Gesellschaft im Krisenmodus - What crisis? Corona as a socio-ecological shock

23. April 

Serie "Gesellschaft im Krisenmodus: Geistes- und sozialwissenschaftliche Perspektiven auf Corona"

In dieser Zeit der Ungewissheit wollen die Wissenschaftler*innen des Centre Marc Bloch einen Beitrag zur kritischen Betrachtung des außergewöhnlichen Moments leisten, den die Welt derzeit durchlebt. Aus der Perspektive der verschiedenen am Centre Marc Bloch vertretenen Forschungsfelder beleuchten sie in dieser neuen Rubrik regelmäßig die Auswirkungen der "Corona-Krise" auf unsere Gesellschaften.

1. Artikel: "Virale Evolution - Vom worst case und Handlungsimperativen" (Andrea Kretschmann)
2. Artikel: "La Peste et le Corona (1/2)" (Denis Thouard)
3. Artikel: "La Peste et le Corona (2/2)" (Denis Thouard)
4. Artikel: "La pandémie Covid-19 au prisme de la Peste Noire" (Pierre Monnet)

What crisis? Corona as a socio-ecological shock

Judith Nora Hardt ist Forscherin am Centre Marc Bloch, arbeitet gerade an dem Projekt "Climate Change as a Challenge to Security" und ist bei Scientist For Future aktiv.

As the corona-pandemic hits, the world shivers. Labeled a “symmetric shock” and “natural catastrophe”[1], corona marks a historical moment and a caesura. Here, I argue that this socio-ecological shock accentuates certain frictions and I elaborate on these implications by bringing the corona-pandemic and its respective health security measures in relation with other socio-ecological crises, often reduced to the phenomena of climate change.

Before corona, climate change was one of the top priorities in civil society, in the media and for several political leaders. Worldwide school strikes initiated by the Fridays For Future (FFF) movements in autumn 2018, and other protests demanded immediate necessary urgent measures to engage in a socio-ecological transformation and thereby ensure the(ir) futures. In reaction to multiple denigrations of claims made by FFF, a Statement[2], signed by more than 26.000 scientists brought to life the grassroots initiative Scientists for Future (S4F) and highlighted the scientific foundations that underpin FFF concerns. S4F furthermore aims to stand up to the scholarly responsibility and communicate the threatening current situation and the necessity for urgent socio-ecological transformation[3]. Next to the prominent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that diagnose the alarming state of the warming climate, the community of Earth Systems Sciences describes the state of Planet Earth as being located on a trajectory towards a Hothouse Earth[4]. If this trajectory is not corrected towards a Stabilized Earth by urgent measures, scientists warn of the risk of passing global tipping points, which will lead to “serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economics”[5] and therefore imply “an existential threat to civilization”[6].

The declaration of the state of climate emergency by the European Commission in November 2019[7], as along with the instauration of citizen assemblies, and the several debates in the United Nations Security Council on the massive implications of climate change on peace, conflict, and security[8] only provide some prominent examples of how the threatening dimensions and the need for effective and urgent measures have been partly recognized in politics. In 2019, and before corona, the UN-Secretary General stated “Let us not mince words: the climate crisis is a race against time for the survival of our civilization, a race that we are losing.”[9] Appropriate measures that would correspond to a crisis[10] are however yet to come and next to institutionalized scientific channels, several networks of scientists are raising their voice in the face of the dramatic foreseeable threats[11]

Yet, with the outbreak of the worldwide pandemic and the dramatic increase in deaths at the turn of 2019-2020 drastic emergency measures of unknown and unpredictable consequences for society, politics, economy and security have been taken. The health security measures include among others immediate forced paralysis through a generalized shutdown and quarantine. The corona-crisis is also marked by fear, the previsions of multiple follow-up conflicts[12], war declarations on Covid-19[13], calls for global ceasefire and peace[14], massive economic losses and aid packages, an erosion of multilateralism and international institutions[15] and accentuates a return to closed borders and nation state principles in the attempt to isolate. Thereby these so-called measures of crisis management comply with the characteristics of classical security policy focused on the state, territory, military, violence, and power and with the broader definition of security, being centrally composed by “existential threats, emergency action, and effects on inter-unit relations by breaking free of rules”[16]. In accordance with security logics, this watershed moment of fighting against the invisible threat and the emergent protective security measures overrule every other issue. The socio-ecologic shock literally paralyses everything as its direct impacts and the immediate foreseeable consequences grow. Meanwhile planet Earth continuous to “err on the side of danger”[17].

The following caricature positions the corona-crisis in relation to climate change. It thereby accentuates several debates[18] and central interrelated challenges – here called “frictions”.

(s. picture on the right side)

Figure. “A statistically correct illustration of life on earth and other insignificant things”[19].


 A first friction contains the acknowledgment of the multiple existential crises we are in. In contrast to the World Risk Society, which describes the status of being at the steady brink of catastrophic risks[20], we are suddenly catapulted into what would have been some months ago described as a science fiction scenario. The second friction concerns the intertwined strong human-nature relations in the new geological era of the Anthropocene[21] and the embeddedness of humans as Earthly creatures.

A third friction becomes apparent as we bring the responses to the crises into focus. It especially highlights that the traditional understanding and measures of security policy, crisis management plans and actors do not solve nor measure up to the extents, nature and quality of the threats. Furthermore, the mono-oriented policies that deal with crises in a chronological linear order and the assumption of control, endpoints and solutions are further frictions that the corona-pandemic and the socio-ecological crises and Anthropocene bring into light. In addition, the complexity of the several interconnected, simultaneous and massive crises highlight the political nature and choice of how and which topic is dealt with in which sector and with what focus. Another friction comes to light in the question of which are correct preventive measures, as they will only be qualified as such a posteriori in the absence of a catastrophe.  

A major friction rests at the interfaces between science, civil society and politics, such as the relation between sciences, disciplines, and the general communication of the sciences. By the beginning of April 2020, there has been only one major reaction from a broader community of scientists – the call from the Club of Rome “Climate-Planetary Emergency”[22] addressed to global decision-makers. However, the question of how to overcome the disciplinary, institutional and national borders and channels of science communication in the long term remains another challenge in the context of the several simultaneous crises. The sciences find themselves facing enormous tasks, especially given that they are supposed to describe the situation, evaluate what went wrong[23] and develop predictions and recommendations.

As the world moves forward, the necessity to re-evaluate the current situation, develop new knowledge and find ways and tools to “think the several crises” together, such as by engaging with how to grasp the categories of existential threats, trouble and values, constitute future research tasks and also calls for an improved communication of the sciences. The political and philosophical question of “how do we evaluate” the different crises we are in becomes central. The definition and measurements of the curve of –to borrow the word used in the above caricature -  “trouble” becomes necessary. Do we, for example, measure “trouble” in the context of the multiple socio-ecological crises in terms of immediate deaths, increased violence, power abuse, social fraction and/or as economic losses? Does the focus lie on the Western, rich, poor, vulnerable societies or on the future generations to come? Is it about the erosion of the political systems, the possibility of the disruption of the contemporary world order and institutions or is it about the loss and degradation of common values of solidarity, support, freedom and intra- and intergenerational justice? Or do we measure “trouble” in terms of quality of life, of health or the likely event of a so-called tipping cascade into a Hothouse Earth?

This multiplicity of tasks that touch upon political, historical, psychological and philosophical questions and new emerging research will hopefully team up with the natural sciences and the several emerging interdisciplinary and border-crossing networks of engaged scientists[24] might provide an important ground for developing ways to overcome several barriers. Within these new globalized, embedded, dynamic and complex crises of the Anthropocene, developing holistic approaches through the re-evaluation of the here and now is of upmost importance in order to be able to develop ways to deal with the multiple and simultaneous frictions, threats and shocks.

Picture : © 2020 Statistically Insignificant / Raf Schoenmaekers.

[1] Angela Merkel press statement, 6.4.2020, At:

[2] At:

[3] “We see it as our social, ethical, and scholarly responsibility to state in no uncertain terms: Only if humanity acts quickly and resolutely can we limit global warming, halt the ongoing mass extinction of animal and plant species, and preserve the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations. This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support” (Hagedorn et al. 2019, “The concerns of the young protesters are justified. A statement by Scientists for Future concerning the protests for more climate protection”, GAIA, 28 2: 79-87; 140.)

[4] Steffen, W. et al.. 2018. Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115(33): 8252-8259.

[5] Ibid :1.

[6] Lenton, T.M., Rockström, J. ; Gaffney, O., Rahmstorf, S., Richardson, K., Steffen, W. & Schellnhuber, H. J. 2019. Climate tipping points—too risky to bet against. Nature, 575 (28): 592-595; 595.

[7] The European Parliament declares climate emergency Press Releases, 29-11-2019. At:

[8] A fifth Arria Formula meeting is planned fort he 22nd of April 2020. At:


[10] According to Greta Thunberg‘s (FFF) warning "We cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis", Speech at the COP24 Plenary Session, Katowize (Poland), 2018, At:

[11] Next to the S4F-Statement see also Ripple, W.J.; Wolf, C.; Newsome, T.M.; Barnard, P.; Moomaw, W.R. & 11.258 Signatories from 153 Countries. 2019. World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emeregency. BioScience 1.

[12] See for example International Crisis Group, „COVID-19 and Conflict: Seven Trends to Watch“, 20. April 2020, At:

[13] French president Emmanuel Macron, 16.3.20, At:; UN- Secretary-General António Guterres, At:

[14] UN- Secretary-General António Guterres,

[15] “This is the fight of a generation and the raison d’être [reason for being] of the United Nations itself,” UN- Secretary-General António Guterres, At:

[16] Buzan B., Wæver O. & De Wilde J. 1998. Security: A new framework for analysis. Boulder, London: Linnie Rienner Publishers, 26).

[17] Lenton, T.M., Rockström, J. ; Gaffney, O., Rahmstorf, S., Richardson, K., Steffen, W. & Schellnhuber, H. J. 2019. Climate tipping points—too risky to bet against. Nature, 575 (28): 592-595; 595). See also the Call oft he Club of Rome initiated “Climate-Planetary Emergency”. At:

[18] The possible severe or beneficial consequences of the corona-crises for climate change and for climate politics continue to be discussed. While on one hand the corona-crises have forced the postponement of the COP26 planned for November 2020 in Glasgow (UK), the crisis is also described as “an opportunity to end the war with nature“ (See e.g. By Vishwas Satgar, April, 2020, At: ) or as the chance to successfully deal with the socio-ecological crises (“Was uns die Krisen lehrten“, John Schellnhuber, 16.4.20. FAZ, At:

[19] Source: Permission for publication was provided by the author © 2020 Statistically Insignificant, Raf Schoenmaekers.   

[20] Beck, Ulrich. 2007. Weltrisikogesellschaft. Suhrkamp Verlag.

[21] Crutzen, P. 2002. Geology of Mankind. Nature, 415(6867): 23–23; Rockström, J. et al. 2009. Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Ecology and Society: 14 32.

[22] At:

[23] See for example Bruno Latour, who describes the current situation as an opportunity for a re-evaluation and selection of the existential („Imaginer les gestes-barrières contre le retour à la production d’avant-crise“, 30.3.20. At: See also Markus Gabriel, who argues for a new metaphyscial Pan-Demie and era of Enlightment („Wir brauchen eine metaphysische Pandemie“, 20.3.20  At:

[24] See for example S4F (, Enjust (, Environmental Peacebuilding Association ( and the Planetary Emergency Partnership (


Judith Nora Hardt
judith.hardt  ( at )