The COVID-19 pandemia, a new discipline for disciplining – what about climate change mitigation?

In this spring, we have seen, in most countries nationally and within the global community worldwide, that the Corona-virus became a new kind of non-military threat and the COVID-19 pandemic an invisible enemy causing terror among the citizens and threatening our modern societies. Becoming a pandemic this single virus has put authorities - governments, politicians and civil servants – to make very exceptional decisions - emergency (exceptive) laws & regulations, closures of borders, and other restrictions - to tackle something, which became a global crisis. Importantly, the decisions in many cases were implemented very quickly, and almost without real discussion or debate, though the restrictions endanger basic rights of citizens - freedom of mobility, that of expression - and even it may allow authority powers to misuse them against democracy. As well as, they put economies of states, companies and individuals to fall down and into a danger of bankruptcy.

On the other hand, the pandemic is saving energy, resources and our time by demobilizing most adults to work, and children and students to study, virtually at home. As well as, all (international and national) conferences, seminars, meetings and other gatherings are been put online via technology. Though many of us are not happy with that thanks to high-technology, good infrastructure and advanced expertise on distance-learning (in developed countries) the pandemic has shown that our modern societies are functioning, flexible and resilient. Followed from this, there is less air pollution, and as a part of the exit strategy, with physical distance as the main rule, states, as well as the European Union, are ready to decide big investments into “Green (New) Deal” policies for energy efficiency & saving, alternative energy sources, CO2 neutrality. And, several cities plan to close streets and squares from car traffic to accommodate more space for pedestrians, bikes and cafes.

Interestingly, the fight against the pandemic shows, even demonstrates, that policy-makers are leaning on scientific research, even only they are in charge of making decisions. Indeed, decision-makers in most states (though not in all) are carefully listening epidemiologists, virologists and other experts before making the important decisions on restrictions. This can be interpreted to mean that either decision-makers are afraid to make hard decisions which deal with basic rights, or there is a learned lesson how to act in a crisis. The latter one might indicate that majority of decision-makers, as well as their advisers, have interpreted the COVID-19 to mean such a big catastrophe, warned by Finnish academician von Wright, which put people to understand the multiply scale of the problem and act rationally for to solve it. If the nuclear accents of Chernobyl (in 1987) and Fukushima (in 2011) were not serious enough, though they were lethal locally and regionally, and with long-lasting impacts even globally, the Coronavirus seems to be a shock, which caused a crisis and legitimized exceptional and heavy acts.

The reason behind could be either that unprecedentedly we put social order first as a new priority, when it comes to regulate normal life and restrict procedures from human rights to the rules of capitalism. Or, that decision-makers all over the world, in particular in democracies, have made a paradigm shift in policies and practices creating a ‘new normal’ and asking citizens to implement them, and that this will be continued by an exit strategy. In both cases exceptional authority acts – regulations, laws, restricts – are accepted and implemented, and the new order applied, because citizens understand that they are for to protect us, and fair towards health workers and workers in grocery stores and pharmacies. This is possible to interpret to mean that the decisions have the legitimacy of the citizens, even there is a danger that these acts will be either misused, or they can lead us into more authoritarian, non-democratic or meritocratic society. However, in longer run solidarity is needed, and it has certain preconditions.

Following from this, and that the original wicked problem – rapidly advanced climate change, or even the combination of that and pollution - is still there threatening (though neither that fast nor dramatically) people and societies, it cannot be isolated to wait for the termination of the virus. Instead, there is the post-COVID-19 pandemic question: Could climate change mitigation become another ‘new discipline for disciplining’ as a lesson to learn, and that decision-makers are listening science and expertise in climate change mitigation, and behaving accordingly?

It is important to understand and take into consideration that climate change differs basically from the COVID-19 pandemic, though the both are non-military threats. First of all, climate change, as a holistic and comprehensive phenomenon, is a wicked and global problem. It impacts everywhere in the world on all levels of our modern society. Though the pandemic is followed by an economic crisis in several countries, it does not mean ecological collapse. Unlike, an ecological collapse will be followed, if we will not stop the rapidly advanced climate change and loss of biodiversity. This is due to their fatal impacts to and disturbances at the environment and the entire ecosystem. And severe disturbances at the environment, defined as the material basis for human existence which is out into a danger due to human activities, will easily been transferred into big risks towards economics, food security, human health and wellbeing, and even the entire human kind and civilization.

Second, we have seen the longer the pandemic has lasted the more we know about that. Unlike we already know enough about the loss of biodiversity and impacts of climate change, and should not, any longer, to underestimate them. Therefore, it is very important that the recovery and stimulation after the pandemic would enhance sustainability, equality and green deal, as well as assist and enhance climate change mitigation and emission neutrality. Third, actually we know that the collapse will happen, if we will continue the current faith of economic growth and efficiency, which seem to be a necessity, like a religion as an outcome of modernization in the era of science.

If the answer is yes, climate change mitigation will become another ‘new discipline for disciplining’, then it matters how to do it: Based on the “authoritarian solutions are always required” thinking by stating (from the top) that a social order first and forcing people to change their behaving. Or, asking people to follow the new regulations & restricts, and expecting citizens, as civilized and smart human beings with high ethics and technological expertise, to change their behaving in longer run for the benefit of our societies and the entire humankind, as it has been argued (in several countries) in this pandemic. 

If the choice is the latter one, there is a need on the one hand, for open and lively dialogue within civil society and among policy-makers (in parliament), and that all voices are heard, as we do not agree on everything. On the other hand, to make a paradigm shift in mindset, as “there is no solution to ecological problems once and for all”, and elaborate “a new combination of rationality and solidarity” as a practical task. Due to a lack of trust in current world politics, and that the original nature of national security with the “authoritarian solutions are always required” thinking, this is not, however, an easy task. Even, it is very human that we all would like to be secured against whatever threat, and therefore, societal security would be much needed. What is the benefit and sense to be prepared and armed by expensive high-tech weapons and weapon systems against potential and hypothetical external enemy, when at the same time the rapidly advanced climate change and pollution threaten our human & societal security, as well as state sovereignty and national security?

However, a paradigm shift is possible, if decision-makers, in particular the military-security elite, are ready to demystify the traditional understanding of security, in particular national, competitive, military security, and broaden it towards comprehensive one. This kind of change in problem definition on security is urgently needed for to apply climate change, pollution and COVID-19 pandemic as new, non-military security threats, and include them the new security agenda. Finally, the epidemic reminds and supports the importance of scientific research and its applications, as well as digitalization and distance-learning, when handling and solving global crises and wicked problems. In this kind of crisis openness, proper information and freedom of expression are very important, even crucial. As well as, that scholars and scientists are able to continue their research, students their studies – face-to-face or online –, and that new information, scientific research findings and results are available and open for all.

In this context, the globalized stable Arctic can play as a potential asset for world order toward societal security, including non-authoritarian solutions and non-disciplining political ecology concerning climate change mitigation. Further, the stability of the post-Cold War Arctic, based on intensive international, functional cooperation, can influence current turbulent world politics, as it does not result from either the classical approach of Great-Game geopolitics, or the Hobbesian zero-sum approach, but from applying a critical and constructivist approach to geopolitics. It combines the transformation of Arctic security from traditional towards societal (environmental & human) security - the environment matters -, and that the globalization has brought increasing interests by global (non-state) actors and critical approaches (toward (state) sovereignty) by local, regional and Indigenous actors. This my hypothesis is inspired by President Gorbachev’s realist concept of the eight Arctic states, as a “zone of peace”, and Chancellor Merkel’s speech, in which she stated that solidarity matters the most, and that nation’s political legitimacy comes from reformulating globalization and having global responsibility.

We have seen, again, the value of these statements. It is not a question of fatalism, as in the end people and civil societies have the power and responsibility.


  • SARS-CoV-2
    SARS-CoV-2 (image by CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS)