23/03/2020 Opinion

Eudald Carbonell i Roura, Professor of Prehistory of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), researcher of the Catalan Institute of Human Palaeoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) and vice-president of the Atapuerca Foundation

Coronavirus Covid-19 is the last warning: if we don’t make decisions, it will be the collapse of our species

This is not just a health crisis. It is a social and universal crisis

FOTO: Cameron Casey, Pexels

In 2008 my book La consciència que crema (The Burning Conscience) finished with the following words: “I seriously think that the next big revolution will not be scientific or technical. The next revolution will be the triumph of the species thanks to the deployment of an operational critical consciousness of the species. Otherwise, all we can expect is the collapse of the species and extinction.”  I finished in this way because we have already lived through events such as the missile crisis and the Iraq War which had us with our backs to the wall and were a wake-up call to the need to preserve what I refer to as the critical consciousness of the species. At these moments, humanity was aware of global risks and expressed a universal consciousness that forced people into the street. They were reacting not to the cause of a particular country or social class but to the consciousness of the species.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, we find ourselves immersed in a crisis that will determine how we face the future. In this process, the critical consciousness of the species must be above any other interest. This means that we have to behave consciously in the knowledge that all the humans on planet Earth are Homo sapiens and, therefore, we all belong to the same species, to one culture and to a historic moment. We are the only animals who can do this and we have to do it critically (that’s to say, not dogmatically). We also have to integrate diversity and cooperate, not compete.

I also mentioned that for several decades now we have been faced with many challenges that we need to rise to if we are to prevent our system from collapsing: demographic growth, problems of energy distribution, the need to organise and socialise the scientific-technical revolution, and now the coronavirus.

In my opinion, if we are to get through this difficult time and prevent similar situations in the future, we need to set up mechanisms of collaboration and interdependence the world over. For example, Europe has shown that the nation states that make it up are weak. We have seen Germany refusing to send medical material to Italy when the first thing that must be done is to transfer information. The European Union (EU) has been an economic unification but not a social one. Now, within Spain, the same thing is happening between Catalonia and the government of Pedro Sánchez, which is holding back medical material and not sending it on to where it was requested.

So this is not just a health crisis; it is also a social and universal crisis that is forcing us to take a long, hard look at ourselves. It is the collapse of a system brought about by not having made structural changes a few years ago when we had our first warnings. But the way we acted was disloyal to the species and to ourselves.

This time the disaster is a medical one which, thanks to technical and scientific advances, we will manage to get over. However, the ensuing economic havoc, the result of a lack of social cohesion, will be so great that we will be obliged to take many decisions. If we don’t, the next time will not be a warning: it will be the collapse of the species.

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