Open letter to the Governments of the Mediterranean States

Dr. Robert Hofrichter – Präsident

MareMundi – Verein zur Förderung der Meereswissenschaften (ZVR 051890525)

Schwarzstraße 33, A-5020 Salzburg/Austria
fon: +43 664 73623543 • email: office@mare-mundi.org
Homepage: mare-mundi.org

Salzburg, May 25, 2020

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

Open letter to the Governments of the Mediterranean States

How we can benefit ecologically from the Covid crisis

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our non-profit nature- and marine conservation organization, MareMundi, has followed the efforts of nations around the world to deal with the Corona crisis with respect. After the lockdown, states are now working to find realistic ways of reopening again. It is precisely this phase that offers the governments of countries around the world the opportunity to integrate key ecological insights to support increased sustainability on our planet. Seizing this opportunity is of fundamental importance for our shared future.

Who we are

MareMundi is an NGO that creates and publishes expert reviews on ecological issues relating to the Mediterranean, marine ecology, environmental protection in general, and biodiversity. As experts and part of civil society, we feel obliged to take a stand at this time.

For over three years, MareMundi has worked with over 50 scientists from a wide range of disciplines on the soon-to-be published, most extensive scientific work on the European Mediterranean to date [1]. This comprehensive standard work [2] details the most important environmental issues, and recognizes that  most of the problems of the Mediterranean Sea are, just as the current pandemic, a  consequence of globalization. Leading scientists all agree that we are currently living in the Anthropocene epoch [3], a new era of humanity that is fundamentally changing the foundations of life for all future generations. We are living in the midst of the Earth’s sixth great wave of extinction; it is man-made and can only be slowed with the greatest of efforts.

Our concern

In March 2020, as rational thinkers everywhere began to realize that the COVID-19 pandemic posed a truly serious threat to the health of the earth’s population, governments in almost every country gradually, and in unprecedented unity, called for the lockdown of their states in an act of damage control. Never, in all our efforts at international conferences on issues such as climate protection, has our generation experienced such a collective approach, and this even though climate change [4] is undoubtedly an even greater threat to the future of humanity. As sad as it is for all those affected by Covid 19, there have been millions of victims of pandemics in the course of history. Worldwide waves of extinction and climate change due to human activity, however, are absolutely unprecedented.

Topics we consider crucial from now on

  • Our lifestyle, production, consumption, transport, mobility, the extent of globalization, land use, the degradation or destruction of natural habitats and all related factors: In the current situation, we have all seen how we have become dependent on Asian countries due to excessive globalization, even with everyday items such as protective equipment and medication.
  • Population growth: Discussion of a “shared responsibility” for slowing global population growth. As the “driving force behind environmental degradation”, this is one of the two decisive factors involved in all of the following problems).
  • Climate change and all associated phenomena such as drought: For decades, the countries of the world and their politicians have not been prepared to take the necessary steps, fearing these to be unpopular with parts of the population. There is, however, no way around them. A consensus such as exists in the current Covid-19 situation was never reached at any of the various climate conferences in the past, although experts have been warning us for decades that climate change will have unforeseeable consequences. During the pandemic governments have been happy to refer to experts. Given this far more serious threat, and we are talking here about future effects over centuries and many generations , a responsible government is well advised to seek the advice of experts.
  • Water shortage: This is closely related to climate change. We have seen the dramatic consequences for years. Our NGO deals specifically with the Mediterranean: The south of the EU countries of Spain, Italy and Greece are at risk of becoming uninhabitable within a generation due to excessively high temperatures and the lack of rainfall. Major areas of fertile soil will become desert.
  • Rethinking agriculture and subsidies: This involves promoting environmentally friendly, regenerative and organic agricultural practices that support the soil. It requires an extensive reduction in the excessive use of chemical agents which poison the soil causing the death of birds, bees and other insects.
  • Even the simplest ecological measures can help to reduce species extinction. Planting biodiverse native wildflowers and hedges, as well as creating water-filled ditches, works wonders while reckless and unsustainable profit maximization through industrialized agriculture has no future.
  • Exceptional challenges require exceptional measures. Facing the Corona crisis your government has proven that it is capable of making important decisions, saving many lives in the process. An even stronger reaction is needed to deal with the threats of the ongoing climate crisis: uninhabitable landscapes, uncontrolled migration flows, hunger, wars over resources, etc. We are aware that the challenges are enormous and that political implementation is extremely difficult. But even a clear commitment of the government to seriously considering sustainability would strengthen the backbone of campaigners fighting for this turnaround.

We trust that your government sees the opportunity in this “start-up situation” as a unique chance to tackle unpopular issues, the importance of which extend well beyond a parliamentary term. Significantly higher contributions from the wealthiest sectors of the population and global corporations will become inevitable to further ecologically-sound and sustainable development.

To illustrate the issues we mention above, we refer to the report of the Austrian forestry expert,  Gerald Blaich:

“All signals are on red alert. As head forester in the Waldviertel (Lower Austria), I witness the decline of an entire ecosystem every day, that of the spruce forests. A few years ago, this was completely unthinkable. An important economic pillar for farmers, monasteries and rural forest owners is collapsing before our very eyes.”

Many respected economists only ever focus on the area of their studies: boosting the economy, jobs, growth and profit. As legitimate as these goals may be for a functioning economy, it is high time for the warnings of other experts to be taken into account for several reasons. Business can no longer be conducted once ecosystems have been destroyed. Our civilization is in serious danger! It is imperative to counteract the major threats posed by the greenhouse effect, the galloping extinction of species and overpopulation with all our might.

Simple, practical conclusions can be drawn for further actions: Promote all economic sectors, projects and innovations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enable biodiversity, i.e. renewable energy, nature conservation areas, regional production and regional supply chains accessing organic farming instead of industrial agriculture, etc.

Ultimately we need to refrain from anything that increases greenhouse gases, the fragmentation and paving-over of land, which all result in the loss of biodiversity.

The tipping point: the global ecosystem as such can collapse

– Since this tipping point is difficult to predict, it will hit humanity unprepared just as Corona did. Once the first dominoes have fallen, we are dealing with an unstoppable downward spiral:

– Global warming, the melting of the poles and glaciers, extreme heat and drought on the one hand, flooding and storms on the other. The consequences are large-scale crop failures, stores with empty shelves and skyrocketing food prices.

– The thawing of permafrost will release gigantic amounts of greenhouse gases. Uncontrolled forest fires will cause even more CO2 emissions. There will be changes of ocean currents, acidification of the seas, the collapse of fish populations, the loss of protective coral reefs, and the flooding of densely populated regions like Bangladesh or the uninhabitability of entire island states like Micronesia.

– This will result in enormous migration flows that we do not even want to imagine today, not only from the dry Mediterranean states of the EU, but also from overheated equatorial regions. These future refugees will not arrive in boats as mere asylum seekers, instead huge crowds of people will come who have nothing at all to lose.

Will this world be better after Corona?

Handling the corona pandemic will require significant resources for a long time to come. Nevertheless, life in our societies must be restarted. Your government has the unique opportunity to play a pioneering role in Europe, indeed worldwide, in addressing the truly significant questions of the future in a much more focused way than ever before. Please try to make this “new start” a positive ecological, economic, social and societal turning point for all of us and our descendants. Fairness towards nature and our planet is fairness towards ourselves and successive generations. A great number of people in our civil society are currently trying to determine how we can all work together to create a better and fairer future. Please lend your support as the government to this civil society, the experts and the NGOs who are striving for this sustainable change and please heed their advice!

Finally, we would like to thank you and wish you strength and  the intuition to do what is right as you take the next steps so significant for us all.

The experts of MareMundi are at your disposal at all times.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Robert Hofrichter

On behalf of the board of the conservation NGO MareMundi

[1] Robert Hofrichter (ed.), 2020: The Mediterranean – History and Future of an Ecologically Sensitive Area. Springer Spektrum, Heidelberg, 1260 pages: https://www.springer.com/de/book/9783662589281 [
2] complete table of contents: http://www.robert-hofrichter.com/2020/01/vollstandiges-inhaltsverzeichnis-von.html
[3] Subramanian Meera: Anthropocene Now: Influential panel votes to recognize Earth’s new epoch. In: Nature. May 2019. Doi: 10.1038 / d41586-019-01641-5.
[4] cf. APA interview with climate researcher Helga Kromp-Kolb: Coronavirus – Get our vulnerability demonstrated (03/22/2020). https://science.apa.at/site/kultur_und_gesellschaft/detail.html?key=SCI_20200322_SCI39351351653835148

 

the letter, pdf file:

MareMundi_OpenLetter_Mediterranean

 

Translation from German into Englisch: Susanna Hagen