“Eating the world” or “safeguarding the world” represent a metaphor, frequent in the mouths of indigenous leaders, questioning the paradigm of our civilization, whose violence has made them almost disappear. Now it has been called into question by Covid-19. The virus has struck like a bolt of lightning at the paradigm of “eating the world”, that is to say, limitlessly exploiting everything that exists in nature with the perspective of endless growth/enrichment.
The virus destroyed the mantras that sustain it: centrality of profit, achieved by the fiercest possible competition, accumulated privately, at the expense of the exploitation of natural resources. If we obeyed these mantras, we would surely be in bad shape. What is saving us is what is hidden and made invisible in the “eat the world” paradigm: life, solidarity, interdependence among all, and care for nature and for each other. It is the imperative paradigm of “safeguarding the world”.
This paradigm of “eating the world” has high ancestry. It comes from Athens in the 5th century BC when the critical spirit broke out and allowed us to perceive the intrinsic dynamics of the spirit, which is the breaking down of all limits and the search for the infinite, a purpose thought out by the great philosophers, by artists, appearing also in the tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, and practiced by politicians. It is no longer the “medén ágan” of the Temple of Delphi: “nothing in excess” but now it is the unlimited spatial expansion (creation of colonies and an empire) and the temporal expansion opening up to the endless future (unlimited forward perspective).
This project of “eating the world” took shape in Greece itself through the creation of the empire of Alexander the Great (356-323), who at the age of only 23 founded an empire that stretched from the Adriatic to the Indus River in India.
The “eating the world” deepened in the vast Roman Empire, strengthened in the modern colonial and industrial age, and culminated in the contemporary world with the globalization of Western techno-science, expanded to every corner of the planet. It is the empire of the unlimited, translated into the (illusory) purpose of capitalism/neoliberalism of unlimited growth towards the future. An example of this quest for unlimited growth is the fact that more energy resources have been burned in the last generation than in all previous generations of humanity. There is no place that has not been exploited for the accumulation of goods.
But now an insurmountable limit has appeared: the Earth limited as a planet, small, overpopulated, with limited goods and services, cannot support an unlimited project. On September 22, 2020, Earth and life sciences identified The Earth Overhoot. That is, the limit of the renewable natural goods and services that are basic to sustaining life. They have been exhausted. Consumerism, by not accepting limits, leads to violence, tearing from Mother Earth what she can no longer give. We are consuming the equivalent of one and a half Earths. The consequences of this extortion are shown in the reaction of an exhausted Mother Earth: the increase in global warming, the erosion of biodiversity (about one hundred thousand species eliminated per year and a million at risk), the loss of soil fertility, and increasing desertification, among other extreme events.
The crossing of some of the nine planetary boundaries (climate change, species extinction, ocean acidification, and others) can cause a systemic effect, knocking down all nine and thus inducing a collapse of our civilization.
The intrusion of Covid-19 has brought all militaristic powers to their knees, rendering weapons of mass destruction useless and ridiculous. The range of viruses foretold, if we do not change our destructive relationship with nature, could sacrifice several million people and thin the biosphere, essential for all life forms.
At present humanity is being gripped by metaphysical terror in the face of insurmountable limits and the possibility of the eventual end of the species. The intended Great Reset of the capital system is illusory. The earth will make it fail.
It is in this dramatic context that the other paradigm of “safeguarding the world” emerges. It is raised in particular by indigenous leaders in Brazil like Ailton Krenak, Davi Kopenawa Yanomani, Sônia Guajajara, Renata Mchado Tupinambá, Cristine Takuá, Raoni Metuktire among others. For all of them there is a deep communion with nature, of which they feel a part. They do not need to think of the Earth as the Great Mother, Pachamam and Tonantzin, because they feel this way. Naturally they safeguard the world because it is an extension of their own body.
The deep ecology and integral as set out in the Earth Charter (2000), Pope Francis’ encyclicals Laudato SI: how to care for our common home (2015) and Fratelli tutti (2020), and the World Council of Churches’ Justice, Peace, and the Preservation of the Created program, among other groups, assmembers “safeguarding the world.” The common purpose is to ensure the physical-chemical-ecological conditions that sustain and perpetuate life in all its forms, especially human life.
We are already into our sixth mass extinction and by the Anthropocene we are deepening it.If we do not read emotionally, with our hearts, the data from science about the threats to our survival, we will hardly engage to “safeguard the world”.
Severely warned Pope Francis in Fraterlli tutti: “either we all save ourselves together or no one is saved”(n.32). It is an almost desperate warning if we do not want to “swell the ranks of those who are heading for the grave” (S. Bauman).
Let us take the leap of faith and believe what is said in the Book of Wisdom: “God is the passionate lover of life” (11:26). If this is so, He will not allow us to disappear so miserably from the face of the earth. So we believe and so we hope.
Leonardo Boff wrote: Caring for the Earth-Protecting Life: How to avoid the end of the world, Record 2010; Covid-19, Mother Earth Strikes Back: Warnings from the Pandemic, Vozes 2020.