Ideas

Preserving Nature Is The Only Path To Preserving You And Me

Viruses spread, mutate and then become deadly because humans destroy the areas where wild animals live. We must learn from this, once the coronavirus pandemic is contained.

Time to reinvent our way of being in the world
Inès Leonarduzzi

PARIS — Confined to our homes, we are discovering the limits of humanity. The planet is "closed" until further notice. Of course, a vaccine will be invented and deployed, but the virus will come back, year after year, more resistant and with new mutations. Pandemics are not new. They have been around since we started altering natural habitats. The fact is we lack the knowledge to understand what is happening to us, and to avoid future crises. Stopping pandemics requires the effort of all, and the right information.

The frequency of pandemics has accelerated in recent years. We have seen Ebola, Zika, SARS, avian flu, Marburg and Nipah. The trend will continue, exponentially. It is a systemic process driven by our lifestyles. We now know the causal links between the source of Ebola and massive deforestation. The virus appeared in bats from ravaged forest areas in West and Central Africa. Wild animals had nothing to do with it. It is the totality of our way of interacting with the environment that needs to be updated, as everything seems to leads us back to question of ecology.

We lack the knowledge to understand what is happening to us.

SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as coronavirus, is the result of a naturally occurring phenomenon: the mutation into human pathogens of harmless animal microorganisms (commonly known as microbes) found in wild animals . Living beings, including us, are made of a multitude of harmless microorganisms. But in an altered environment, they mutate and adapt in order to survive, sometimes becoming deadly pathogens. This phenomenon is called "crossing the species barrier." In this case, some researchers suspect the pangolin was one of links in the transmission of coronavirus to humans.

This phenomenon is nothing new: It arose in the Neolithic era when humans began to destroy natural habitats for cultivation. Mass agriculture requires deforestation. Humans have razed an area equivalent to the African continent to domesticate animals for slaughter. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 170 million hectares of forests will be cut down by 2030. In addition to species extinction and climate change, deforestation causes pandemics. We are in what can be called a "crisis of the living."

When bats lose vital habitats they are forced to find refuge in domesticated trees, in public or private gardens or on farms. The bats deposit microbe-laden saliva on fruit or tree leaves, causing contamination. Pandemics are born when humans force animals into our habitat. Another example is Lyme disease. In North America, the disease outbreak coincided with the massive deforestation of the Northeastern United States. This decimated the populations of opossums and rodents, the traditional hosts for ticks. To survive, the ticks adapted, taking their new neighbors — us — as their hosts.

In light of this, should we continue to believe in the viability of our models? What can we learn from this measure of global containment, economic recession and human loss?

Governments, together with citizens, must answer these questions. Perhaps the creation of a large-scale "ecological social plan" would allow us to implement two important measures.

The first is teaching the cross-disciplinary study of ecology and habitat and the principles of sustainable development. As early as elementary school, children should learn the meaning of a pandemic: How it's born, what causes it and how it can be prevented. Today, we only teach students to be efficient, effective and produce wealth. I believe that by integrating fundamental ecological values into national education, citizens will grow more aware than ever of the issues at stake now and in the future.

What can we learn from this measure of global containment, economic recession and human loss?

Secondly, we could focus on the future of agriculture and sustainable infrastructure. With the help of agricultural consortiums and the housing sector, we could rethink the current agricultural model: imagine how it can transform and adapt to current issues. These spaces for dialogue would be opportunities to define new modes of expansion, localized models of distribution and consumption that is both balanced and responsible. To do this, we could move towards vertical housing and agriculture integration, eco-design, reusing materials and respecting seasonal products. It would also allow us to address soil degradation, restore forests for the reintegration of birds and animals threatened with extinction and work toward a deeper rebalancing of natural ecosystems.

The human tendency is to dominate nature. But we must develop a "loving relationship" with the environment. We can reinvent our way of being in the world with a more conscious mindset. Sustainable development, in addition to the preservation of natural resources, is the preservation of women and men. Sustainable development is only achievable by making it everyone's priority. Quarantine is a survival method, better understanding the environment is a pathway to preservation. Let's stick around.



Inès Leonarduzzi is the CEO and founder of Digital for the Planet.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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