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Human health and Nature’s health. By Ricardo Lorenzetti

The medical treatment for the COVID-19, the public health system, the economic crisis, the limitations to personal freedom, the risk of authoritarianism, the difficulties of international cooperation. These are all very important issues that are being debated due to the pandemic.

Little by little, we understand that what is changing is not just a part of the system, but the whole system, and a more general approach is necessary.

International meetings on climate change have long failed. If we imagined “Nature” as a speaking person, he would say something like, “Okay, if you humans don’t action towards preventing my destruction, then I’ll take care of myself”.

What we are seeing in recent days is astonishing: would a global agreement have been possible for planes, cars and trains to stop circulating and for three billion human beings to stay at home to reduce pollution?

This fact should make us understand that several mistakes have been made.

One of them was to deny and ignore the fact that the deterioration of nature has been caused by human action.

A few days are enough to see some truly impressive indications that the negative thesis is false.

Satellites show a notable improvement in air and water quality in large areas of the planet, especially in the more developed areas of the north, which are also the most polluting areas (report from the satellite of the European Space Agency (Copernicus. Sentinel.5p). In Lahore, Pakistan, the polluted sky turned into a clear sky (photos sent by our colleague Mansoor, Judge of the Court.) In the nearby Himalayan villages, it was possible to see the summits for the first time since the Second World War. In India, which has 21 of the 30 most polluted cities on the planet, a decrease in pollution began to be noticed at significant levels. In Venice, photos were released showing the return of fish and a notable improvement in water quality.

The time elapsed is very short, but the data is very clear.

It is evident that the human action developed from the industrial revolution has generated a new period, called “Antropoceno”, whose unlimited development put the entire planet in extreme tension.

Nature was under strong pressure, which has led to constant imbalances. Let’s not forget that recently the fires in the Amazon, in Australia, the melting of glaciers, the extinction of the species and the increase in the intensity of hurricanes and storms were in the news 24/7.

Nature is a system in which all parts are connected to each other and has an internal order generated from the interaction of its own elements.

There are species that constantly reproduce and others that are predatory, setting  limits. First comes summer, then winter, there are births and deaths, first there are storms and then calm reappears. Each small element has its differentiated function and fulfills it because there are multiple ways of transmitting information. We could ask ourselves how a bear knows that it is spring or how a bird knows that it has to migrate because it is winter. Sociobiology and especially systems theory have adequate explanations.

This dynamic balance allows many changes to be absorbed, but when these changes are too important, the resilience is lost. There’s a main principle within all systems: if there are too many financial derivative instruments at one time, the economic system corrects itself with a crisis such as the one that took place in 2008; if liberties are censored, sooner or later the social system corrects itself with an unexpected event, exploits and the authoritarians fall as it has happened in several countries.

This is a characteristic of the systems (Maturana, Humberto and Varela, Francisco, “AutopieticSystems, Illinois) that allows a better understanding of their functioning.

Nature loses its ability to resist: less cold winters, hotter summers, extinction of species, polluted seas, melting glaciers, desertification. Tensions build up leading to crisis and a new balance.

The trigger of it all is an unexpected “black swan” for those who did not want to look at the pressure that was building up.

The pandemic is a “systemic correction”, a “black swan”, born from a previous disorder, from a rupture of the limit between human food and wildlife markets.

At the origin of many diseases is the breakdown of the boundaries that nature has established.

Our interface with wildlife is affected by changes in land use, deforestation, wildlife trade, and many other activities that disrupt the normal circulation of viruses. These changes increase the rates of contact between virus-carrying animals and humans (Nicholas A. Robinson. Christian Walzer; “How do we prevent the next Outbreak”, Scientific American, March 25, 2020).

The WHO estimates that about 60 percent of all viruses infecting humans come from animals, and that 75 percent of new infectious diseases in the past decade are zoonotic.

For this reason, it is suggested that an adequate solution for human health implies improving the health of the planet.

The Berlin Principles, for “One planet, one health, one future” (October / 19), establish prescriptions for healthy communities. The proposal is to “better integrate the understanding of human and animal health with the health of the environment” and act towards restoring and maintaining healthy ecosystems to prevent the release of diseases (Robinson, Nicholas, “OneWorldoneHealth”. Legal preparations to avert a Pandemic ” , Westchester lawyer, March 2020).

The approach is preventive, in the sense that you cannot wait until a new virus infects humans.

The strategy is systemic, because it is about modifying aspects that are not directly related to the pandemic but have a final effect on its outburst. Improve global resilience, establish ongoing monitoring, protect species diversity, combat wildlife markets, stop deforestation, combat pollution at all levels.

Many say that the world will no longer be like it was before, but nobody knows how, mainly because the approach is focused on partial aspects. This has led the economy to work in one way, society in another and nature to explode.

A systemic view is necessary, an intellectually more sophisticated one, which adopts measures to bring the functioning of the economy into agreement with the environment and with society.

In the legal field, this idea is being worked on through the project of affirming an environmental rule of law (“Environmental rule of law”), through a large number of works at a global level.

This is generation is the one that can make a profound change, because, if we don’t carry it out, history and future generations will demand it.


Ricardo Lorenzetti
Justice of the Supreme Court of Argentina
Member of the Global Judicial Institute on the Environment