“COVID-19 is the Earth's vaccine”: Controversial metaphors in environmental discourse

Anaïs Augé


This paper proposes a discussion of the controversial conceptualisation “Nature is healing. We are the virus”. These depictions have been observed in Twitter threads during the peak of COVID-19 pandemic. The implications entail that solving the climate crisis would require humanity to be eliminated (like a VIRUS). I investigate the ways environmentalists have metaphorically depicted the causes and consequences of the health crisis. Indeed, it is acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change can be interrelated if one considers the role of humans' uncontrolled consumption in the spread of these two phenomena. Environmentalists have emphasised the consequences of pollution on health, they praised the drop of emissions documented during the lockdown, and they advertised a post-COVID-19 world where humans reduce pollution to avert a new health crisis. The paper thus asks to what extent (if at all) environmentalists relied on disputable depictions such as HUMANITY AS A VIRUS (FOR THE PLANET). The research relies on pragmatics, cognitive linguistics, and discourse analysis to study environmental texts published by major Non-Governmental Organisations. This analysis will lead me to question the relevance of the metaphorical conceptualisation HUMANITY AS A VIRUS (FOR THE PLANET) in environmental discourse. The results show that environmentalists effectively rely on metaphors to blame humanity for the present crises, but they adapt these metaphorical conceptualisations to show support to the communities suffering from the virus and to promote mitigation.


Nature is healing; Metaphor; Twitter; Greenpeace; Extinction Rebellion; Lockdown

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.6667/interface.17.2022.158


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