13 June 2020
Illustration: Sébastien Thibault
According to the sociologist Joseph Yvon Thériault, the society of the déconfinement in which we switched to recently is that of the plexiglass, where the social relations are more than ever drawn.
This text is part of the special issue to climate Action
Joseph Yvon Thériault listens for more than 40 years the companies of francophones in America, including that of Quebec, has been hard hit by the crisis of the COVID-19. Lucid, the sociologist of acadian origin, a professor emeritus at the University of Quebec in Montreal, believes that the fight against the novel coronavirus, very individualistic, has prepared the ground for the construction of the transition climate, which, in turn, implies a collective action.
How would you judge the response of Quebecers to the health crisis ?
It is clear that our response has been more individual than collective. Unlike our neighbours to the south, we have accepted ungrudgingly the self-absorption required by the public health authorities. In fact, it is the civil society, the sphere of community between the individual and the welfare State, so dear to Quebecers, which was closed this spring. The company’s déconfinement in which we switched to recently is that of the plexiglass, where the social relations are more than ever distended in the effort to slow the spread of the virus. Paradoxically, the society of individuals, there is ; I would even say that it has a tendency to love it.
However, we have been witnesses to impulses of solidarity, right ?
The few collective initiatives that have been going on here and there are notable exceptions. I have not been witness to a great wave of solidarity, during which we will be collectively tight elbows. This is not surprising : Quebecers are among least generous in Canada. Ilscomptent on “their” welfare State to fulfil this mission. It is also one of the characteristics of their response to the COVID-19 : Quebecers have been proud to see their government acted so promptly and obediently followed suit. Have they not been champions of containment, according to Google ? Then came the crisis of the CHSLD, which has been synonym of great disillusionment. The strong civil society in which we would have needed was conspicuously absent. And the welfare State has failed in its task.
Do you think that the pandemic will put on the table for a new vision of living together, is compatible, between others, with the construction of the transition climate ?
Some of the transformations precipitated by the health crisis, represent more challenges than opportunities in the context of climate emergency. Think of telework, which seems to want to settle for good. This reduces of course the greenhouse gas emissions due to the metro-boulot-dodo. At the same time, it has the potential to exacerbate the urban sprawl, therefore, affect the adoption of public transport for the benefit of the auto solo. Above all, telecommuting is another incarnation of our individualism and our productivism. It is a practice that is contrary to a certain art of living in community living environments that are tightly woven, which perpetuates the idea of economic growth-at-all-goes.
Obviously, you do not agree to the discourse, according to which a new world will emerge out of the COVID-19…
I’ve always thought that the big crises tend to accelerate and consolidate the changes that were already underway. The transformations needed, if any, should reflect a certain continuity with the world before. Let’s take the example of the démondialisation. It’s been 15 years that there is a certain loss of confidence in globalisation. In 2002, at the world economic Forum in Davos, the French daily Liberation ran a headline that the banking community international is concerned that the opening up of national economies in a global market. Another example : that of mass tourism, several of which announce the death. It did, however, make several years already as we hear talk of ” surtourisme “. The inhabitants of Venice are well placed to know that, in excess, tourism destroys environments of life and erodes the social fabric.
What is the key to success in order to achieve these mutations are desirable in a context of fight against climate change ?
In a single word : commitment. Without the commitment of individuals, in particular in the political institutions and the civil society, these mutations are unlikely to occur. The message is directed particularly at young people, for whom the concept of commitment is often linked to a protest movement. Out in the street and demonstrate, even if this can be useful, is a gesture all in all pretty individualistic. Get involved in mouvementsorganisés, it is another thing entirely. I understand, note : I myself am from the generation that, in the 1970s, has sincerely believed that she could move out of institutions and free themselves from the dictates of society. Of course, I was disappointed ; the world has not transformed as much as I wanted. Do not repeat our mistakes of the past.