Friday, September 3, 2010

The old is dying and the new struggles to be born

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)

Among the many current problems, the most challenging are these three: the serious global social crisis, climate change, and the unsustainability of the Earth system. The global social crisis stems directly from the mode of production that still prevails around the world, the capitalist one. Its dynamic leads to an excessive accumulation of wealth in a few hands at the expense of a hideous plunder of nature and the impoverishment of the vast majority of people. It is growing and the sharp cries of the hungry and those considered "spent fuel" can not be silenced. This system should be denounced as inhuman, cruel, merciless and hostile to life. It has suicidal tendencies and, if not historically overcome, may lead the life-system to a dead end and even to the extermination of the human species.

The second major problem is climate change, which is being revealed by extreme events: great cold spells on the one hand and prolonged summers on the other. These changes synthesize an irreversible fact: the Earth has lost its balance and is looking for a point of stability, which will be reached when the temperature rises. Up to a two degrees Celsius increase, the Earth system is still manageable. If we don't do enough and the climate increases by 4 degrees Celsius (as some serious research centers have warned), life as we know it will not be possible. There will be a sinister landscape: a devastated Earth, covered with corpses.

Never has humanity as a whole faced such a choice: either radically change or accept our destruction and the devastation of the diversity of life. The Earth will continue, with bacteria, but without us.

It is important to understand that the problem is not the Earth, but our aggressive relationship, uncooperative with its rhythms and dynamics. Perhaps seeking a new equilibrium point, it will be forced to reduce the biosphere, involving the elimination of many living beings, not excluding humans.

The third problem is the unsustainability of the Earth system. Today we know empirically that the Earth is a living superorganism that harmonizes with subtlety and intelligence all the elements necessary for life to produce or reproduce lives continually and guarantee everything they need to survive.

But it happens that the excessive exploitation of its natural resources -- many renewable and others, not -- has prevented it from reproducing and self-regulating through its own internal mechanisms. Humanity currently consumes 30% more than the Earth can replenish. Thus, it is no longer sustainable. There are increasing losses of soil, air, water, forests, living species and human fertility. When will these losses stop? And if they don't stop, what will our future be?

This forces us into a paradigm shift in civilization. A change of civilization basically means a new beginning, a new form of synergy and mutual belonging between the Earth and humanity, living out values linked to spiritual capital such as caring, respect, cooperation, solidarity, compassion, peaceful coexistence and openness to the transcendent dimensions related to our ultimate sense of ourselves and the whole universe.

Without spirituality, that is, without a radical experience of Being, without immersion in the original source of all beings that gives rise to a new horizon of hope, we will certainly not achieve a happy journey.

We face a problem: the old still hangs on and the new struggles to be born, to use Antonio Gramsci's happy expression.

We live in urgent times. Emergencies make us think and dangers force us to create saving Noah's arks. We are not satisfied with the current state of the Earth. But still we believe it is within our reach to build a world of "living well", in harmony with all beings and energies of nature, mainly in cooperation with all human beings and in deep reverence for Mother Earth.

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