The COVID-19 Pandemic and Climate Change

Expressions of Global Ecological and Societal Misbalances

in The International Journal of Social Quality
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Harry G. J. NijhuisUniversity of Nijmegen, The Netherlands and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, USA hgjnijhuis@gmail.com

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Laurent J.G. van der MaesenInternational Association on Social Quality, The Netherlands vandermaesen@planet.nl

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In these reflections, instead of just summarizing the contributions on the societal impact of COVID-19 in the countries discussed in this thematic issue, we develop considerations on the nature of its substance and various related methodological issues. This is based especially on the outcomes of Working Paper 17 of the International Association on Social Quality (IASQ 2019) and the study about the conditions for interdisciplinary research in the natural sciences, in the human sciences, and between both fields of knowledge (). Both documents were available for the authors of this issue's articles. For understanding the overwhelming COVID-19 pandemic as well the increasing challenges caused by climate change, bio-degeneration, and the ongoing pollution of nature, new steps for bridging the natural and the human sciences are a conditio sine qua non for understanding the complexity of the multidimensionality of critical situations that demand comprehensive approaches.

Purpose of These Reflections

In these reflections, instead of just summarizing the contributions on the societal impact of COVID-19 in the countries discussed in this thematic issue, we develop considerations on the nature of its substance and various related methodological issues. This is based especially on the outcomes of Working Paper 17 of the International Association on Social Quality (IASQ 2019) and the study about the conditions for interdisciplinary research in the natural sciences, in the human sciences, and between both fields of knowledge (Westbroek et al. 2020). Both documents were available for the authors of this issue's articles. For understanding the overwhelming COVID-19 pandemic as well the increasing challenges caused by climate change, bio-degeneration, and the ongoing pollution of nature, new steps for bridging the natural and the human sciences are a conditio sine qua non for understanding the complexity of the multidimensionality of critical situations that demand comprehensive approaches.

Therefore—as argued in the 2020 study (see above)—the underdevelopment of adequate forms of interdisciplinary research blocks this bridging. With this in mind, this thematic issue is dedicated to paving the way for a better understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic. From Working Paper 17, the current presentation of the three frameworks is used as an overall reference. This is discussed in the Editorial of this issue, which explains, via its Figure 4, the connection between these three frameworks: (1) procedural framework; (2) the analytical framework; and (3) the conceptual framework. A decade ago, the latter two frameworks were connected with the three elements of Roy Bhaskar's theory of “critical realism,” namely, the distinction between the concrete, the abstract, and the empirical (Bhaskar 1978, 1979). This theory was for the first time incorporated into the theory of social quality in its third main book (Van der Maesen and Walker 2012), and further discussed in the above-mentioned study (Westbroek et al. 2020: 78). Thanks to the work done by the contributors to this thematic issue, it is even more crucial that we focus on connecting the three frameworks of social quality and critical realism. The main questions now are: (1) What does this need to pair these two theories and approaches teach us with regard to getting a better understanding of the societal impact of COVID-19?; and (2) What does this teach us for enhancing interdisciplinary analyses for understanding societal-based processes, which cause climate change, bio-degeneration, and environmental pollution?

The Complexity of Problems and the Need for Comprehensive Approaches

In the Editorial, a main topic of the applied procedural framework is the distinction between four dimensions of societal life: (a) the sociopolitical and legal dimension; (b) the socioeconomic and financial dimension; (c) the sociocultural and welfare dimension; (d) and the socioenvironmental and ecological dimension. The complex multidimensionality of critical situations the world is facing today is perfectly illustrated in the argument based on the case from Brazil in this thematic issue. The introduction of so-called “necropolitics” as a political outcome shockingly exposes interferences with processes in the sociopolitical and legal dimension, which in a decisive way influence the three other dimensions, especially the last one. Similar interferences look to be in place in South Africa and India. The phenomenon heralds a new interpretation in the political and legal sciences. Another example of the complexity of a rapidly increasing topical global problem is the worldwide emergence of slums and favelas in urban agglomerations. In many places, structural politics—based on processes in the socioeconomic and financial dimension as well as the sociocultural and welfare dimension—implicitly stimulate the increase of the population living in these uninhabitable places. This has dramatic consequences for the socioenvironmental and ecological dimension (UN-Habitat 2015; Motta 2020). For example, through the miserable circumstances in their daily lives residents are prone carriers of viruses. Arachu Castro states:

The greatest risk of exposure to the virus is transferred to people living in overcrowded conditions where there is no access to water and sanitation, and where daily subsistence depends on informal jobs that require contact with others. These are precisely the characteristics of households in urban slums and the reasons why following hygiene, confinement, and physical distance recommendations are more difficult, if not impossible, to carry out. (Castro 2020)

The nature of the differential course and societal and health impacts of the COVID pandemic on a global scale constitutes a decisive argument for the necessity to frame the “problematique” from comprehensive perspectives based on the four above-mentioned dimensions. In the past two years, it has become alarmingly clear that this pandemic has enhanced the divide between the rich and the poor (Dauderstädt 2021). The articles about Brazil, India, South Africa, and Pakistan confirm this increasing divide. And thus it can be shown that necropolitics (as an expression in the sociopolitical dimension) and commercial interests (as expressions in the socioeconomic dimension) have caused a “vaccination apartheid” (Lanziotti et al. 2021). Furthermore, the pandemic has increased the demand for throw-away plastics, intensifying pressure on the out-of-control global plastic waste problem, including the pollution of oceans, landslides, rivers, and lakes (Laville 2021). Comprehensive, global perspectives on the nature of the COVID pandemic and multidisciplinary approaches to cope with its health and societal impacts, including the emerged modes of pollution, are what is needed.

In recent public statements from authoritative institutions, the issue of comprehensiveness was at stake in various ways. In November 2021 at an international conference in Shanghai of so-called “top scientists” from around the world, it was argued that the world's countries should come together to find new answers as the world is confronted with major challenges, including public health, climate change, and sustainable energy:

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the power of science to address global problems. With worldwide efforts, presentation, prevention and control methods and the solution through vaccine development were accomplished swiftly. Open communication of observations and ideas is the source of progress. International communication, through speech and publications, leads to testing and validation, to the elimination of errors and applications. (Wenting 2021)

This statement refers to the search for vaccines. However, it also talks about traditions regarding the way representatives of the human sciences relate to each other. The plea in fact also implies the deployment of shared frames of reference, in order to make scientific communication possible. This mostly obscured topic may be understood as the most important point of departure for the development of global cooperation.

Traditional Focus on Human Sciences: A Past Plea Revisited and Its Counterpart

Clearly, the pandemic has revealed that in the deployed approaches the role of representatives of global political powers and global economic and financial players turns out to be a determining factor for many adverse outcomes. The ingrained roles of these critical players need to be interpreted and considered in the light of these looming global threats. Changing these ingrained patterns also implies changing the behaviours, attitudes, conventions, and interests of communities. For the understanding and promotion of these indispensable conditions, the human sciences can play an important role. This does imply the need to academic work around the world to be done cooperatively and in a context of constant communication. This was of course the message from the Shanghai conference in November 2021 referenced above.

From this perspective, the International Association on Social Quality (IASQ) and the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) published a declaration on the eve of the Paris Climate Conference in 2015 (IASQ and ISS 2015). The Manifesto for Paris Climate Conference 2015, signed by 400 scholars from all over the world, in particular addressed communities involved in the human sciences to inspire comprehensive approaches and cooperation between political, economic, anthropological, behavioral, and other human sciences. Besides national, regional, and global political and economic powers, academic representatives of the human sciences were also invited to play a big role in orchestrating worldwide cooperation. Part of the core business of universities should be to contribute to a sound understanding of all dimensions of sustainable development, including the role of all four dimensions in the prevention of and response to climate change. Here are of the salient points of the Manifesto:

  • To enable academics to cross disciplinary, bureaucratic and other conventional boundaries, the world needs orchestrated common academic efforts to invent new conceptual and methodological frameworks that draw connections between the huge diversity of studies related to sustainability.

  • Such efforts should be aimed at creating a comprehensive understanding of sustainability suitable for addressing multidimensional problems, thus offering alternatives to overly top-down approaches promoted by many governments and business-players.

  • Herewith the academic world should make a contribution to policies oriented towards sustainable development that strengthens social justice, human dignity, solidarity within and across societies and equal opportunities for all peoples of the world.

  • The results of these efforts should be made accessible so as to stimulate and mobilize individuals, communities and policy-makers at all levels to act as positive forces in the diverse processes towards sustainable development.

  • For the proposed orchestration of academic institutes and academics from across the world, we need “academic change-agents” in order to promote the work at conceptual and methodological levels and to communicate about the outcomes, especially to and from grassroots levels.

Already in 2019, a declaration by 11.000 natural scientists was published to pave the way for an orchestration of sciences and politics because the Earth is facing a climate emergency (Ripple et al 2020). As is further explained, the plea concerned for especially the orchestration of human scientists to cope with processes in the four dimensions for complementing natural scientific work (UN, 2019: 1-3).

It makes sense at this point to refer to statements from a representative of the influential Carnegie Institute, who in an almost self-evident manner ignores the necessity for comprehensiveness in order to understand multidimensional processes. Stefan Lehne argues:

Ultimately, there is a crucial difference between national measures intended to stop the spread of a pandemic and those meant to curb global warning. Whereas actions taken in a pandemic can deliver immediate concrete benefits to the population (by keeping the virus out or reducing infections), the success of efforts to slow climate change largely depend on other international actors taking similar steps. … Therefore, while foreign policy was a sideshow during the pandemic, it sits at the heart of any effort to mitigate global warning. (Lehne 2021: 4)

In this casuistic summary of empirical facts, the interrelationships remain shrouded in mist. For example, the wealthy countries’ economies have grown rapidly in 2021, whereas low-income countries remain disproportionally adversely affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic (Oxfam 2021). Why? In the words of Lehne, the wealthy countries mobilized $16 trillion to fund COVID-19 measures. Only 1 percent was allocated to assist low-income countries to cope with the crisis. Why? It remains inexplicable why, according to Lehne, today 4.2 percent of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated. Vanessa Lanziotti and colleagues, referring to this situation, argue:

Vaccine apartheid is not the way to end the pandemic … here, we paraphrase the WHO's Secretary General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “I believe the world faces a catastrophic moral failure in equal access to the tools to combat the pandemic.” This apartheid of a new vaccine-preventable disease would remain in the memory of generations as a macabre precedent of this syndemic. (Lanziotti et al. 2021: 5)

Finally, in the realm of the obvious alarming picture, why did the Trump Administration leave the World Health Organization in 2020? Satirizing the argument of the Carnegie Institute, one would conclude: “Therefore, also foreign policy sits at the heart of any effort to mitigate or not the pandemic globally.” The view on the nature of global problems, expressed by the Carnegie Institute, apparently is not born from a frame of reference geared toward a comprehensive orientation of processes in the four dimensions, in particular the sociopolitical and legal dimension.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Climate Change Challenges

As discussed in the Editorial, three frameworks are in different ways applied in the articles of this thematic issue. As its Figure 4 illustrates, it concerns the (1) procedural framework with the distinction between four dimensions of societal life; (2) the analytical framework with the distinction of three sets of factors as instruments to analyze changes in people's daily circumstances; (3) and the conceptual framework as a fundamental point of departure for the other two frameworks. The conceptual framework is dedicated to the theorizing of the concept of “the social” with the help of the explication of its ontological assumptions. These assumptions deliver points of departure of the epistemological assumptions expressed in the analytical and procedural frameworks. This overall framework is connected with the essence of the theory of “critical realism” with its distinction of (a) main structures and mechanisms (the concrete); (b) the herewith-related patterns of events (the abstract); and (c) the hereupon-based instruments for interpretations of relevant experiences (the empirical). Critical realism is the counterpart of the point of departure of neoliberalism, which is individualistic utilitarianism (Westbroek et al. 2020: 78).

With help of this intellectual instrumentation, we may articulate some main aspects of the articles of this thematic issue:

  • Attention to the main structures and mechanisms, using the procedural framework as described in the Editorial, concerning the positive and negative outcomes, in the following five cases, of processes in the sociopolitical and legal dimension and the consequences of said processes for the other dimensions:

    1. In Italy, the main issue was the revival of governmental power and, at the same time—because of a history of fragmentation—a general obstacle to government effectiveness posed by various institutions.
    2. In China, the main issue was the pervasive interventions of the political-administrative system, and the application of modern electronic instruments for obtaining community support.
    3. In India, the main issue was the historical divide (political and economic) between classes and various forms of corruption and ignorance.
    4. In South Africa, the main issue was modern expression of necropolitics (structures of “Apartheid”) and the current exacerbation of differences in lifestyle between rich and poor.
    5. In Brazil, the main issue was the application of necropolitics to undermine the position of indigenous people and their ecological values on behalf of the economic elite.
  • Attention to patterns of events, which are connected with aspects of the procedural and analytical frameworks, related with the intention to better understand processes in the sociocultural and welfare dimension:

    1. In the United Kingdom, we see the application of the conditional factors of social quality to the current outcomes of community activism with regard to the development of support to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic in people's daily lives.
    2. In Germany, we see the experiences voluntary organizations, their role in society, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic thereon.
    3. In Pakistan, we see the highly deplorable situation of displaced persons, a lack social quality in their daily circumstances, and how this lack also increased their vulnerability to COVID-19.
    4. In the United States, we see the exposure of perceptions of lower-income families about disadvantaged conditions of socioeconomic security, empowerment, social cohesion, and social exclusion.
  • Attention to interpretations of relevant experiences, in which aspects of the analytical framework are discussed implicitly and (sometimes) explicitly:

    1. In Japan, the need for care for elderly and the social exclusion of migrant workers is discussed in the sociocultural and welfare dimension and the sociopolitical and socioeconomic dimension.
    2. In Australia, the explorations of trust as an essential factor of social cohesion and compliance is discussed in the sociocultural and sociopolitical and legal dimensions.
    3. In the United States (second article), the shortcomings of a reductionist framing of complex problems is discussed in the light of finding thorough solutions.

From COVID-19 to Climate Change and Other Global Crises

The worldwide experiences with the COVID-19 crisis have exposed a multitude of impacts and frictions, some of them new and many of them aggravations of existing problems and societal patterns. The valuable lessons learned from the pandemic to a large extent are applicable to comparable “problematiques” with comparable complexity. Considering the topical pressures on global environmental ecological issues, the question is what the COVID-19 tsunami has in common with crises like climate change, bio-degradation, and natural pollution. In both types of crisis, imbalances in the natural world are expressed as a crucial component of their emergence and direction. As was revealed in our case studies, these imbalances to a large extent stem from—and in their aggravations are determined by—human activity. In the case of COVID-19, enormous natural scientific efforts have been made to understand the genetics of the COVID-19 virus, its spread, its medical consequences, and its treatment and prevention. How and to what extent ecologically imbalanced human behavior has interfered at the origins of the pandemic though is not understood. The same holds true for the erratic patterns of spread, being the outcome of complex interactions between man and nature. The achievements of the natural sciences indeed are not equipped to discover the mechanisms and dynamics of the involved interactions. Clearly, the state of scientific knowledge regarding the effects of human behavior in relation to CO2 emissions, and various other pollution issues, has made enormous progress (IPCC 2021a, 2021b). Yet, also in these cases specific topical processes in the sociopolitical and legal, socioeconomic and financial, and sociocultural and welfare dimensions are not sufficiently understood in their interrelationships with processes in the socioenvironmental and ecological dimension. In this thematic issue, walking on the path of trial and error we have explored the societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through the deployment of the fourfold distinction between dimensions of societal life. Reflecting on the articles, it may be concluded that the deployment of this dimensional distinction, in combination with the three sets of social quality factors, has been helpful for the comprehensive understanding of what was going on in our societies. In particular because of the similarities concerning the complex interactive processes between man and nature, this distinction, from the perspective of the human sciences, may be likewise deployed to climate change, bio-degeneration, and natural pollution.

The urgency to expose the course and outcome of societal processes, which could determine the future our climate, is given by the recent COP26, where twenty nations announced to halt all financing for fossil fuel development overseas and divert spending to the green energy sector (Harvey and Greenfield 2021). According Jeff Sommer (2021), such a decision will cause a shortage of energy in the United States, China, India, and Europe. Extra usage of coal will be the answer, because of its growing advantageous market prices. The critical issue here is the conceptualization and quantification of “price.” Prices for fossil fuel, expressed in dollars, never did and also nowadays “don't reflect the true costs of burning them. The burdens of these costs—impaired health, catastrophic floods, species extinction and on and on—must be borne by every inhabitant of the planet, now and for generations to come.” The announcement from COP26 may be interpreted as a manifestation of existing antagonisms between actors in the sociopolitical and legal dimension and those actors operating in the socioeconomic and financial dimension. Equally interesting is the really unexpected announcement of China and the United States to work together on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade. They will cooperate closely on these CO2 emission cuts, which scientists say in the next ten years need to stay with 1.5 C (Harvey 2021). This is very important, because the most important issue from the perspective of the sociopolitical and legal dimension is that political factions should go beyond their past animosities in order to rescue the sustainability of human life on earth. In other words, this should happen because of arguments derived from the socioenvironmental and ecological dimension. It implies huge consequences for ongoing and mostly conservatively determined processes in the socioeconomic and financial dimension as well as the sociocultural and welfare dimension. From the side of big economic players in the socioeconomic and financial dimension—with their intrinsic need for economic growth and accumulation of profits and natural propensity for large-scale tax evasion—what motive is there to curb, for example, CO2 or methane emissions? This intrinsic tendency is also immeasurably fed by the age-old jurisprudence on property and possessions. This theme, which is highly relevant for further explanations, refers to current manifestations of so-called “necropolitics.”

A View on Some Data and the Main Outcomes of COP26

Following the framework of reasoning applied in the discussions of the societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes feasible to summarize some eye-catching questions concerning the issue of climate change. Starting from processes in the sociocultural and welfare dimension, it is clear that poor countries are not capable of keeping up with measures to cope under their own power with human-caused climate change, bio-degeneration, and environmental pollution. If circumstances remain as they are (ceteris paribus), this will seriously undermine their ability to maintain the conditional factors of social quality. This will decrease the social quality of everyday life. Not accountable for the damage done, they are not enabled by rich countries to maintain reasonable standards of daily life. This major contradiction again became a threat to the success of the recent Glasgow conference. Since the Paris conference, no progress has been made in this particular sensitive international agenda. What, precisely, are the contributing factors and processes leading to this continuing frustration in the sociopolitical and legal dimension? What are the underlying conditions in the socioeconomic and financial dimension in the COP26 conference leading to the disproportionate presence of unofficial lobbyists: 500 representatives of large financial institutions against, for example, ten delegates from Pakistan (Van Raaij 2021)?

Far-reaching questions need to raised regarding the traditional figures on which the global recommendations for the reduction of CO2 are based. Why are these figures based on megatons (mgt) per country, instead of megatons per 1000,000 population? The figures from the Carbon Atlas show notable comparisons (Global Carbon 2021).

  • Highest segment: United States: 14 mgt; Australia 15.0 mgt; Russia 10.8 mgt; Japan 8.1 mgt

  • Middle segment: Germany: 7.7 mgt; South Africa: 7.7 mgt; China: 7.4 mgt.; and the European Union as a whole 5.4 mgt

  • Lowest segment: Brazil: 2.2 mgt; India 1.8 mgt; Pakistan: 1.1 mgt.

With the traditional presentations, the United States, India, China, and the European Union are referred to as the major polluters, but per capita these are the United States, Australia, Russia, and Japan. What does this difference actually indicate?

Oxfam offers a different approach. Based on its calculations of the total global emissions, it concludes:

The richest 1 percent—fewer people than the population of Germany—are expected to account for 16 percent of total global emissions by 2030, up from 13 percent in 1990 and 15 percent in 2015. The total emissions of the richest 10 percent alone are set to exceed the 1.5 °C-aligned level in 2030, regardless of what the other percent do … a tiny elite appeared to have a free pass to pollute. Their over-sized emissions are fuelling extreme weather around the world and jeopardizing the international goal of limiting global heating. (Oxfam 2021)

It is obvious that within the sociopolitical and legal and socioeconomic and financial dimensions, and in particular in the intersections between these two, important questions need to be answered to clarify the obstructions that stand in the way of solving the enormous problems posed by this global crisis.

The connection between the Carbon Atlas and Oxfam figures irrefutably demonstrates that the difference in wealth exerts a determining influence on states’ per capita environmental footprint. It is not so much the countries with a low footprint, but those with a high footprint that need to change significantly. Only then we will rightly touch on the core issues of processes in the sociocultural ad welfare dimension. Our information about the views of natural science on the issue of climate change is quite clear—as is the new information from the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The information clearly confirms the statement that the world needs to take measures to keep the rise of global temperatures below 1.5 °C (IPCC 2021a, 2021b). How to tackle these measures—how to change human behaviors, needs, and aspirations—is the biggest challenge we face. Can we find the answers in this global problematic of the utmost complexity with technical solutions? The current dramatic twists and turns in the revival of the COVID-19 pandemic provide an interesting spectacle of what lies ahead of us.

A New Societal Contract between Actors in the Sociopolitical and Legal Dimension and Players in the Sociocultural and Welfare Dimension

It may be of interest to refer to some conclusions by Thomas Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times. He recently reported on the week-long COP 26 conference in Glasgow, looking at the Climate Summit and the newsworthy events that happened there. He has visited most of the climate summits since Bali 2007, but he explained that he was

most awed by the energy of all the youth on the streets demanding that we rise to the challenge of global warming and by some of the amazing new technological and market fixes being proposed by innovators and investors. This was not the old days—everyone waiting for the deals cut by the priesthood of climate diplomats. … But for me, there was one question that hovered over every promise coming out of this summit, which ends today: When you see how hard it's been for governments to get their citizens to just put on a mask in stores or to get vaccinated, to protect themselves, their neighbours and their grandparents from being harmed or killed by Covid-19, how in the world are we going to get big majorities to work together globally and make the lifestyle sacrifices needed to dampen the increasingly destructive effects of global warming. (Friedman 2021)

This reflection is not devoid of a truly sad realization. The international polling at Kantor Public organized a climate survey in ten countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, on the eve of COP26. Jon Henley reported that citizens were alarmed by the climate crisis (62 percent), but that most believe they are already doing more to preserve the planet than anyone and that 46 percent felt that there was no real need for them to change their personal habits. Notwithstanding this fact, most (76 percent) of those surveyed across the ten countries said they would accept stricter environmental rules and regulations (Henley 2021). With this in mind, it is not surprising that in the negotiations during COP26 attention was focused on CO2 emissions per country and not per capita. If the latter was the case, the unparalleled footprint (or wealthy lifestyle) in the United States or the European Union would have been the subject of the negotiations and not the amount of emissions of, for example, India.

In a video statement released at the close of the two-week COP26 meeting, the UN Secretary-General—António Guterres—concluded that we did not achieve limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 °C. At the last moment, China and India demanded to change the wording in the protocol about “the phase-out” of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels. They wanted to use the term “phase down.” The question of inefficient subsidies was accepted, as was the need to mobilize climate finance, and to support the developing countries beyond $100 billion per year. Next to that the United States and China promised to take steps on a range of issues, including methane emissions, transition to clean energy, and decarbonization, and to keep, in one way or another, the 1.5 oC goal within reach. Twenty countries signed a document to end the cofinancing of coal, gas, and coal exploitation. In other words, John Kerry, from the United States, may be right with his positive conclusion about the COP26 outcomes (UN 2021a). This is also in line with the biggest deal agreed on by 120 countries, representing about 90 percent of the world's forests, which pledged to halt and reverse deforestation: “Today is going to be a monumental day, we are setting the tone of how we can preserve the lungs of the world” (UN 2021b).

Strengthening Comprehensive Approaches and Global Cooperation

We have dedicated this thematic issue to questions related to the societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lessons learned convincingly reveal that the focus on the natural scientific (medico-biological/epidemiological) angle cannot deliver the approaches to thoroughly cope with the problems. Nor do these expose the impacts in the four dimensions of societal life leading to adverse outcomes for the social quality of peoples’ daily circumstances. Through references to and interpretations of recent events and processes concerning climate change we have argued that the same very much holds true for other ecological crises. The single-sided focus on and knowledge about the natural scientific, ecological aspects of COVID-19 and climate change, is after all not going to deliver the effective answers. The broadly supported overall conclusive momentum of Glasgow was the environmental variable of 1.5 °C. Little was agreed regarding the hazardous future of Bangladesh and the Pacific islands, as well as the the fact that property and wealth will remain with the rich (countries and individuals alike). We need to gain much more knowledge about decisive processes taking place in the sociopolitical and legal, socioeconomic and financial, and sociocultural and welfare dimensions to cope with the immense challenges. Three essential perspectives come to the fore when considering the frustrating and counterproductive fragmentation of scientific knowledge, as well as the fragmentation of the practical approaches needed to cope.

First, scientific divides need to be bridged. This is a great challenge, which involves ingrained societal traditions in and between distinct scientific communities. It also concerns tools to connect diverging scientific paradigms. In the study by Jaap Westbroek and colleagues (2020), a promising device to facilitate the connection between the natural and human sciences was discussed. The study explains how on a fundamental ontological level the evolution of both individual parts (e.g., people) and collective wholes (e.g., societies) depends on constructive dialectical processes between these two levels of “order.” The quality of the future (“evolution”) of humankind and the planet is built on the productive quality of the immanent evolving equilibrium between these levels. Social quality theory is based the same ontological notion. In its theory and analytical framework, it provides tools to analyze and judge what is evolutionary quality and what is not. This fundamental notion may constitute part of the foundation on which the dialogue and cooperation between the natural and the human sciences may be built.

Second, ecological crises such as COVID-19 and climate change, because of their expansive natural scientific nature, are not confined to the geographic boundaries of countries. They cannot be solved on a national or a regional scale. National, regional, and global patterns of human behavior that influence its emergence, expansion, and containment need to be a major part of the endeavor to cope with the disturbances to the equilibrium. The full engagement of richer countries to support the poor countries to do their share to fight climate change is an indispensable component of restoring equilibrium. In other words, serious changes in the international sociopolitical and legal, socioeconomic and financial, and sociocultural and welfare dimensions need to be part of coming scientific reports and conferences on climate change. In addition to the existing global natural-science-oriented platforms (e.g., ICPP), this requires the establishment of a new global platform in which the human scientific components of the workings and interferences of the four dimensions are exposed and explained, as pleaded by 11,000 natural scientists (Ripple et al. 2000).

The preparedness and availability of scientific tools to bridge such a divide need to be prerequisites to the entire scientific network meant to substantiate global political decision-making (e.g., COP). The inclusion of the dimensions of societal life presupposes the readiness and mental space to make these arguments part of political decisions. As shown in COP26, in the present tradition of deliberations, mainly based on economic and political interests, this mental space is not yet available. The shift in substance orientation would also imply a transformation of the present tradition of considering and weighing arguments.

Given the dramatic impacts and the urgency of the threatening situations, good global governance is needed more than ever. The plea for stronger roles for, among others, the United Nations and the WHO, as we have discussed in this issue, however, faces considerable resistance. Nationalist orientations have shown to be serious barriers on the road to more powerful global governance. The plea for a global governance to be successful needs convincing substantiation by scientific arguments. These arguments do regard evidence from the ecological, as well the other three dimensions of societal life. This signifies the importance of the former argument to bridge the scientific divide. As has become clear at the end of GOP 26 in Glasgow, China and the United States could make the difference in reconstructing new forms of cooperation with among others the help of a platform of human scientific analyses.

Lastly, and this may be the most important argument, in regards to the transformation of global political decision-making, we need to bring to the foreground (with support from human science scholars) universal moral principles as a guide for our orientations, actions, and decisions. The evolving “vaccination apartheid” in the world speaks volumes. The most fragile among us need protecting just as much as the less vulnerable (global vaccination coverage to protect our own health ought to be secondary). What matters are our ethics and the way in which we approach alleviating poverty in the world. Human dignity, equal value, social justice, solidarity, and eco-equilibrium (instead of guaranteeing capital accumulation) ought to be the prime values of our vision and the prime motives for our actions.

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