Friday, June 17, 2011

Sustainability and caring -- a way to go

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
6/17/2011

For many years I've been working on the crisis of civilization that has befallen mankind dangerously. I have not been content with the structural analysis of its causes but, through many writings, I have attempted to develop positively possible solutions in terms of values and principles that provide real sustainability to the world to come. Participating in the development of the Earth Charter, in my view one of the most inspiring documents for the current crisis, helped me a lot. It states: "common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. A new beginning that requires a change of mind and heart, a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility."

I believe two values are essential for this new beginning: sustainability and caring. Sustainability, addressed in my previous article, means the rational use of scarce resources of the earth without harming the natural capital, keeping it in a position to reproduce, in order to meet the needs of future generations which also have the right to a habitable planet.

This is an activity involving a type of economy that respects the limits of each ecosystem and Earth itself, a society that seeks fairness and global social justice and an environment preserved enough to meet human demands.

As you might guess, sustainability affects society, politics, culture, art, nature, the planet and the life of every person. It is essential to ensure the physical, chemical and ecological conditions that support the production and reproduction of life and civilization. What we really note increasingly clearly is that our lifestyle, globalized today, does not have enough sustainability. It is too hostile to life and leaves out much of humankind. A wicked global social injustice reigns with its terrible consequences, a fact often neglected when dealing with the issue of global warming.

The other category, as important as sustainability, is caring, on which I have written several studies. Caring implies a loving, respectful and non-aggressive, and therefore non-destructive, relationship with reality. It assumes that humans are part of nature and members of the biotic and cosmic community, with the responsibility to protect, regenerate and care for it. More than a technique, caring is an art, a new paradigm of relationship with nature, Earth and human beings.

If sustainability is the objective, environmental, economic and social side of management of natural resources and their distribution, caring denotes its more subjective side: the attitudes, ethical and spiritual values that accompany the whole process, without which sustainability itself doesn't happen or isn't guaranteed in the medium and long term.

Sustainability and caring should be taken on together to prevent the crisis from becoming a tragedy and to make effective the practices that seek to establish a new paradigm of coexistence between human beings, life, and Earth. The current crisis, with its serious threats that weigh globally over all, poses a pressing philosophical inquiry: What kind of beings are we? Are we capable of preying on nature and endangering our very survival as a species, or of caring and taking responsibility for our common future? What, ultimately, is our place on Earth and what is our mission? Is it not to care for and preserve this sacred heritage that the universe and God gave us, which is this living Planet, that regulates itself, and from whose womb we all come?

And here again, caring is used as a possible operational and essential definition of the human being. Caring includes a certain way of being-in-the-world-with-others and a certain praxis, one that is protective of nature. Not without reason, a philosophical tradition that comes from antiquity and culminates in Heidegger and Winnicott defines the nature of the human being as a caring being. Without essential caring, he would not be here, nor the world around him. Sustainability and caring, together, show us the way to go.

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