In periods of economic downturn, there is an inversely proportional relationship with ecologies – an ecological upturn. According to Imani Jacqueline Brown, “ecologies are assemblages of integral relationships between bodies,” and colonialism extracts wealth by applying forces of segregation to these bodies.1 With less consumption, reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, and slowed production processes, economic downturns allow time for ecologies to repair cross-species relationships and restore former equilibriums. Not negating the catastrophic effects of economic downturns on gendered, racialised and other marginalised communities – such as unemployment, attacks on wages, and food and housing insecurity – economic downturns often form catalysts for civil-rights, feminist and decolonial movements and discourses.2

The claim that economic downturns can give rise to ecological upturns prompts multiple questions:

How can periods of decreased economic activity provide respite and regeneration for ecologies? 

What modes of resistance form in response to economic downturns and how can viewing downturns through the lens of ecologies increase our collective sense of agency?

Perhaps the most obvious, far-reaching example of the economic downturn-ecological upturn phenomenon in recent years was COVID-19. The sharp drop in GDP and disruption to capital flows provided a brief period of respite for ecologies; those in the direct line of extraction were left untouched (even if temporarily), and those affected by human activities, such as tourism, had increased mobility and time to regenerate. For instance, according to a report published by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association in 2020, more than $9.6 billion worth of infrastructure projects were delayed or cancelled during the pandemic.3  Whilst perceived negatively amongst construction and transport companies and their employees, these cancellations protected ecologies and ecosystems at risk of displacement or fragmentation by the construction works. 

To write about ecological regeneration in relation to COVID-19 induced economic downturns without acknowledging how the pandemic was born out of multiple ecological crises and then went on to disproportionately harm marginalised communities would be a dangerous oversimplification – intersectionality must be applied when discussing economic-ecological relations. Gregg Mitman explains, to “fail to see the circuits of global capital, labour inequalities, and racial disparities that have produced uneven geographies of hotspots in the United States and across the globe is to ignore the ecologies of economic and racial injustice that permeate both this pandemic and climate change.”4

The economic downturn-ecological upturn is not a fix for the climate crisis, though it can be used to foreground ecological relationships and dismantle climate coloniality when discussing the notion of progress and economic growth. A case of collective action that involved a forging of integral relationships between concurrent struggles – ecological, economic, and social – was the Québec student strikes in 2012. Following the global recession in 2009, education faced sharp cuts in state budgets – in Québec, the newly elected Liberal Party increased university tuition fees by 75%. Strikes started by grassroots student coalitions in December 2011 picked up momentum, with demonstrations in March gathering up to 300,000 students. Sparking an acceleration in solidarity amongst those scapegoated by the government during the recession, alliances were made with public sector workers facing cuts, campaigns against increased fees for healthcare, and local resistance to mining projects. 

The strikes influenced the election of a new minority government, Parti Québécois, in September 2012, who made several important reforms including cancelling the tuition fee increase, placing a moratorium on hydraulic fracking, withdrawing subsidies to the asbestos industry, increasing corporate taxes and reducing capital gains tax exemptions.5 The major shift in collective action and, ultimately, political thinking could be framed as an ecological upturn catalysed by an economic downturn.

Thus recognising our shared ecological relationships and struggles – in Québec’s case a grassroots-led movement forming alliances with parallel social movements – could radically transform our collective sense of agency in times of economic downturn.

  1.  “Black Ecologies: An Opening, an Offering,” MARCH, March 2021,
  2.  Abriannah Aiken and Bryony Roberts, “Chronograms of Architecture,” e-flux, March 2023,
  3.  Joe Bousquin, “$9.6B Worth of Infrastructure Projects Delayed or Canceled during COVID-19,” Construction Dive, August 2020,
  4.  Gregg Mitman, “The Unruliness of a Virus,” Environmental History, Reflections: Environmental History in the Era of COVID-19, 25, no. 4 (October 1, 2020): 642,
  5.  Yves Engler, “Quebec Proves Activism Works,” October 1, 2012,