Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Earth defends itself; reduces growth

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)

Today the idea of the living Earth is widely accepted and it's now found in the most recent ecology textbooks (see R. Barbault, Ecologia Geral, Vozes, Petrópolis 2011). It was first proposed by the Russian geochemist W. Vernadsky in the 1920s and taken up again more deeply in the 1970s by J. Lovelock, and among us, by J. Lutzenberger, calling it Gaia. By this we mean that the Earth is a giant self-regulating super-organism that makes all beings be interconnected and cooperate with each other. Nothing is left out, because everything is an expression of the life of Gaia, including human societies, their cultural projects and forms of production and consumption. By generating the human being -- conscious and free -- Gaia put herself at risk. Human beings are called to live in harmony with her, but they may also break the bond of belonging. She is tolerant, but when the rupture becomes harmful to the whole, she gives us bitter lessons. We can already feel them now.

Everyone is lamenting the low global growth, especially in the main countries. The reasons are manifold, but from the viewpoint of radical ecology, this fact results from a reaction of Earth herself to the excessive exploitation by the productivist and consumerist system of industrialized countries. The assault on the Earth system has been taken very far to the point that, as some scientists state, we have begun a new ecological era -- the Anthropocene one, in which human beings, as a destructive geological force, are accelerating the sixth mass extinction, which has been going on for millennia. Gaia is defending herself by weakening the conditions of this myth rooted in all societies, including Brazil: growth, as great as possible, with unlimited consumption.

In 1972, the Club of Rome was aware of the limits to growth, that the Earth can't take it anymore. She needs a year and a half to replace what we extract from her in a year. Therefore, growth is hostile to life and wounds the resilience of Mother Earth. But we neither know nor want to interpret the signals she gives. We want to grow more and more, and consequently consume unchecked. The "World Economic Outlook" report of the IMF, foresees a global growth of 4.3% for 2012. That is, we're going to take more riches from the Earth, destabilizing her, as evidenced by global warming.

The "Millennium Ecosystem Assessment" conducted between 2001 and 2005 by the UN, on observing the degradation of the main factors that sustain life, warned: either we change course or we jeopardize the future of our civilization.

The economic and financial crisis of 2008, which has now come back in 2011, refutes the myth of growth. There is widespread blindness, from which even the 17 Nobel laureates in economics can't escape, as was seen recently at their meeting at Lake Lindau, in southern Germany. Except for J. Stiglitz, all agreed in maintaining that the theoretical framework of the current economy has had no responsibility in the current crisis (Página 12, B. Aires, 08/28/2011). Therefore, they naively postulated following the same path of growth, with corrections, not realizing that they are being bad advisers.

It is important to recognize a dilemma that is difficult to solve: there are regions of the planet that need to grow to meet the demands of the poor, obviously taking care of nature and avoiding the incorporation of the culture of consumerism, and other overdeveloped regions that have to be in solidarity with the poor, control their growth, taking only what is natural and renewable, restoring what has been devastated, and giving back more than what they have taken so that future generations also can live in dignity with the community of life.

The reduction in growth is a wise reaction of Earth herself that sends this message: "Forget the idea of unbridled growth, because that is like a cancer that will erode all sources of life. Seek the human development of intangible goods that can grow without limits, such as love, caring, solidarity, compassion, spiritual and artistic creation."

I don't believe I'm wrong in thinking that there are ears attentive to this message and that we will make the desired crossover.

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