or insufficient mitigation makes it impossible to limit global warming permanently. The year 2020 is crucial for defining global ambitions on reducing emissions. If CO emissions2 continue to increase beyond that date, the most ambitious mitigation targets will become unattainable”.

Already in 2017, Jean Jouzel, former vice-president of the IPCC, warned that “to maintain any chance of remaining below 2oC it is necessary that peak emissions be reached no later than 2020” (Le Hir 2017). In October of the following year, commenting on the release of the IPCC special report entitled Global Warming 1.5oC, Debra Roberts, co-chair of Working Group 2 of this report, reinforced this perception: “The next few years will probably be the most important in our history”. And Amjad Abdulla, representative of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the climate negotiations, added: “I have no doubt that historians will look back on these results [of the 2018 IPCC special report] as one of the defining moments in the course of the human history” (Mathiesen & Sauer 2018). In The Second Warning: A Documentary Film (2018), disclosure of the manifesto The Scientist's Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice, launched by William Ripple and colleagues in 2017 and endorsed by some 20 scientists, philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore echoes the aforementioned statements: “We are living at a tipping point. The next few years will be the most important in human history.”

In April 2017, a group of scientists, coordinated by Stephan Rahmstorf, launched The Climate Turning Point, whose Preface reaffirms the most ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement (“keeping the increase in global average temperature well below 2oC compared to the pre-industrial period”), clarifying that: “this target is considered necessary to avoid incalculable risks to humanity, and it is feasible – but realistically, only if global emissions peak by the year 2020, at later". This document then guided the creation, by various scientific and diplomatic leaders, of the mission 2020 (https://mission2020.global/). It defined basic goals in energy, transport, land use, industry, infrastructure and finance, in order to make the curve of greenhouse gas emissions decline from 2020 onwards and put the planet on a path consistent with the Paris. “With radical collaboration and stubborn optimism,” write Christiana Figueres and colleagues at Mission 2020, “we will bend the greenhouse gas emissions curve by 2020, enabling humanity to flourish.” For his part, António Guterres, fulfilling his mission to encourage and coordinate global governance efforts, warned in September 2018: “If we do not change our course by 2020, we run the risk of missing the moment when it is still possible to avoid a rampant climate change (a runaway climate change), with disastrous consequences for humanity and the natural systems that sustain us.”

Well, 2020 has finally arrived. Taking stock in 2019 of the progress made towards the goals of the mission 2020, the World Resources Institute (Ge et al., 2019) writes that “in most cases, action was insufficient or progress was nil” (in most cases action is insufficient or progress is off track). None of the goals, in short, were achieved and, last December, the COP25 in Madrid definitively swept away, largely through the fault of the governments of the USA, Japan, Australia and Brazil (Irfan 2019), the last hopes of an imminent decrease in global GHG emissions.

The pandemic comes into play

But then Covid-19 erupts, displacing, paralyzing and postponing everything, including COP26. And in just over three months, it resolved through chaos and suffering what more than three decades of facts, science, campaigns and diplomatic efforts to reduce GHG emissions proved incapable of accomplishing (the Toronto Conference, 1988 recommended “specific actions” in this regard). Instead of a rational, gradual and democratically planned economic downturn, the abrupt economic downturn imposed by the pandemic already appears, according to Kenneth S. Rogoff, as “the deepest fall of the global economy in 100 years” (Goodman 2020). On April 15, Carbon Brief estimated that the economic crisis should cause an estimated decrease of around 5,5% in global CO emissions2 in 2020. On April 30, the Global Energy Review 2020 – The impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on global energy demand and CO2 emissions, from the International Energy Agency (IEA), goes further and estimates that “global CO emissions2 are expected to fall even more rapidly over the remaining nine months of the year, reaching 30,6 Gt [billion tonnes] in 2020, almost 8% lower than in 2019. This would be the lowest level since 2010. Such a reduction would be the largest all-time, six times the previous reduction of 0,4 Gt in 2009 due to the financial crisis and twice as large as all previous reductions since the end of the Second World War”. (https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2020/global-energy-and-co2-emissions-in-2020). Figure 1 indicates how this reduction in global CO emissions2 reflects the drop in demand for global primary energy consumption compared to previous declines.

Figure 1 – Rates of change (%) in global primary energy demand, 1900 – 2020 Source: IEA, Global Energy Review 2020 The impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on global energy demand and CO2 emissions, April 2020, p. 11

The reduction of global CO emissions2 projected by the IEA for 2020 is equivalent to or even slightly greater than the 7,6% annual reduction by 2030 that the IPCC considers essential to contain warming below catastrophic levels (Evans 2020). The IEA report hastens, however, to warn that, “as in previous crises, (…) the peak in emissions may be greater than the decline, unless the wave of investments to restart the economy is directed towards a cleaner and more resilient energy infrastructure”. With rare exceptions, the facts so far do not warrant the expectation of a break with previous energy and socioeconomic paradigms. Despite the collapse in the price of oil, or precisely because of it, oil companies are moving at breakneck speed to take advantage of this moment, obtaining, for example, investments of USD 1,1 billion to finance the conclusion of the infamous Keystone XL oil pipeline, which will link Canadian oil to the Gulf of Mexico (McKibben 2020). Examples of this type of opportunism are countless, including in Brazil, where ruralists take advantage of the situation to pass Provisional Measure 910, which provides amnesty for land grabbing and raises even more threats to indigenous people. As Laurent Joffrin rightly states, in his Political Letter April 30th for the newspaper Libération (Le monde d'avant, en pire?), the post-pandemic world “runs the risk of looking furiously, in the short term at least, like the world before it, but in a worse version”. And Joffrin adds: “the 'world after' will not change by itself. As for the 'world before', its future will depend on political, patient and arduous combat”. Political and arduous, no doubt, but there is definitely no more time for patience.

In any case, an almost 8% reduction in global CO emissions2 in just one year, not even a dent was opened in the cumulative curve of atmospheric concentrations of this gas, measured at Mauna Loa (Hawaii). They hit another record in April 2020, reaching 416,76 parts per million (ppm), 3,13 ppm above 2019, one of the biggest jumps since the beginning of their measurements in 1958. more in the jungle of converging climate indicators. It is the decisive number. As Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization, recalls: “The last time the Earth had atmospheric concentrations of CO2 comparable to today was 3 to 5 million years ago. At that time, the temperature was 2oC to 3oC [above pre-industrial times] and sea levels were 10 to 20 meters higher than today” (McGrath 2019). There are now less than 35 ppm to go to reach 450 ppm, an atmospheric CO concentration level2 largely associated with an average global warming of 2oC above the pre-industrial period, a level that can be reached, if the current trajectory is maintained, in little more than 10 years. What awaits us around 2030, keeping the gears of the globalized capitalist economic system and existentially dependent on its own expanded reproduction, is nothing less than a disaster for humanity as a whole, as well as for countless other species. The word disaster is not hyperbole. The aforementioned 2018 IPCC Report (Global Warming 1.5oC) projects that the world at 2oC on average above the pre-industrial period will see nearly 6 billion people exposed to extreme heat waves and more than 3,5 billion people subject to water scarcity, among many other adversities. Disaster is the word that best defines the world we are heading towards over the next 10 years (or 20, it doesn't matter), and it is exactly the word used by Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, at Imperial College in London: “We have no evidence that a warming of 1,9oC is something you can handle easily, and 2,1oC is a disaster” (Simms 2017).

As a result of these very high atmospheric concentrations of CO2, last year was already the hottest on record in Europe (1,2oC above the period 1981 – 2010!) and, even without El Niño, there is now, according to NOAA, a 74,67% chance that 2020 will be the hottest year in a century and a half of historical records on the global average ,[3] breaking the previous record of 2016 (1,24oC above the pre-industrial period, according to NASA). It is not within the space of this article that one can list the many indications that 2020 will be the first or second (after 2016) hottest year among the seven hottest (2014-2020) in the history of human civilization since the last deglaciation, around 11.700 years before present. It is enough to bear in mind that, if March 2020 is representative of the year, we have already missed the most ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement, as the average temperature of that month globally spiked 1,51oC above the period 1880-1920, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 – Temperature anomalies in March 2020 (1,51oC on the global average), in relation to the period 1880-1920. Source: GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (v4), NASA.

Global warming is a weapon aimed against global health. As Sara Goudarzi (2020) shows, higher temperatures favor the adaptation of microorganisms to a warmer world, reducing the effectiveness of two basic defenses of mammals against pathogens: (1) many microorganisms still do not survive at higher temperatures to 37oC, but can quickly adapt to them; (2) the mammalian immune system loses efficiency at higher temperatures. In addition, global warming expands the range of action of vectors of epidemics, such as dengue, zika and cancer.hikungunya, and alters the geographical distribution of plants and animals, driving terrestrial animal species to move towards higher latitudes at an average rate of 17 km per decade (Pecl et al. 2017). Aaron Bernstein, director of the Harvard University's Center of Climate, Health and the Global Environment, summarizes well the interaction between global warming and deforestation in their multiple relationships with new epidemic outbreaks:[4]

“As the planet heats up (…) animals move towards the poles fleeing the heat. Animals are coming into contact with animals they wouldn't normally interact with, and this creates an opportunity for pathogens to find other hosts. Many of the root causes of climate change also increase the risk of pandemics. Deforestation, generally caused by agriculture and livestock, is the biggest cause of habitat loss worldwide. And that loss forces animals to migrate and potentially come into contact with other animals or people and share their germs. Large livestock farms also serve as a source for passing infections from animals to people.”

Without losing sight of the relationship between the climate emergency and these new health threats, let's focus on two well-defined issues directly linked to the current pandemic.

The now frequent pandemic

The first question refers to the, so to speak, anthropogenic character of the pandemic. Far from being adventitious, it is a consequence, repeatedly predicted, of an increasingly dysfunctional and destructive socioeconomic system. Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio and Peter Daszak wrote an article, at the invitation of IPBES, which is mandatory reading and which I allow myself to quote at length:

“There is only one species responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic: us. As with climate crises and biodiversity decline, recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity – particularly of our global financial and economic system based on a limited paradigm, which prizes economic growth at any cost. (…) Growing deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive cultivation and breeding, mining and infrastructure expansion, as well as the exploitation of wild species created a 'perfect storm' for the leap of diseases from wildlife to people. … And yet this may be just the beginning. While it is estimated that diseases transmitted from other animals to humans already cause 700 deaths a year, the potential for future pandemics is vast. It is believed that 1,7 million unidentified viruses, among those known to infect people, still exist in aquatic mammals and birds. Any one of them could be 'Disease X' – potentially even more disruptive and lethal than Covid-19. Future pandemics are likely to occur more frequently, spread faster, have a greater economic impact, and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the impacts of the choices we make today” (https://ipbes.net/covid19stimulus).

Each sentence of this quote contains a lesson in science and political lucidity. The main causes of the recent higher frequency of epidemics and pandemics are deforestation and agriculture, something also well established by Christian Drosten, current coordinator of the fight against Covid-19 in Germany, as well as director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité Hospital in Berlin and one of the scientists who identified the SARS pandemic in 2003 (Spinney 2020).

“Given the opportunity, the coronavirus is ready to change hosts and we have created that opportunity through our unnatural use of animals – livestock (live stock). This exposes farmed animals to wildlife, keeps these animals in large groups that can amplify the virus, and humans have intense contact with them – for example, through meat consumption – so such animals certainly represent a possible possibility. emergency trajectory for the coronavirus. Camels are livestock in the Middle East and are the original hosts of the MERS virus, as well as the 229E coronavirus – which is a common cause of influenza in humans – whereas cattle were the original host of the OC43 coronavirus, another cause of influenza.” .

None of this is new to science. We know that most emerging pandemics are zoonoses, that is, infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or prions, which jumped from non-human hosts, usually vertebrates, to humans. As Ana Lúcia Tourinho, a researcher at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT) states, deforestation is a central cause and a time bomb in terms of zoonoses: “when a virus that was not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and it enters our body, it is chaos” (Bridges 2020). This risk, I repeat, is growing. Just keep in mind that “domesticated mammals host 50% of zoonotic viruses but represent only 12 species” (Johnson et al. 2020). This group includes pigs, cows and sheep. In summary, global warming, deforestation, destruction of wild habitats, domestication and breeding of birds and mammals on an industrial scale destroy the evolutionary balance between species, facilitating the conditions for these viruses to jump from one species to another, including our.

Will the next zoonoses be gestated in Brazil?

The second point, with which I conclude this article, is the specifically health consequences of the ongoing destruction of the Amazon and the Cerrado. Among the most ominous is the growing likelihood that the country will become the focus of the next zoonotic pandemics. In the last decade, megacities in East Asia, mainly in China, have been the main “hotspot” of zoonotic infections (Zhang et al. 2019). No accident. These countries are among those that have lost the most forest cover in the world to the benefit of the carnivorous and globalized food system. The case of China is exemplary. From 2001 to 2018, the country lost 94,2 thousand km2 tree cover, equivalent to a 5,8% decrease in its tree cover in the period. “Wood extraction and agriculture consume up to 5 km2 of virgin forests every year. In northern and central China, forest cover has been halved in the past two decades.”[5] In parallel with the destruction of wild habitats, Chinese economic growth has triggered a demand for animal proteins, including those from exotic animals (Cheng et al. 2007). Between 1980 and 2015, meat consumption in China grew sevenfold and 4,7 times per capita (from 15 kg to 70 kg per capita per year over this period). With about 18% of the world's population, China was responsible in 2018 for 28% of meat consumption on the planet (Rossi 2018). According to a 2017 report by Rabobank entitled China's Animal Protein Outlook to 2020: Growth in Demand, Supply and Trade, the additional demand for meat each year in China will be about one million tons. “Local beef production cannot keep up with demand growth. In reality, China has a structural shortage of beef supply, which needs to be satisfied by increasing imports”.

The vegetation cover of the tropics has been destroyed to support this increasingly carnivorous diet, not only in China, but in many countries of the world and particularly among us. In Brazil, the removal of more than 1,8 million km2 of the vegetation cover of the Amazon and the Cerrado in the last fifty years, to convert their magnificent natural landscapes into areas that supply meat and animal feed, on a national and global scale, represents the most fulminating ecocide ever perpetrated by the human species. Never, in fact, at any latitude and at any time in human history, has so much animal and plant life been destroyed in such a short time, for the degradation of so many and for the economic benefit of so few. And never, even for the very few who got rich from the devastation, will this enrichment have been so ephemeral, as the destruction of the vegetation cover is already beginning to generate soil erosion and recurrent droughts, undermining the foundations of any agriculture in that region (in fact, in the Brazil, as a whole).

As a result of this war of extermination against nature triggered by the insanity of military dictators and continued by civilians, currently the Brazilian cattle herd is approximately 215 million head, with 80% of its consumption being absorbed by the domestic market, which grew 14% in the last ten years (Macedo 2019). In addition, Brazil became the leader in world exports of beef (20% of these exports) and soy (56%), basically destined for animal feed. Most of the Brazilian cattle herd is concentrated today in the North and Central-West regions, with a growing share of the Amazon. In 2010, 14% of the Brazilian herd was already in the northern region of the country. In 2016, that share jumped to 22%. Together, the North and Midwest regions are home to 56% of the Brazilian cattle herd (Zaia 2018). In 2017, only 19,8% of the remaining Cerrado vegetation cover remained untouched. If the devastation continues, cattle ranching and soy farming will soon drive almost 500 endemic plant species to extinction – three times the number of all documented extinctions since 1500 (Strassburg et al. 2017). The Amazon, which lost around 800 km2 of forest cover in 50 years and will lose many tens of thousands more under Bolsonaro's ecocidal fury, has become, in its southern and eastern portions, a desolate landscape of pastures in the process of degradation. The ecological chaos produced by the deforestation by clear cutting of about 20% of the original forest area, the degradation of the forest tissue of at least another 20% and the large concentration of cattle in the region creates the conditions to make Brazil a “hotspot”. of future zoonoses. Firstly, because bats are a large reservoir of viruses and, among Brazilian bats, whose habitat is mainly forests (or what remains of them), at least 3.204 types of coronavirus circulate (Maxman 2017). Secondly, because, as shown by Nardus Mollentze and Daniel Streicker (2020), the taxonomic group of Artiodactyla (with cloven hooves), to which oxen belong, together with primates, harbor more viruses, potentially zoonotic, than would otherwise be expected. expected among mammalian groups, including bats. In reality, the Amazon is already a “hotspot” of non-viral epidemics, such as leishmaniasis and malaria, neglected tropical diseases, but with a high lethality rate. As the WHO states, “leishmaniasis is associated with environmental changes, such as deforestation, damming of rivers, irrigation schemes and urbanization”,[6] all of them factors that contribute to the destruction of the Amazon and to the increased risk of pandemics. The relationship between Amazon deforestation and malaria was well established in 2015 by an IPEA team: for every 1% of forest cut down per year, cases of malaria increase by 23% (Pontes 2020).

The upward curve since 2013 of the destruction of the Amazon and the Cerrado resulted from the execrable alliance of Dilma Rousseff with what is most retrograde in the Brazilian economy. As for Bolsonaro's necropolitics, the destruction of life, of what remains of Brazil's natural heritage, has become a government program and a true obsession. Bolsonaro is leading the country to take a leap of no return into ecological chaos, hence the urgent need to neutralize him by impeachment or any other constitutional mechanism. There is no more time to waste. Between August 2018 and July 2019, deforestation in the Amazon reached 9.762 km2, almost 30% above the previous 12 months and the worst result of the last ten years, according to INPE. In the first quarter of 2020, which typically features the lowest levels of deforestation in each year, INPE's Deter system detected a 51% increase over the same period in 2019, the highest level for that period since the beginning of the series, in 2016. According to Tasso Azevedo, general coordinator of the Annual Mapping Project of Coverage and Land Use in Brazil (MapBiomas), “the most worrying thing is that from August 2019 to March 2020, the level of deforestation more than doubled” (Menegassi 2020). By monopolizing all attention, the pandemic offers Bolsonaro an unexpected opportunity to accelerate his work of destroying the forest and its peoples (Barifouse 2020).

Let's recap. What matters here, above all, is understanding that the pandemic intervenes at a time when global warming and all other processes of environmental degradation are accelerating. The pandemic could accelerate them further, in the absence of a vigorous political reaction from society. It adds, in any case, one more dimension to this converging bundle of socio-environmental crises that imposes a radically new situation on humanity. One can thus formulate this novelty: it is no longer plausible to expect, after the pandemic, a new cycle of global economic growth and even less national. If any growth does occur again, it will be temporary and soon truncated by the climatic, ecological and health chaos. The next decade will evolve under the sign of socioeconomic regressions, because even if we admit that the globalized economy has brought social benefits, these have been meager and have long since been overcome by their harm. The pandemic is just one of these evils, but certainly not the worst. Therefore, in 2020, the varied developmental agendas, typical of the ideological clashes of the XNUMXth century, are no longer current. It is clear that the demand for social justice, the historic flag of the left, remains more current than ever. In addition to being a perennial and irrevocable value, the struggle to reduce social inequality means, first of all, removing decision-making power over strategic investments (energy, food, mobility, etc.) from corporations, assuming democratic and sustainable control of these investments and thus mitigate the impacts of the socio-environmental collapse underway. The survival of any organized society in a world that is becoming ever hotter, more biologically impoverished, more polluted and, for all these reasons, sicker depends crucially on the deepening of democracy today. Surviving, in the context of a socio-environmental collapse process, is not a minimum program. Surviving today requires fighting for something much more ambitious than the social democratic or revolutionary programs of the XNUMXth century. It means redefining the very meaning and purpose of economic activity, that is to say, ultimately, redefining our position as a society and as a species within the biosphere.

* Luiz Marques Professor of History at the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences at Unicamp.

Originally published in the magazine Cosmos & Context


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[1] According to the Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) of the EPA, in the USA, in 2016 there were 8.707 widely traded chemical substances or compounds, to which we are exposed on a daily basis, ignoring in most cases their effects and those of their interactions on human health and others. species.


[2] <https://mission2020.global/testimonial/stocker/>.

[3] Cf. NOAA, Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook. March, 2020


[4] Cf. “Coronavirus, climate change, and the environment”. Environmental Health News, 20/III/2020.


[5] Cf. “Deforestation and Desertification in China”.


[6] Leishmaniasis, WHO, 2/III/2020 https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/leishmaniasis.




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  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank