The painful birth of Mother Earth: a biocivilization

Leonardo Boff

The Climate Change Summit convened by President Joe Biden, expresses a cry of alarm. If we do not stop warming to the limit of 1.5 degrees, we will experience a dangerous extermination of biodiversity and millions of climate migrants who, unable to adapt to the changes and losing their means of subsistence, feel compelled to leave their beloved homelands and break the boundaries of other countries, causing serious socio-political problems.

CO2 remains in the atmosphere for about 120 years. We awake late because of its toxicity on living systems. In recent years something frightening has occurred: the rapid thawing of the permafrost – that frozen part that runs from Canada across Russia. Add to this the rapid melting of the polar ice caps and Greenland. This phenomenon aggravates global warming because methane is 25 times more harmful than CO2. Each head of cattle, through rumination and flatulence, emits between 80-100 kg of methane released into the atmosphere every day. Imagine what such an amount means with all the cattle herds in the world. In Brazil alone the number of cattle is larger than our population.

No matter what we do, due to the excessive accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we will have no way of avoiding extreme effects. They will come: typhoons, prolonged droughts, extremely hot summers and excessive snowfall, erosion of biodiversity and loss of soil fertility, and others.  What we can and must do is to prepare for their irruption and thus mitigate the disastrous effects.

No one at the Climate Summit had the courage to point out the root causes of our global warming: our capitalist mode of production, in whose DNA is the unlimited growth that demands unlimited extraction of natural resources to the point of severely weakening the sustainability of the planet. A finite Earth cannot tolerate an infinite project. Here lies the cause, among other minor ones, of global warming. Everyone knows that here lies the original question. Why does nobody denounce it? Because it is directly anti-systemic, because it strikes at the heart of the modern techno-scientific paradigm of unlimited development/growth, to which states and corporations are committed.

They would be obliged to change what would be against their logic. But they don’t want to, because profit prevails over life. Only the Argentine president Alberto Fernández had the courage to denounce: “Pollution is the road to suicide. His statement is in line with the statement made a few years ago by the American Academy of Sciences, which issued a statement more or less along these lines: If we do not take care, warming can take ‘an abrupt leap’ (an expression used) until it reaches, in a short time, about 4 degrees Celsius; with this heat, it is said, species will hardly adapt and millions will disappear, including millions and millions of human beings.

Practically everyone regrets that the political and business “decision makers” show a serious lack of awareness of the risks that weigh upon our Common Home. It is not ruled out that something similar to what happened with Covid-19 will occur.

 Despite the warning of virus experts that we are on the verge of the intrusion of a serious virus, very few are preparing for this eventuality. This is why a leap to a new level of collective consciousness that would allow us to inaugurate a new normality different from the previous one that was perverse to humanity and nature is unforeseeable. We question: have we learned the lessons sent by Mother Earth’s counterattack on humanity through Covid-19? Considering the widespread carelessness it seems that we remain in the illusion of a return to the old, iniquitous normality.

Our President’s speech, Jair Bolsonaro, at the White House summit was one of mere convenience. He gave a clear demonstration that he is a legitimate representative of the post-truth, because he performed the ancient Chinese wisdom: “Do not look at the mouth that speaks of a politician, but at the hands that operate. The mouth totally contradicted what the hands do. The mouth uttered promises, practically unrealizable, and the hands, through their anti-environmental minister, practice systematic devastation of the forests and the dismantling of the bodies that preserve ecosystems.

Just as the “Unnamed”Bolsonaro is allied with Covid-19 so the Minister of the Environment is allied with the loggers who illegally and criminally appear as the main culprits for the 357.61 km2 of cut down forest, the worst in recent years. The hands deny what the mouth says.

Despite all the sorrows, we believe and hope that humanity will learn from suffering and hopefully from love: either we will change, or in Sigmunt Bauman’s words, spoken a week before he died, we will join the procession of those heading towards their own grave.

Human and natural history is never linear; it knows ruptures and leaps upward. It is inviting us to reinvent ourselves. Mere improvements and putting bandages over the wounds of Mother Earth’s wounded body are not enough. We are forced to a new beginning. According to the Earth Charter and Pope Francis’ encyclical “On the Care of our Common Home” (Laudato Si’ e a Fratelli tutti), “we are in the same boat: either we all save ourselves or no one is saved” (n.35; 54; 137).

The Earth has gone through 15 great decimations, but life has always survived. It will not destroy itself now. We are facing a difficult apprenticeship for the whole of humanity, because we have no other choice than this: either to live or to perish. Freud himself, although skeptical, longed for the triumph of the life drive over the death drive. Life is called to more life and even eternal life.

In this hopeful hope I have just published a book, more optimistic than pessimistic but of a feasible realism, which aims to guarantee a promising horizon: “The painful birth of Mother Earth: a society of fraternity without borders and social friendship”.

It is a utopia? yes, but a necessary one, so that we can walk. It is important to remember that the utopian belongs to the real, made up not only of data that have always been made, but also of hidden potentialities that wait to be made to erupt and allow a new footprint on the ground of history. It is no good stepping on footprints made by others. We have to create our own footprints. New music, new ears. New crises, new answers. We still have a future, strengthened by the One who announced that he was “the passionate lover of life” (Wisdom 11:26). He will help us to make a painful but true and happy crossing. This is how we believe and this is how we hope.

Leonardo Boff,ecotheologist and philosopher and wrote: The painful birth of Mother Earth: a society of fraternity without borders and social friendship, Vozes 2021.

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