Friday, April 23, 2010

The Earth: subject of dignity and rights

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)

A central theme of the Peoples' Summit on Climate Change, held in Cochabamba from April 19th to 23rd, convened by the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, was the subjectivity of the Earth, its dignity and its rights. The issue is relatively new, since up until now dignity and rights had been reserved for human beings alone, bearers of conscience and intelligence. An anthropocentric view still prevails as if we were the only bearers of dignity. We forget that we are part of a larger whole. As renowned cosmologists have said, if the spirit is in us, it is a sign that it was formerly in the universe of which we are fruit and a part.

A tradition that dates back to ancestral origins always viewed the Earth as the Great Mother who creates us and gives us everything we need to live. Earth and life sciences came to confirm this view, through the scientific method. The Earth is a living superorganism, Gaia, which regulates itself to be always suitable to sustain life on the planet. The biosphere itself is a biological product, as it originates from the synergy of living organisms with all other elements of the Earth and the cosmos. They created the suitable habitat for life, the biosphere. Therefore, not only is there life on Earth, the Earth itself is alive and, as such, has intrinsic value and should be respected and cared for like all living things. This is one of the entitlements of its dignity and the real basis of its right to exist and be respected like other beings.

The astronauts left us this legacy: a view from outside the Earth, Earth and Humanity forming a single entity; they can not be separated. Earth is a moment in the evolution of the cosmos, life is a moment in the evolution of the Earth, and human life, a later stage of evolution of life. So, rightly, we can say that the human being is when Earth began to be aware, to feel, think and love. We are the conscious and intelligent part of Earth.

If human beings possess dignity and rights, as is the consensus among people, and if Earth and human beings are an indivisible unity, then we can say that Earth partakes of the dignity and rights of human beings.

Therefore it can not undergo systematic aggression, exploitation and depredation by a project of civilization that only sees it as something mindless, and therefore treats it without any respect, denying it autonomous and intrinsic value, as a function of the accumulation of material goods. It is an affront to its dignity and a violation of its right to remain whole, clean and capable of reproduction and regeneration. So, there is discussion at the UN about a plan for an Earth Tribunal to punish anyone who violates its dignity, deforests it or contaminates its oceans, or destroys its ecosystems, vital for the maintenance of climate and life.

Finally, there is one last argument that is derived from a quantum vision of reality. It notes, following Einstein, Bohr and Heisenberg, that everything, fundamentally, is energy in various degrees of density. Matter itself is highly interactive energy. Matter, from hadrons and topquarks on, doesn't just have mass and energy. All beings are bearers of information. The set of relationships of all with all makes them change and keep the information about this relationship. Each being is related to others in its own way such that it can be said that levels of subjectivity and history arise. The Earth in its long history of more than four billion years keeps this ancestral memory of its evolutionary trajectory. It has subjectivity and history. Of course it is different from human subjectivity and history, but the difference is not of principle (all are connected) but of degree (each has it in its own way).

It is one more reason to see, with data from the most advanced cosmological science, that Earth possesses dignity and is therefore a bearer of rights. For our part, we have a duty to care for it, love it, and keep it healthy so that it will continue to generate us and offer us the goods and services it provides.

Now the bio-civilization era begins, in which Earth and humanity, having dignity and rights, recognize their mutual belonging, their common origin and destiny.

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