Friday, October 21, 2011

The illusion of a green economy

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

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Everything we do to protect the living planet that is Earth against factors that take away her equilibrium and, therefore, cause global warming, is valid and should be supported. In fact, the term "global warming" conceals phenomena such as prolonged droughts that decimate grain crops, extensive flooding and high winds, water shortages, soil erosion, famine, degradation of 15 of the 24 services listed in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (UN) and which are responsible for the sustainability of the planet (water, energy, soils, seeds, fibers, etc.). The main issue isn't even saving the Earth. She saves herself and, if necessary, would do so by expelling us from her midst. But, how can we save ourselves and our civilization? That is the real question, to which most shrug their shoulders.

Low-carbon production, organic products, solar and wind energy, the greatest possible reduction in intervention in the rhythms of nature, seeking to put back resources used, recycling -- everything that falls under the name of green economy -- are the most popular and widespread processes. It is advisable to impose this way of producing. Yet we must not be deluded and lose the critical sense. There is talk of green economy to avoid the issue of sustainability, because it is contrary to the current mode of production and consumption, but in the end that (the green economy) uses measures within the same paradigm of domination of nature. "Green" and "not green" don't exist. In the various stages of production, all products contain elements that are toxic to the health of the Earth and society. Today, through Life Cycle Analysis, we can show and monitor the complex interrelationships between the different stages -- the extraction, transport, production, use and disposal of each product and their environmental impacts. Here, it is clear that the alleged "green" is not as green as it seems. The "green" represents only one stage of the process. The production is never entirely eco-friendly.

For example, take ethanol, which is considered a clean energy alternative to the dirty fossil fuel, oil. It is clean only at the spout of the supply pump. The whole production process is highly polluting -- the chemicals applied to the ground, burning, large transport trucks that emit gases, liquid effluents and bagasse. Pesticides kill bacteria and expel the worms that are essential for the regeneration of soils. They only come back after five years.

To ensure production necessary for life that doesn't put stress on or degrade nature, requires something more than the pursuit of what is green. The crisis is conceptual, not economic. The relationship with the Earth has to change. We are part of Gaia and through our careful actions we become more aware of her and have more opportunity to ensure her vitality.

To save us I see no other way than what is indicated in the Earth Charter: "Common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning...This requires a change of mind and heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility."

Change of mind: adopt a new concept of Earth as Gaia. She doesn't belong to us, but to the entire set of ecosystems that serve the whole of life, regulating its biophysical basis and climates. She created the whole community of life, not just us. We are her conscious and responsible portion. The heaviest work is done by our invisible partners, a veritable natural proletariat -- microorganisms, bacteria and fungi, billions of which are in every spoonful of soil. They are the ones who effectively have been supporting life for 3.8 billion years. Our relationship with the earth should be like the one we have with our mothers: one of respect and gratitude. We should gratefully return what she gives us and maintain her vital capacity.

Change of Heart: In addition to instrumental reason with which to organize production, we need warm and sensitive reason, which is expressed by love for the Earth and respect for every being in creation because it is our partner in the community of life, and by the sense of reciprocity, interdependence and care, since this is our mission.

Without this conversion, we won't get away from the shortsightedness of a green economy. Only new minds and new hearts will give birth to a different future.

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