The Earth Defends Herself by Leonardo Boff


The Earth Defends Herself By Slowing Down Growth

Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission




The idea of a living Earth is widely accepted, and has been incorporated into the most recent manuals of ecology (cf.R. Barbault, Ecologia Geral, Vozes, Petrópolis 2011.) It was first proposed by Russian geochemist W.Vernadsky in the 1920’s, and was retaken with great depth in the 1970s by James Lovelock, and among us, by J. Lutzenberger, where she was called Gaia. This name tries to convey the fact that the Earth is a gigantic, self regulating, super-organism, that makes all beings interconnect and cooperate with each other. Nothing is omitted, because everything is an expression of the life of Gaia, including human societies, their cultural projects, and their forms of production and consumption. But by creating the conscious and free human being, Gaia has endangered herself. Human beings are called upon to live in harmony with her, but they can also break the bonds of belonging. She is tolerant, but when the rupture damages the whole, she teaches us bitter lessons. We can already feel them now.


All the world is lamenting the slow world growth, especially in the developed countries. Many reasons are given, but from a radical ecological perspective, it is a reaction of the Earth herself to excessive exploitation by the producing and consumerist system of the industrialized countries. The aggression against Earth’s systems has been carried too far, to the point that, as some scientists note, we have inaugurated a new ecological era: the anthropocene, where the human being, as a destructive geologic force, is accelerating the sixth mass extinction, that has been underway for millennia. Gaia is defending herself, undermining the conditions of the myth of all present-day societies, including the Brazilian: that of growth, the bigger the better, with unlimited consumption.


Already in 1972, the Club of Rome took note of the limits of growth, that the Earth can no longer sustain it. It takes a year and a half to restore what we extract from her in a year. Therefore, growth is hostile to life and hurts the resilience of Mother Earth. But we do not understand, nor do we want to recognize, the signs she gives. We want more and more growth, and consequently we want to consume recklessly. The «World Economic Perspectives» report of the International Monetary Fund, foresees a 4.3% rate of worldwide growth in 2012. This is to say, we will extract more wealth from the Earth, throwing her off balance, as is shown by global warming.


The «Systemic Evaluation of the Millennium» carried out between 2001 and 2005 by the U.N. to ascertain the degradation of the principal factors that sustain life, warned: either we change our ways, or we endanger the future of our civilization.


The 2008 economic-financial crisis, that has returned now in 2011, refutes the myth of growth. There is a generalized blindness, from which not even the 17 Nobel laureates for economics escape, as was seen in their recent meeting in Lindau Lake, South Germany. Except for Joseph Stiglitz, they all agreed that the structure of the present economy bears no responsibility for the present crisis (Page 12, Buenos Aires, 8/28/2011). Therefore, they simply propose continuing down the same path of growth, with some corrections, without realizing that they have become bad advisors.


It is important to recognize the dilemma inherent in finding a solution: there are regions of the planet that need to grow to meet the demands of the poor, obviously while caring for nature and avoiding incorporation into the consumerist culture. And other highly developed regions have to be solidarian with the poor, control their own growth, take only what is natural and renewable, restore that which they have devastated and return more of what they have taken, so that future generations may also live with dignity as part of the community of life.


The reduction of growth is a wise reaction on the part of the Earth. It sends us this message: «Forget the outrageous idea of growth, for it is like a cancer that will erode all the sources of life. Seek human development of those intangible goods that can grow without limit, such as love, caring, solidarity, compassion, artistic and spiritual creation.»


I do not think I am wrong in believing that there are ears attentive to this message, and that together we will make the longed-for journey.




Leonardo Boff





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