The worst is yet to come

                                          Leonardo Boff

The great floods that occurred in Germany and Belgium in July, the summer month of Europe, causing hundreds of victims, associated with an abrupt warming that in some places reached more than 50 degrees, forces us to think and make decisions in view of the Earth’s balance. Some analysts have gone so far as to say: the Earth has not warmed up; it has become, in some places, a furnace.

This means that dozens of living organisms cannot adapt and end up dying. Today, with the current warming that has grown by more than one degree Celsius in the last century, and if it reaches, as predicted, two degrees, about a million living species will be on the verge of disappearing after millions of years of living on this planet.

We understand the resignation and skepticism of many meteorologists and cosmologists who claim that we are too late in combating global warming. We are not meeting it. We are seriously in it. They argue, bleakly, that we have little to do, because carbon dioxide is already excessively accumulated, since it stays in the atmosphere for 100 to 120 years, aggravated by methane, 20 times more toxic, although it stays in the air for a short time. By general surprise, it has erupted, due to the melting of the polar ice caps and the parmafrost that runs from Canada through all of Siberia, and has increased global warming.

The intrusion of Covid-19, being planetary. forces us to think and act differently. It is clear that the pandemic is a consequence of the Anthropocene, that is, of the overly aggressive advance of the prevailing system, based on unlimited profit. It has exceeded the Earth’s bearable limits. Through deforestation à la Ricardo Salles/Bolsonaro, the cultivation of monocultures, and the general pollution of the environment, the virus’ habitat was destroyed. Not knowing where to go, they jumped to other animals, immune to the viruses, and from them they passed to us, who do not have this immunity.

It is worth thinking about the meaning of the fact that the entire planet has been affected, on the one hand making everyone equal, and on the other increasing inequalities because the vast majority cannot live in social isolation, avoiding conglomerations, especially in public transportation and in stores. It did not affect the other living beings, our domestic animals.

We must recognize: we humans were the ones targeted. Mother Earth, since the 70s of the last century, recognized as a living organism, Gaia, and by the UN (on April 22, 2009) truly approved as Mother Earth, has sent us a sign and a warning: “stop attacking all the ecosystems that make me up; I no longer have enough time to replenish what you take from me for a year and regenerate myself.

Since the current paradigm still considers the Earth as a mere means of production, in a utilitarian sense, they are not paying attention to her warnings. She, as a living super-orgnism, gives us unmistakable signs, as now, with the great floods in Europe, the excessive cold in the southern hemisphere, and the range of viruses already being sent (zica, ebola, chikungunya, and others).

Since we are hard-headed and there is a glaring absence of ecological awareness, we may find ourselves on a path of no return.

Curiously, as others have commented, “the prophets of neoliberalism are turning into promoters of the social economy because they realize, in the face of the current catastrophe, that it will no longer be possible to do the same as before, and that it will be necessary to return to social imperatives. The worst that could happen to us is to go back to the way things were before, full of perverse contradictions, enemy of the life of nature and indifferent to the fate of the great majority of the poor, and arming itself to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction, absolutely useless in the face of viruses.

We must necessarily change, overcome the old sovereignties that made other countries even hostile or subject to fierce competition. The virus has shown that the limits of nations do not count for anything. What really counts is the solidarity among all, and the care that we have for each other and for nature, so that, preserved, it does not send us even worse viruses. Now is the new era of the Common Home, within which the nations will be.

David Quamen, the great virus expert, left this warning: either we change our relationship with nature by being respectful, synergetic, and careful, or she will send us other viruses, perhaps one so lethal that our vaccines will not be able to attack them and will take a large part of humanity.

If we do not stop global warming and if we do not change our paradigm towards nature, we will see worse days ahead. If we can no longer stop the increase in global warming, with the science and technology that we possess, we can at least mitigate its deleterious effects and save as much of the planet’s immense biodiversity as possible.

As never before in history, our common destiny is in our hands: we must choose between following the same route that leads us to an abyss or change it and guarantee a future for all, more frugal, more supportive, and more caring for nature and our Common Home.

I have been repeating this lesson for 30 years now, and I feel like a prophet in the desert. But I fulfill my duty, which is that of all those who awakened one day.

Leonardo Boff is an ecophilosopher and has written Inhabit the Earth: the way to universal brotherhood coming out soon from Vozes; Covid-19, Mother Earth Strikes Back against Humanity, Vozes, 2020

Water: source of life or source of profit? Against the privatization of water

                                        Leonardo Boff

Today there are two major issues that affect all of humanity: global warming and the growing scarcity of drinking water. Both require profound changes in the way we live, because they can produce a collapse of our civilization and deeply affect the system of life.

Let’s focus on the issue of water, which is coveted by big corporations in order to privatize it and make huge profits. It can be a reason for wars as well as a reason for social solidarity and cooperation among peoples. It has already been said that if the wars of the 20th century were over oil, the wars of the 21st century will be over drinking water. Nevertheless, it can be a central reference for a new world social pact between peoples and governments for the survival of all.

Let us consider the basic facts about water. It is extremely abundant and at the same time scarce.

There are about one billion, 360 million cubic kilometers of water on Earth. If we were to take all this water that is in the oceans, lakes, rivers, aquifers and polar ice caps and distribute it equally over a flat land surface, the whole earth would be submerged in water three kilometers deep. 97% is salt water and 3% is fresh water. But only 0.7% of this is directly accessible for human use. Of this 0.7 percent, 70 percent goes to agriculture, 22 percent to industry, and the rest for human and animal use.

The renewal of water is on the order of 43,000 cubic km per year, while total consumption is estimated at 6,000 cubic km per year. There is, therefore, an overabundance of water, but it is unevenly distributed: 60% is found in only 9 countries, while 80 others face scarcity. Just under a billion people consume 86% of the existing water, while for 1.4 billion it is insufficient (by 2020 it will be 3 billion), and for 2 billion it is untreated, which generates 85% of the observable diseases. It is assumed that by 2032 about 5 billion people will be affected by the water crisis.

The problem is not the scarcity of water, but its poor management and distribution to meet the demands of humans and other living beings.

Brazil is the natural water power, with 13% of all fresh water on the planet, amounting to 5.4 trillion cubic meters. Despite the abundance, 46% of it is wasted, which would be enough to supply the whole of France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Northern Italy.

Because it is scarce, fresh water has become an asset of high economic value. As we have moved from a market economy to a market society, everything becomes a commodity. Because of this “great transformation” (Karl Polaniy) there is now an unrestrained global race to privatize water and make big profits. This is how multinational companies such as the French Vivendi and Suez-Lyonnaise, the German RWE, the English Thames Water, and the American Bechtel, among others, have emerged. A water market involving more than 100 billion dollars was created. Nestlé and Coca-Cola have a strong presence here, seeking to buy sources everywhere in the world.

The great debate today is in these terms: Is water a source of life or a source of profit? Is water a natural, vital, common, and irreplaceable good or an economic good to be treated as a water resource and a commodity?

It is important to recognize that water is not an economic good like any other. It is so closely linked to life that it must be understood as something vital and sacred. Life cannot be turned into a commodity. It is one of the most excellent goods in the process of evolution and one of the greatest divine gifts. Moreover, water is linked to other cultural, symbolic, and spiritual dimensions that make it precious and charged with values that are priceless in themselves.

To understand the richness of water that transcends its economic dimension, we need to break with the dictatorship of the instrumental-analytical and utilitarian reason imposed on society as a whole. The latter sees water as a mere water resource with which one can do business. It only serves purposes and utilities. But the human being has other exercises of his reason. There is a more ancestral, sensitive, emotional, cordial, and spiritual reason, which goes beyond purposes and utilities, and is linked to the meaning of life, to values, to the symbolic, ethical, and spiritual character of water.

From this perspective, water appears as a natural common good, as the source and niche from which life on Earth emerged 3.8 billion years ago. Water is a global public common good.  It is the heritage of the biosphere and vital to all life forms. Life cannot exist without water.

Obviously, the dimensions of water as a source of life and as a water resource need not be mutually exclusive, but must be correctly related. Fundamentally, water belongs to the right to life. The UN declared on July 28, 2010 that clean and safe water and sanitation is a fundamental human right.

But it does demand a complex structure of collection, conservation, treatment, and distribution, which implies an undeniable economic dimension. This, however, should not prevail over the other, the right, but should make water accessible to all.

Everyone should be guaranteed at least 50 liters of safe drinking water free of charge. It is up to the public authorities, together with organized society, to create public funding to cover the costs necessary to guarantee this right for everyone. The tariffs for the services must contemplate the various uses of water, whether domestic, industrial, agricultural or recreational. For industrial and agricultural uses, of course, water is subject to price.

The predominant market vision distorts the straight relationship between water as a source of life and water as a water resource. This is fundamentally due to the exacerbation of private property that causes water to be treated without a sense of sharing and consideration of the demands of others and of the whole community of life. The principle of social solidarity and community of interest and respect for watersheds that transcend the limits of nations is still very weak, as it occurs, for example, between Turkey on one side and Syria and Iraq on the other, or between Israel on one side and Jordan and Palestine on the other, or even between the US and Mexico around the Rio Grande and Colorado rivers.

To discuss all these vital issues, the World Alternative Water Forum was created in 2003 in Florence, Italy. There, the creation of a World Water Authority was proposed.  It would be a public, cooperative and plural government body to deal with water at the level of large international water basins and its more equitable distribution according to regional demands.

At the same time, an international articulation was formed in view of a World Water Contract, which, since a world social contract does not exist, could be built around what effectively unites us all, which is water, on which the lives of people and other living beings depend. Similarly, now with the intrusion of Covid-19, a world contract to safeguard human life beyond any sovereignty, seen as something outdated, from another historical time, is urgently needed.

An important role is to put pressure on governments and companies so that water is not taken to the markets or considered a commodity. It is important to encourage public-private cooperation in order to prevent so many people from dying as a result of a lack of water or as a result of mistreated water.

Every day 6,000 children die of thirst and about 18 million boys/girls miss school because they are forced to fetch water 5-10 km away

It is very important to preserve standing forests and reforest as much as possible, as they guarantee the permanence of water, feed the aquifers, and mitigate global warming by sequestering carbon dioxide and producing vital oxygen.

Zero world hunger, as advocated for years by the UN Millennium Goals, must include zero thirst, because water is food and nothing can live and be consumed without water.

Finally, water is life, the generator of life, and one of the most powerful symbols of eternal life, since God appears as alive, the generator of all life, and the infinite source of life.

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

Sofer with those who suffer: the actuality of compassion

Leonardo Boff

A cloak of suffering and pain covers the whole of humanity, threatened by Covid-19. The culture of capital, in which we live, is characterized by individualism and a crying lack of cooperation. The Pope, on the Italian island of Lampeduza, seeing hundreds of Africans arriving by boat from Africa and being unwelcomed by the local population, said almost in tears: “Our modern culture has robbed us of compassion for our fellow human beings; we have become incapable of crying.

It seems that the inflation of instrumental and analytical rationality has caused us a kind of lobotomy: we have become insensitive to the suffering of others. The current president is the most tragic proof of this indifference. He has never visited a hospital overcrowded with people contaminated by Covid-19, many of them suffocating to death.

The pandemic made us discover our deep humanity: the centrality of life, the interdependence among all, the solidarity and the necessary care. It made us more sensitive. It brought back compassion.

Compassion is the ability to feel and share the passion of the other, to whisper words of hope into the ear, to offer a shoulder and say that you are there for them come and go, to be able to cry together but also to encourage each other.

Compassion is a transcultural human feeling. It can be found in all cultures: everyone bends over the fallen and bends down before the dignity of the suffering of the other.

Some time ago an ancient Egyptian tomb was discovered with this inscription, full of compassion: “I was someone who listened to the widow’s complaint; I was someone who wept for a misfortune and consoled the downcast; I was someone who heard the sobbing of the orphan girl and wiped her tears; I was someone who had compassion on a desperate woman.

Today the relatives of those killed and affected by Covid-19, which left in its victims severe sequelae, call us to live this better side of our humanity: compassion. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica that compassion is more excellent than love for one’s neighbor; the latter is directed toward the other; compassion is directed toward the other who suffers.

From quantum physics, contemporary cosmology, and bioanthropology we learn that the fundamental law of all things and of the entire universe is not competition and the triumph of the most capable of adaptation, but the cooperation and synergy of all with all. Even the smallest and weakest has the right to live, because it has its place among all beings and carries within it a message to be heard by all. In this field, compassion among all beings other than humans also applies.

The following legend is told about St. Francis, who was especially compassionate with lepers, with the worm that could not make a hole in the hard soil of the road and who was compassionate enough to remove it and bring it to the damp earth, or with the broken twig:

He found a boy who was carrying in a cage doves to be sold in the market. He begged him: “Good child, give me these humble and innocent little doves so that they will not be killed and eaten by men. The boy, touched by St. Francis’ innocent love, gave him the cage with the doves. Whispering, St. Francis said to them: “my dear little sisters, foolish and simple, why have you let yourselves be caught? Behold, I am coming to set you free. He opened the cage. Instead of flying out, they went lining up on his chest and in his hood and did not want to leave. St. Francis took them to the hermitage and told them, “multiply as your Creator wills. They had many chicks. They did not leave the company of St. Francis and the friars, as if they were domestic. They only took off and flew away when St. Francis blessed them and let them go.

As can be seen, compassion, along the lines of Buddhism and Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Fundamentals of Morals” (1840), all founded on unlimited compassion for all beings, is not only important for those who are currently suffering, but for all of creation.

Let’s conclude with the inspiring words of the Dalai Lama: “Whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe in Buddha or not Even if you can’t help them with money, it’s still always worthwhile to express moral support and empathy. This should be the basis of our action. Whether we call it religion or not is the least of our concerns” (Logic of Love, 1998).What matters is compassion.

Leonardo Boff wrote Principle of Compassion and Care: the encounter between East and West, Vozes 2009.

The voracity of capitalism brought Covid-19

                                    Leonardo Boff

I have been supporting the thesis that Covid-19 is a counterattack of Mother Earth against the system of capital and its political expression, neoliberalism. It brought to its knees, humiliated, the militaristic powers that with their weapons of mass destruction could destroy life on the planet. If the war against the planet continues, it may no longer want us. A more lethal virus, immune to any vaccine, could lead a large part of the human species to its end.

Such an eventuality is not impossible because this system of death of beings of nature and human beings, in the words of Pope Francis, has a suicidal tendency. It would rather risk death than renounce its voracity.

This short story, taken from Len Tolstoy (1828-1910), told to the peasants of his farm Isnaya Poliana with the title How much earth does a man need, may make us reflect.

“There was a peasant who worked on a piece of land that was not very fertile. He worked hard but without much fruit. He envied his neighbors who had bigger land and more abundant harvests. He was extremely annoyed by the heavy taxes he still had to pay on the little land and the meager earnings.

One day he thought a lot and decided: “I will go with my companion, far away from here, in search of better lands.  He learned that many leagues from his home, there were gypsies who sold land very cheaply and even for ridiculously low prices when they saw someone more needy and willing to work.

This peasant, eager to own more and more land to farm and become rich, thought: “I’m going to make a pact with the devil. This one will bring me luck,” he said to his wife, who wrinkled her nose. He warned her:

“My husband, beware of the devil, no good ever comes of making a pact with him.

 But, at her husband’s insistence, she decided to accompany him to carry out his ambitious project. With that they set off, taking few belongings with them.

When they arrived at the gypsies’ land, the devil was already there, all dressed up, giving the impression of an influential land merchant. The peasant and his wife politely greeted the gypsies. When they were about to express their desire to acquire land, the devil, unceremoniously, immediately stepped forward and said:

“Good sir, I see that you have come a long way and are seized by a great desire to own good land to plant and make some fortune. I have an excellent proposal for you. The land is cheap, within reach of your pocket. I make you the following proposal: you leave a reasonable amount of money in a bag here beside me. If you walk through a territory for a whole day, from sunrise to sunset, and are back before the sun sets, all the land you walk through will be yours. Otherwise you will lose the money in the bag.

The peasant’s eyes, shone with emotion and he said:

“I think it’s an excellent proposal. I have strong legs and I accept. Early tomorrow morning, at sunrise, I will run, and all the territory that my legs can reach will be mine.

 The devil, always malicious, smiled all smiles.

In fact, very early in the morning, as soon as the sun broke through the horizon, the peasant started to run. He jumped over fences, crossed streams and, not satisfied, didn’t even stop to rest. He saw before him a laughing green plain and immediately thought: “here I will plant wheat in abundance. Looking to the left, a very flat valley opened up, and he thought: “here I can make a whole plantation of linen for fine clothes.

 A little breathless, he climbed a small hill, and behold, a field of virgin land appeared at the bottom. Then he thought: “I want that land too. There I will raise cattle and sheep and fill my donkey with money.

And so he traveled many kilometers, not satisfied with what he had conquered, because the places he saw were attractive and fertile and fed his unrestrained desire to own them too.

Suddenly he looked up at the sky and realized that the sun was setting behind the mountain. He said from himself to himself:

“There is no time to lose. I have to hurry back, otherwise I will lose all the land I have covered, and the money on top of that. One day of pain, one life of love,” he thought as his grandfather used to say.

He started running at a speed too fast for his tired legs, but he had to run without noticing the limits of his strained muscles. He even took off his shirt and dropped the bag with some food in it. He kept looking at the position of the sun, already near the horizon, huge and red as blood. But it had not yet fully set.  Even though he was very tired, he ran more and more and could no longer feel his legs from so much effort. Sadly, he thought: “maybe I have run too far and might lose everything. But let’s go ahead”.

But when he saw the devil standing solemnly in the distance, with his bag of money beside him, he took heart again, certain that he would arrive before the sun went down. He gathered all the energy he had and made a last effort. He ran, without thinking about the limits of his legs, as if he were flying. Not far from the finish line, he threw himself forward, almost losing his balance.

Then, exhausted and without any strength, he collapsed on the ground. And he died. His mouth was bleeding and his whole body was covered with scratches and sweat.

 The devil, maliciously, just smiled. Indifferent to the dead man and greedy, he looked at the bag of money. He even took the trouble to make a grave the size of the peasant’s and tucked him inside. It was only seven palms of earth, the smallest part that fit him of all the land he walked. He didn’t need more than that. The woman, as if petrified, watched the whole thing, weeping copiously.

This tale reverberates the words of João Cabral de Melo Neto (1920-1999) in his work Morte e Vida Severina (1995). At the farmer’s funeral, the poet says: “This grave you are in, measured by inches, is the smallest bill you took in life; it is your share of this latifundium”.

Of all the attractive plots of land that he saw and wanted to own, in the end, the avid peasant was left with only the seven palms for his grave.

Is this not the fate of capitalism and neoliberalism?

Leonardo Boff wrote: Covid-19: Mother Earth Strikes Back at Humanity: Warnings from the Pandemic, Vozes 2020.