Friday, February 1, 2013

What good are good wishes for the new year?

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)

We're already far into the new year and we're still expressing good wishes for health and prosperity to each other. What good are such prayers in the national and global context in which we live?

They make sense if what the Earth Charter -- one of the most important documents that promotes hope at the beginning of the 21st century -- urgently demands, occurs: "a change of mind and heart,...a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility." (Conclusion). That is, if we would have the courage to change our way of living, if the mode of production and consumption would take into account the Earth's limits, especially the shortage of drinking water and the millions and millions of hungry people.

It's not impossible that there might be a synchronized breakdown of the Earth-system and the life-system. The tsunamis and hurricanes are small anticipations. Biodiversity might largely disappear, as in the well-known 15 major destructions suffered by the Earth in yesteryear. Many humans will also perish and barely scraps of our civilization will be saved.

Jared Diamond, a renowned specialist in evolutionary biology and biogeography at the University of California, in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Penguin, 2011) showed how this collapse occurred on Easter Island, in the Mayan culture, and in North Greenland. Might it not be a miniature of what might happen to the Earth, an amplified Easter Island? Who can guarantee that it won't be possible?

There are arrows along our path that point in that direction. And us, having fun, laughing nonchalantly, playing at stock speculation, like in Kierkegaard's fable: a theater is on fire, the clown is screaming at the spectators to come and put it out, but nobody comes forward because everyone believes it's part of the piece. The theater burns down, consuming the auditorium, the spectators and the surrounding area. Noah was the only one who read the signs of the times: he built a saving ark, guaranteeing it for himself, his family and representatives of biodiversity. But there is a difference between Noah and us: now we don't have an ark that saves some and lets others perish. This time either we are all saved or we all perish.

No wonder the final part of the Earth Charter convokes us: "As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning." Note that it's not talking about reforms, improvements, cutbacks, regulations, but "a new beginning". Not that such initiatives don't make sense, but they will always be more of the same and intrasystemic. They don't solve the root problem -- the system which must be changed; they only delay the solution. The system is corroded within and has become a threat to the life and future of the Earth. From it, there can come no new life that includes all and saves our civilizing attempts.

This means recognizing that the values and principles, institutions and agencies, habits and ways of producing and consuming no longer assure us a discernible future. A "new beginning" means inventing a new Earth and forging a new style of "right living" and "living together well", producing what is sufficient and decent for all, without neglecting the community of life and our children and grandchildren.

The pivotal elements will no longer be the economy, the market, the banking system or globalization, but life, humanity and the Earth, conceived as Gaia, a living superorganism of which we are its conscious and intelligent portion. All other subsystems have to serve this large single and diverse system in which all will be interdependent, building together a common destiny, with Mother Earth too.

The situation of Earth and humanity is comparable to a plane on the runway. It starts to run. Every pilot knows that there comes a critical moment in which the aircraft must take off, because otherwise it will crash at the end of the runway. There are many such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Martin Rees, James Lovelock, Edward Wilson, and Albert Jacquard among others, who warn us that we have passed the critical point and we haven't taken off. Where are we headed?

As evolution is not continuous but makes leaps, we never lose hope, but rather we cultivate it, starting with a quantum leap that saves us with a new mindset and a new heart and, therefore, a promising destiny for 2013.

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