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Ecology in the COVID-19 crisis: Ecojesuit seeking a dialogue for change

27 May 2020
Two sides of the COVID-19 lockdown: Embracing the regenerative power of nature/Embracing the reality of climate change by preparing for its impacts while seriously seeking reduction in GHG emissions. (Entries for #SketchingforChange2020, Drawing Laudato Si’: Elizabeth Carranza (photo) and Jaymee Duran/JMEAD Arts Factory (artwork))

Two sides of the COVID-19 lockdown: Embracing the regenerative power of nature/Embracing the reality of climate change by preparing for its impacts while seriously seeking reduction in GHG emissions. (Entries for #SketchingforChange2020, Drawing Laudato Si’: Elizabeth Carranza (photo) and Jaymee Duran/JMEAD Arts Factory (artwork))

There is anticipation of a new normal as the world tries to get back on its feet from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that has reached to date a staggering 5.5 million cases of infection, 346,000 deaths, and 2.2 million recoveries in 188 countries. We are challenged to make this recovery a new normal, but as the world and economies open up, we are seemingly online to a slow normal.

Indications are emerging that while responses to the crisis are genuine, the strategies are not changing and there is still the inability to grapple with the extent of the problem. National and regional recovery responses still do not reckon the “global-ness” of the problem and “business as usual” is still a sustained mantra, even as an economic development at all costs opened a Pandora’s box and the Shakespearean wish of “a pox on both your houses” has found its mark.

The ecological context of the current crisis may not be widely discussed but there should be recognition that the continuous breaching of the planetary boundaries, particularly habitat destruction and biodiversity loss through disastrous land use changes from the Amazon to Australia, has made COVID-19 and future pandemics and seasonal disruptions inevitable. More so, there is the possibility of releasing old germs from the melting of permafrost and which present-day populations do not necessarily have immunity.

The environmental roots of the pandemic and other occurring disasters merit less than minimal attention but from natural scientists and local agronomists and social analysts. For example, the COVID-19 crisis is spurring untold internal migration as workers return and refugees on many borders now seek work on a large scale at home. This gets much more coverage than the desertification that a changing climate extended and worsened and that spurred outmigration in the first place.

In Laudato Si’, the interconnectedness of the world (and its problems and solutions) is a foremost idea that Pope Francis shares and that climate change and other environmental crises are not separate from hunger, poverty, migration flows, and other social crises. The global-ness of the environmental and social crises cannot be considered and dealt with in local, national, and regional isolation. And this is what this present pandemic has shown the world – a virus outbreak in one place turned into a global pandemic and economic crisis that is worsening hunger and poverty all around the world.

COVID-19 is now being understood as part of the broader ecological crisis of land-use change and climate change that enfold social, health, business, and increasingly, fiscal and political systems. In discussions, there is a growing awareness that this pandemic, as an acute crisis, is part of the broader chronic ecological crises.

The urgency of a global post-COVID-19 advocacy in Jesuit institutions

As a network, Ecojesuit seeks to strengthen this understanding of the crisis and the post-lockdown scenario and contribute to develop and sustain a dialogue for change where environmental, social, and economic concerns are seen as integral to the COVID-19 pandemic and response.

This needs to happen at the global level while we struggle, though at present mainly nationally and locally. We see the need for global learning and participation and will increasingly impinge uncomfortably on our denial of an integral reality given our preferences in the modern world for siloed work.

Ecojesuit as a global network is part of the social apostolate that is surveying the locally undertaken post-lockdown actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Jesuits and institutions, some of whom are engaging in emergency relief, the immediate concerns are in understanding the post-lockdown scenario and what modes of collaboration can be explored with the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) guiding and deepening.

We can no longer remain in the previous rhythm of action as what we seek should make a difference to the poor. The Jesuit response should enable a change in the poor’s context and advance from ameliorative actions at a local or personal level that do not improve the longer-term situation of the poor. Inequality and the poor’s sustained vulnerability are injustices that in this pandemic were sharply exposed and that climate change is worsening.

A broader and stronger commitment to truly understand the problem and respond with focused action is needed – a global advocacy for change that is contextualized for each Conference. Conferences have a major role to play by participating in the call for global action and communicating everything happening locally and regionally to a global context that calls for change.

Ecojesuit’s effort is not to repeat what other Jesuit social networks are doing but rather contribute the ecological understanding of COVID-19 as an ecological crisis while building a broader and more inclusive dialogue for change.

Seeking a dialogue for change that needs global participation

The emergence of a deeper dialogue with the Ecojesuit teams from the different Conferences globally is growing and for the past month, Ecojesuit has been talking with each of the Conferences and other networks about the environment-pandemic nexus and COVID-19 responses.

This process has reference to the strategic plan of Ecojesuit 2019-2023: Discerning for a more integral collaboration and communication, where the formation and strengthening of Ecoteams in each Conference is essential.

The Ecojesuit strategic plan is also available in Spanish: Ecojesuit 2019-2023: Discernimiento para una colaboración y mas comunicación mas integral.

The process allows a collective review of how best to form an Ecoteam in each Conference and, with due reflection, on how the UAPs can guide the Ecoteams’ focus and agenda, and how the Ecoteams can value a global voice.

The dialogue starts by sharing how people are in various lockdown situations and contexts and how the work is affected. Sharing personal situations and immediate concerns and how people felt constrained in their ability to engage allowed learning about different realities as the pandemic is reckoned in common. Nobody was distraught but all are concerned, with several sharing how they were deeply affected. There is a need for serious re-assessment as to how to move forward.

Guide questions for the dialogue are:
1. How are we understanding the environment as part of the COVID-19 response?
2. What are our thoughts on how we can start and sustain a dialogue for change?
3. How can we bring our current energy and focus on COVID-19 to critically engage for ecological action?
4. Where are people interested in taking an initiative?

Global networking, communications, and advocacy are crucial, both the message and the medium, and this is where Ecojesuit is focusing for a better understanding of integral ecology. There is a history and analysis of Ecojesuit essays that are shared through Ecojesuit online and activities and events shared in Facebook and Twitter and in Ecostream.

Part of the process is drawing out and highlighting local experiences. Local to regional stories that communicate the possibilities for change from communities of practices are inspiring and are strengthening solidarity, taking away the fears, the isolation, and the feeling of being small and alone amidst a global problem. For example, the youth-led climate action movements that emerged last year are growing into a huge global response that dramatically put the focus anew on the need to keep global temperatures down.

This is an effort at the global level to listen more deeply at the Conference level and gather reflections and ideas and see what else needs to be better understood for focused action. With this process, inputs and insights from the Conference level provide a better understanding at a global level in contributing to a dialogue and a statement for change that integrates ecology in the social and the economic, acknowledging that these are not separate crises.

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