State of the world: civilizational crisis, drama or tragedy?

                             Leonard Boff*

Follow me on this thought: can anyone tell where we’re going? Neither the Dalai Lama, nor Pope Francis nor any authority will be able to say. However, we have three serious warnings: one from Pope Francis in his latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti of 2020: “We are in the same boat: either we are all saved or no one is saved” (n.32). Another also of the greatest authority, the Earth Charter of 2003: «humanity must choose its future and the choice is this: form a global society to take care of the Earth and take care of each other or risk the destruction of ourselves and diversity of life” (Preamble). The third comes from UN Secretary General António Guterres in mid-July 2022 at a conference in Berlin on climate change: “We have this choice: collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”

Most do not sit in the same boat or cultivate care and do not carry out collective actions. Let’s consider some phenomena: Brazil is going through a wave of hatred, lies and violence against an immense range of people, cowardly despised and defamed, a wave encouraged by the president who praises torture, dictatorships, constantly violates the Constitution. Without any evidence, he questions the security of the polls. He summons all the ambassadors to speak ill of our legal institutions and implies that, if he is not re-elected, he will carry out a coup. He commits a crime against the country, reason to challenge his candidacy. And we are not referring to the hunger and unemployment of millions of people in the country.

The ecological situation in the world is no less worrying: in the middle of European summer the weather has reached 40 degrees or more. There are fires in practically every country in the world. They are the extreme events aggravated by global warming. This year in our country we have had great floods in the south of Bahia, north of Minas, the Tocantins River and the Amazon and tragic landslides in Petrópolis and Angra dos Reis, with innumerable victims, and simultaneously prolonged drought in the south . There are 17 outbreaks of war in the world, the most visible of all in Ukraine attacked by Russia with a high power of destruction.

The decision of Western countries, included in NATO, whose main actor is the United States, by establishing “a new strategic commitment” and moving from a defensive pact to an offensive pact, has been very serious. It declares ipsis litteris to Russia as present enemy, and later to China. It is not a question of a competitor or adversary, but of an enemy, which, in the perspective of Hitler’s jurist Carl Schmitt, must be fought and destroyed using all means, including military and, in the limit, nuclear means. As the renowned environmental economist Jeffrey Sachs pointed out, reinforced by Noam Chomsky: if that happened, it would be the end of the species. This would be the great tragedy.

Perhaps the most serious threat comes to us from the aforementioned accelerated global warming. With the combined effort of all the countries until 2030, warming should be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius until 2030. Now we know that it has accelerated; with the massive entry of methane due to the melting of the polar caps and permafrost has been anticipated to 2027. The last report in three volumes of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (known by the English acronym IPCC) published a few months ago warned that it could reach long before. There is a danger, previously pointed out by the North American Academy of Sciences, of an “abrupt jump”, which can raise the temperature by 2.7 or more degrees Celsius. The conclusion reached by the IPCC is “that the impacts around the world are a threat to humanity”.

A large part of living organisms fails to adapt and ends up disappearing. In the same way, multitudes of humans can suffer terribly and also die before their time. Such an event may occur in the next 3-4 years. It does not seem that analysts and planners are taking this eventuality into account. Hence it is understood that some climate scientists are technofatalists and skeptics. They claim that with the billions of tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases already accumulated in the atmosphere (where they remain for nearly 100 years) we are not in a position to prevent global warming. We have arrived too late. Extreme events will inevitably come, becoming more frequent and more damaging, devastating parts of terrestrial biomes and seacoasts. Due to the fact of having science and technology we can only mitigate the harmful effects but not avoid them. It is a crisis of our kind of civilization, that devaste the natural commons of the Earth.

To this dramatic picture we must add the Overload of the Earth: we consume more than it can offer us, since we need more than one and a half Earths (1.7) to cover the demands of human consumption, especially the sumptuous of the upper classes. opulent Faced with this undeniably dramatic scenario, what to think? that perhaps our turn has come to be excluded from the face of the Earth? Given the voracity of the globalized productivist process that knows no moderation, each year nearly 100,000 species of living organisms are disappearing.

Here we can pick up the words of the eminent French naturalist Théodore Monod, which we have quoted a few times: “we are capable of insane and insane behavior; from now on we can fear everything, including the annihilation of the human race: it would be the just price of our follies and our cruelty». This opinion is shared by other notable personalities such as Toynbee, Lovelock, Rees, Jacquard, and Chomsky among others.

We cannot know what our future will be like. But it cannot be an extension of the present. The nature of capitalist logic will not change, if not, it would have to give up being what it is and wants to be: unlimited accumulation without taking care of externalities. As Hans Jonas showed in his book The Responsibility Principle, the fear and awe factor can be decisive. Realizing that it can disappear, the human being will do everything to survive, like the ancient ships that, in danger of sinking, threw all their cargo into the sea. There would be radical changes, especially in the mode of production and in frugal and supportive consumption.

There is still the principle of the imponderable and the unexpected of quantum mechanics. Evolution is not linear. In moments of high complexity and great chaos, it can take a leap towards a new order and achieve another balance. In our case it is not impossible. But it will surely be done at the sacrifice of many human lives as well. It’s our drama.

Finally, we have the theological hope, the Judeo-Christian legacy, which must also be understood as an emergence of the evolutionary process and not as something exogenous. She affirms the principle of life and of the living and life-giving God who created everything out of love. He will be able to create conditions for human beings to change towards another course of their destiny and thus be able to save themselves. But “chi lo sa”? It is up to us to be hopeful of Paulo Freire, that is, to create the conditions for a viable utopia, the hope that the unexpected will happen and that life will always have a future and is destined to change in order to continue and continue to shine.

*Leonardo Boff has written The Painful Birth of Mother Earth: A Society of Fraternity Without Borders and Universal Love, Vozes 2021 and Inhabiting the Earth, Vozes 2022; with Mark Hathaway, The Tao of Liberatioon: explorind the ecology of transformation, Orbis Books,NY 2010.

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