Friday, February 11, 2011

One Hope: The Ecozoic Era

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)

Anyone who read my previous article "The Anthropocene: a new geological era", must have been devastated. And rightly so, because I wanted to intentionally cause such feelings. Indeed, the prevailing mechanistic, utilitarian, anthropocentric worldview, without respect for Mother Earth and the limits of ecosystems, can only lead to a dangerous impasse: destroying the ecological conditions that allow us to maintain our civilization and human life on this magnificent planet.

But as all reality has two sides, let's look at the bright side of the current crisis: the birth of a new era, the Ecozoic one. This expression was suggested by one of the most important astrophysicists of today, Brian Swimme, director of the Center for the Story of the Universe at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

What does the Ecozoic era mean? It means making ecology the central reality on the basis of which all other human activities are organized, primarily the economic one, so as to preserve the natural capital and meet the needs of the entire community of life, present and future. This results in a balance in our relationship with nature and society in the sense of synergy and mutual belonging, leaving open the way forward.

We have lived under the myth of progress. But it was viewed in a distorted way, as human control over the non-human world for a growing GDP. The correct way is to view progress in harmony with nature and measure it by the overall functioning of the Earth community. Gross Domestic Product can not be achieved at the expense of Gross Terrestrial Product. Here is our original sin.

We forget that we are in a unique and universal process -- cosmogenesis -- diverse, complex and going upwards. From primary energy we get to matter, from matter to life, life to awareness and awareness to globalization. The human being is the conscious and intelligent part of this process. It is an event that occurred in the universe, in our galaxy, in our solar system, in our planet and in our time.

The central premise of the Ecozoic era is seeing the universe as a whole network of relationships of all to all -- we humans are essentially beings of extremely intricate relationships. And seeing the Earth as a living superorganism that regulates and continually renews itself. Given the productivist and consumerist onslaught of humans, this organism has been ill and unable to "digest" all the toxic elements we have produced in recent centuries. As an organism, it can't survive in a fragmented way but as a whole. Our challenge now is maintaining the integrity and vitality of the Earth. Earth's welfare is our welfare.

The immediate objective of the Ecozoic era is not simply to reduce the ongoing devastation, but alter the state of consciousness responsible for this devastation. When the Cenozoic emerged (our era, 66 million years ago), humans had no influence on it. Now, in the Ecozoic era, many things happen because of our decisions -- whether we preserve a species or an ecosystem, or condemn them to extinction. We are co-pilots in the evolutionary process.

In positive terms, what the Ecozoic era tries to do, ultimately, is to bring human activities into line with other operative forces across the planet and the universe, in order to reach a creative balance and thus be able to guarantee a common future. This implies another way of imagining, producing, consuming and giving meaning to our passage through this world. That meaning comes not from the economy but from the sense of the sacred before the mystery of the universe and our own existence. This is spirituality.

More and more people are entering the Ecozoic era. It is full of peromise, as can be deduced. It opens a window into a future of life and joy. We need to make a general call for it to become widespread in all areas and for the new consciousness to take shape.

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