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Learning from COVID-19 for our planet's health: How paradox theory can help

Datum:11 september 2023
The Earth's climate is changing at a unprecedented rate.
The Earth's climate is changing at a unprecedented rate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the interconnectedness of human and environmental health. The pandemic has shown that the planet’s health is essential to the health of humanity. It has also offered a glimpse of how paradoxical addressing complex problems can be: we need to be prepared for unexpected events, and we need to be able to adapt quickly to change. But how can research on paradoxes help us address the problems we are facing as a society?

Paradox theory is the study of situations that involve competing yet interrelated elements that persist over time. It can help us to understand and manage these situations by providing tools for thinking about and working with complexity. One insight is that paradoxes are not necessarily bad. In fact, they can often be sources of creativity and innovation. When we embrace a paradox, we can find new ways to solve problems. 

Paradox theory can provide a valuable perspective on addressing the planetary emergency, as we show in our book chapter (Williams et al., 2021). In 2019, the Club of Rome declared a planetary emergency based on the latest scientific evidence, which shows that the Earth's climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. The planetary emergency is a complex and multifaceted challenge. It is characterized by several paradoxes, including the need to:

  • simultaneously address both short-term and long-term problems, 

  • integrate individual and collective interests, and 

  • reconcile economic growth with environmental sustainability.

Since the publication of our book chapter, the world has experienced a major disruption in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has also created a number of paradoxes, including the need to 

  • simultaneously secure public health and economic interests, 

  • reconcile individual freedom with collective responsibility, and 

  • balance short-term and long-term goals. 

By understanding and working with these paradoxes, we have made progress in addressing the pandemic. For example, we have developed innovative technologies to test and track the virus, new treatments for the virus, and new ways to work and live safely during the pandemic. 

The planetary emergency is a much larger challenge than the Covid-19 pandemic, but the same principles can be applied. By understanding and working with the paradoxes of the planetary emergency, we can make progress in addressing this critical challenge.

Some specific ways in which paradox theory can be used to address the planetary emergency are:

  • Identifying and understanding paradoxes. The first step is to identify and understand the paradoxes that are inherent in the planetary emergency. This can be achieved by conducting research, talking to experts, and engaging in dialogue with others.

  • Developing innovative solutions. Once the paradoxes have been identified, the next step is to develop innovative solutions that can address them. This may involve thinking outside the box and coming up with new ideas.

  • Prototyping and implementing solutions. Once solutions have been developed, they need to be prototyped and implemented. This will involve working with others to get buy-in and overcome challenges.

  • Evaluating and adapting solutions. Once solutions have been implemented, it is important to evaluate their effectiveness and to adapt them as needed. This will involve collecting data and adjusting the solutions based on the data.

By taking a paradox perspective, we can make progress in addressing the planetary emergency. This is a complex and challenging task, but it is one that we must undertake if we want to ensure a sustainable future for our planet.

Author: Katrin Heucher -


Williams, A., Heucher, K., & Whiteman, G. (2021). Planetary emergency and paradox. In Interdisciplinary dialogues on organizational paradox: Learning from belief and science, part A (Vol. 73, pp. 151-170). Emerald Publishing Limited.