Stop! French philosopher Latour calls for not returning to pre-lockdown normalcy


PARIS (Reuters) – What if rather than rushing towards “business as usual” before the lockdown to revive economies hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, countries built a new normal where the fight against climate change was paramount?

Longtime environmental activist French philosopher Bruno Latour advocates exactly that, urging people to resist a return to old ways as governments relax restrictions.

Latour, 72, says the pandemic has unexpectedly shown that it is possible to shut down global economic activity, despite leaders claiming for decades that the train of progress cannot be stopped.

The lockdowns showed “that we could in fact take extremely drastic measures in a matter of days to counter a threat.” So in that sense, when people say we can’t do anything, that’s clearly wrong, ”Latour told Reuters in an interview.

However, he noted that the scale of the changes and decisions to be made to stem climate change are “much more complicated and more drastic than the ones we have (with the coronavirus)”.

France has been one of the countries most affected by COVID-19, with nearly 26,000 deaths to date. With new infections slowing, the government announced this week that a gradual easing of its nearly two-month lockdown will begin from Monday – signaling a slow return to business as usual.

“We must not miss the opportunity to do something else,” said Latour, who has built an international reputation with his case studies of scientists, notably French biologist Louis Pasteur, and his philosophical work to show that nature and society are not opposed but closely intertwined.

Latour’s call echoes a study released Tuesday in which a group of leading US and UK economists said massive public investment programs targeting green issues would be the most cost-effective way to both revive economies and strike a decisive blow against climate change.


Just as people around the world have been urged to adopt new behaviors to stop the spread of the virus – social distancing, wearing masks, coughing in the sleeve – Latour says all individuals should think about “protective measures” against a return to the pre-model of crisis production.

“Let’s try to see if we can imagine in advance what we want to keep (…) and what we want to stop,” said Latour.

He posted a questionnaire on his website, translated into at least a dozen languages, asking people to describe how they would like the world to change, what they definitely want to let go or what should be developed.

He said he had received hundreds of responses and was running workshops.

“Maybe if it works, we’ll put them in touch with groups of people who can actually (…) stop something,” he said, adding: “Can we do it? do it politically? One way is to stop buying the things we don’t want. The power of the consumer is immense. “

That said, Latour is not exaggerating the importance of his initiative.

He said he was concerned that the scale of the crisis, which has put millions of people out of work around the world, may in fact push environmental concerns into the background.

Report by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Frances Kerry

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