Friday, April 2, 2010

Passover/Easter of the crucified Earth

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)

Passover/Easter* is a holiday common to Jews and Christians and contains a metaphor for the current state of the Earth, our devastated common home. Etymologically, Passover means a transition from slavery to freedom and from death to life. The planet as a whole is going through a severe Passover. We are in an accelerated process of loss: of air, soil, water, forests, ice, oceans, biodiversity and sustainability of the Earth-system itself. Terrified, we have watched the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, followed by tsunamis.

How is all this related to the Earth? When will the losses end or what will they lead us to? Can we expect that, as at Easter, a new life and resurrection will erupt as it always does after the Good Friday of Passion and death?

We need a look back on the history of the Earth so that it sheds some light on the current crisis for us. First, we must recognize that earthquakes and devastations are recurring in the geological history of the Planet. There is a "background extinction rate" that occurs in the normal process of evolution. Species exist for millions and millions of years and then disappear. It's like a person who is born, lives for some time and dies. Extinction is the fate of individuals and species, including our own.

But beyond this natural process, there are mass extinctions. The Earth, according to geologists, has gone through 15 major extinctions of this nature. There were two particularly serious ones. The first occurred 245 million years ago during the breakup of Pangea, the single continent that broke up and gave rise to the present continents. The event was so devastating that it decimated between 75% and 95% of the then existing species of life. Below the continents there are still active tectonic plates, bumping into each other, overlapping or separating, in a movement called continental drift, responsible for earthquakes.

The second occurred 65 million years, caused by climatic changes, rising sea levels and warming, events caused by a 9.6 km asteroid that fell in Central America, causing infernal fires, tidal waves, poisonous gases and a long blackout of the sun. The dinosaurs who dominated, sovereign, for 133 million years on Earth disappeared completely as well as 50% of living species. The Earth needed ten million years to completely recreate itself. But this allowed for a range of biodiversity as never before in history. Our ancestors who lived in the treetops, feeding on flowers, trembling with fear of the dinosaurs, could fall to the ground and make their way, culminating in what we are today.

Scientists such as Ward, Ehrlich, Lovelock, Myers and others argue that another mass extinction is going on, which began about 2.5 million years ago, when vast glaciers began to cover part of the planet, changing climates and the sea level. It greatly accelerated with the emergence of a truly razing meteor, which is the human being through his systematic intervention in the Earth-system, particularly in recent centuries. Peter Ward (The End of Evolution, 1977) states that this mass extinction is clearly seen in Brazil, where over the last 35 years, four species are becoming definitively extinct daily. He ends by warning: "a giant ecological disaster awaits us."

What causes a sense of crisis in us is the existence of earthquakes that destroy everything and kill thousands of people such as in Haiti and Chile. And here we have to humbly accept the Earth as it is, whether a generous mother or a cruel stepmother. She follows the blind workings of geological forces and ignores us, so the tsunami and disasters are terrifying. But she passes information to us. Our mission, as intelligent beings, is to decode it to prevent damage or use it to our benefit. Animals grasp such information before a tsunami and flee to high places. Maybe a long time ago we knew how to grasp it and defend ourselves. Today we have lost that ability, but to compensate for our failure, there is science. It can decode the information that Earth previously passed to us and suggest strategies for self-defense and salvation.

We are the Earth itself which has awareness and intelligence, but we are still in the juvenile phase, with little learning. We are entering adulthood, learning how to better manage the energies of the Earth and the cosmos. Then, the mechanisms of the Earth, through our knowledge, will stop being destructive. We all still have to grow, learn and mature.

Earth hangs on the cross. We have to take her down from there and restore her. Then we can celebrate a true Easter and we will be allowed to wish: Happy Easter.

* Translator's note: The term "pascua" in Spanish is used for both Passover and Easter (and a variety of other religious celebrations) but we have different words for the Jewish and Christian celebrations. I have chosen to alternate the terms depending on what process Leonardo Boff is describing.

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