Covid-19: A systemic analysis with Fritjof Capra

04 August 2020

“No volveremos a la normalidad porque la normalidad era el problema”: We won’t return to normality because normality was the problem. The world in the epoch of Covid-19.

They were the hard days of lockdown, and we were coming to terms with a new “enemy” – though to define it as an enemy using the language of war may not be the correct approach.

This enormous mural appeared on the side of a building in Santiago, Chile, on one of those improbably silent nights that we quickly got used to during lockdown, produced by the artistic collective Delight Lab.


In those hard days the reflections and analyses of numerous economists, philosophers, writers, artists were published one after another, all about what we could do about it, and what we should change in our paradigm in order to change course.

For many it was clear from the beginning that this “enemy” had an important ally: the human race itself. Covid-19 didn’t happen by mistake, and its emergence is intimately connected to our lifestyles, and to the impact we have on the planet Earth.

Among others, David Quammen told us in Spillover and in numerous interviews: “Let it be clear: there is a correlation between these diseases that appear one after the other, and they are not mere accidents but unwanted consequences of our actions. They are the mirror of two converging planetary crises: an ecological and a health one… How do these pathogens make the leap from animals to humans and why does this seem to be happening more frequently in recent times? Because on the one hand it seems that the environmental devastation caused by our species is creating new opportunities for contact with pathogens, and on the other our technology and social models contribute to spreading them faster and wider.”

Yuval Noah Harari discussed the big issues that the pandemic has brought to the surface in an extremely detailed article for the Financial Times: the roles of technology, surveillance, privacy and trust, global cooperation and nationalism. And despite being published before the Covid outbreak, the latest book by Jared Diamond, Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change is also highly pertinent to our current situation. Others too numerous to name have also added their voice to the humanity-wide reflection on this (almost) unprecedented crisis.


For this reason we’ve decided to inaugurate the Food Talks, a new format at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, with a reflection by Fritjof Capra. He is suspicious of an overly-simplistic interpretation which casts Covid-19 as some external enemy.

Indeed, according to Capra we are not being punished by Gaia with Covid, but rather we are being taught a lesson. “With the Covid pandemic, Gaia has presented us with valuable, life-saving lessons. The question is: will we have the wisdom and the political will to heed these lessons? And will we apply them to the climate emergency? Will we shift from undifferentiated extractive growth to regenerative qualitative growth? Will we replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources for all our energy needs? Will we stop excessive mass tourism and instead revitalize local communities? Will we replace our centralized energy-intensive system of industrial agriculture with organic, community-oriented, regenerative farming?”

In the overall picture, humanity is both victim and cause of the crises it faces. It’s a scenario that goes beyond healthcare, and regards society as a whole and indeed all Earth’s ecosystems. Capra invites us reflect on the necessity of “collective, cooperative actions” and an ethical approach focused on the common good: there’s no other way to overcome the obstacles we face.

And as the stories of solidarity around the world which we’ve shared in recent months, prove: we are capable of saving ourselves, and the planet.

by Silvia Ceriani,

Cover image by Basso Cannarsa.

Fritjof Capra is a protagonist of the Food Talks, a new and freely accessible format of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. Each guest has ten minutes to explore their thoughts on the world we live in, and the future we want for it. The full Food Talk with Fritjof Capra will be released on October 9, along with the other episodes in the series.