Friday, February 12, 2010

Unless you repent, you will all perish

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Jesus says in the Gospel: "Unless you repent, you will all perish." Put another way: "Unless you change the way of seeing and acting, you will all perish." Never did these words seem so true as when I witnessed Chronicle of Copenhagen, a French TV documentary, broadcast by a pay channel in Brazil and, I suppose, worldwide. At COP-15 held in Copenhagen last December, representatives of 192 nations met to decide to reduce rates of greenhouse gases, the producers of global warming.

All came there with the desire to do something. But the negotiations, after a week of very intense debate, came to a standstill and nothing was decided. What were the causes of this impasse that caused disappointment and anger in the world?

First, I believe that there was insufficient collective consciousness of the threats to the earth system and the fate of life. It was as if the negotiators had been informed that a Titanic was sinking without realizing that this was the ship in which they were, the Earth.

Secondly, it was not clear what the main objective was: to keep the thermometer of the Earth from rising more than two degrees Celsius, because then we will know the tribulation of climatic desolation. To avoid such a tragedy it is necessary to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, through adaptation strategies, mitigation, granting technology to the most vulnerable countries and abundant funding to encourage such measures. The concern now is not ensuring the continuity of the status quo but giving priority to the Earth system, life in general and human life in particular.

Third, a collective vision is lacking. Many negotiators clearly said: we are here to represent the interests of our country. Wrong. What is at stake are the planetary and collective interests and not those of each country. Defending the interests of the country is the role of the negotiators of the World Trade Organization, who are governed by competition and not cooperation. When the business mentality prevails, the operating logic, denounced by many well-intentioned people in Copenhagen, is as follows: there is no trust because everyone is suspicious of everyone else, everyone is on the defensive, they do not put their cards on the table for fear of criticism and rejection, they all reserve the right to decide at the last moment just like in a poker game. Of the big players, China observed, the U.S. was silent, the European Union was isolated, and the Africans, the main victims, were not even taken into consideration. Brazil showed courage at the end with the words of denunciation of President Lula.

Finally, the failure of Copenhagen -- as Lord Stern, who was present there, said so well -- was due to the lack of will to live together and think collectively. Such things are heresies to the capitalist spirit encased in its individualism. It is not at all interested in our living together, as society for him is nothing but a collection of individuals fiercely fighting over a piece of the pie called Earth.

Jesus was right: unless we convert, that is, unless we change this thinking and practice towards a line of universal cooperation, we will never reach a saving consensus. And we'll go to meet the two degrees Celsius of warming, with its dramatic consequences.

The brave French negotiator Laurence Tubiana, taking stock at the end, said resignedly: "The big fish always eat the small ones and cynics always win the game, such is the logic of history." We can not accept such defeatism. Human beings are resilient, or rather, they can learn from their mistakes and in an emergency, may change. I'll stay with the patient chief negotiator, Michael Cutajar, who at the end of a failure said: "Tomorrow we will do better."

This time, the only saving alternative is to think together, act together, dream together and cultivate hope together, trusting that solidarity is what it was in the past: the secret force of our better human nature.

1 comment:

  1. I have no argument whatsoever with what the writer says here, I’ve been an ecologist by heart since I was a kid and as Earth stewards, our duty is to use resources respectfully and without waste and with less contamination possible.
    But I have my doubts about the causes of this so called Global Warming.
    Did anyone bother to read about Earth geological and meteorological history?
    Does anyone know about the Little Ice Age? The past glacial periods? The atmospheric changes caused by volcano spewed ashes? Etc…

    We the people have been industrially active for less than two centuries. The Earth population has not reached this significant amount of so many billions of us, since about two or three hundred years, especially the last hundred years.
    Besides there is only a small percentage of the Earth population (the “developed ones”) that consume more energy resources that can be considered pollutant.
    What I am trying to say is that is very possible that there may be some weather pattern changes on the making, but I have my serious doubts that could be us humans, the real cause of them.
    Remember, the planet has its own very complex geo-dynamics. Us as a species living on the Earth’ skin may not even be causing a small dent on its workings.
    Perhaps, as it happens often, we have a tendency to see ourselves as the center of the Universe…or the planet, in this case.
    But..after having said that, I will insist: Please recyle, conserve and clean after yourself.