Archive for category Environment

Sustainability: an attempt at defining it

 by Leonardo Boff

Sustainability: an attempt at defining it

Leonardo Boff

Theologian
Earthcharter Commission

 

There is a conflict these days among the different ways people understand sustainability. The definition of the 1987 Brundland Report of the UNO is classic: Sustainable development is one that attends the needs of present generations without endangering the capacity of future generations to attend to their needs and aspirations. This concept is correct, but it has two limitations: it is anthropocentric (it only considers human beings) and it says nothing about the community of life (other living beings that also need a biosphere and sustainability.) I will try to make a formulation that is as inclusive as possible:

Sustainability is every action destined to maintain the energy, information, and physical-chemical conditions that make all beings sustainable, especially the living Earth, the community of life and human life, seeking their continuity, and also to attend the needs of present and future generations in such a way that the natural capital is maintained and its capacity of regeneration, reproduction and eco-evolution is enriched.

Let’s rapidly explain the terms of this holistic vision:

To make sustainable all the conditions necessary for the creation of all beings: they exist starting with the combination of energies, of the physical-chemical and informative elements that, combined together, give origin to everything.

To make sustainable all beings: this is about completely overcoming anthropocentrism. All beings emerge from the process of evolution and enjoy an intrinsic value, independent of human use.

To especially make the living Earth sustainable: the Earth is much more than a «thing» (res extensa), lacking intelligence, or a mere means of production. She does not contain life; she is alive, she self-regulates, self-regenerates and evolves. If we do not guarantee the sustainability of the living Earth, called Gaia, we take away the basis of all other forms of sustainability.

To also make the community of life sustainable: the environment does not exist as something secondary and peripheral. We do not just exist: we coexist, and are all interdependent. All living beings are carriers of the same basic genetic alphabet. We form the net of life, microorganisms included. This net creates the biomass and the biodiversity that is necessary for the subsistence of our life on this planet.

To make human life sustainable: we are a singular link of the net of life, the most complex being in our solar system and a spearhead of the process of evolution as we know it, because we are carriers of consciousness, sensibility and intelligence. We feel that we are called upon to care for and to guard Mother Earth, to guarantee the continuity of civilization and also to be vigilant of our destructive capacity.

To make the continuity of the process of evolution sustainable: all beings are conserved and supported by the Basic Energy or the Source that Creates all Beings. The universe possesses an end in itself, by the simple fact of existing, of continuing to expand and create itself.

To make tending to human needs sustainable: through the rational and caring use of the goods and services which the cosmos and the Earth offer us, and without which we would cease to exist. To make sustainable our generation and the generations that will follow ours: the Earth is sufficient for each generation so long as a relation of synergy and cooperation with the Earth is established, and goods and services are distributed equitably. The use of those goods must be guided by generational solidarity. Future generations have the right to inherit a well preserved Earth and nature.

Sustainability is measured by the capacity to conserve natural capital, that it may renew itself and, perhaps through human genius, that it may be enriched for future generations. This widened and integrating concept of sustainability must serve as criteria for evaluating whether or not we have progressed along the path of sustainability, and should serve equally as inspiration or idea-generating for making sustainability a reality in the different fields of human activity. Without it, sustainability is pure rhetoric, without consequences.

Leonardo Boff

, ,

Leave a comment

It All Began in Greece. Will It All End in Greece? by Leonardo Boff

   It All Began in Greece. Will It All End in Greece?

                                             Leonardo Boff

                                                 Theologian
                                    Earthcharter Commission

 

Our Western civilization, now globalized, has its historic origins, in ancient Greece, during the VI Century, before the current era. The world of myth and religion, which was then the organizing principle of society, collapsed. To bring order into that critical moment, over a period of about 50 years, one of the greatest intellectual creations of humanity took place. The era of critical reason appeared, expressed through philosophy, democracy, theater, poetry and aesthetics. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the sophists were paradigmatic figures who gave birth to the architecture of knowledge, underlying the paradigm of our civilization; there were Pericles, the governor at the head of the democracy; Phidias, of the elegant aesthetics; the great tragic writers, such as Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus; the Olympic Games, and other cultural manifestations, too numerous to list here.

The new paradigm is characterized by the predominance of a type of reason that omits any awareness of the Whole, any sense of the meaning of the unity of reality, that characterized the so-called pre-Socratic thinkers, founders of the original thinking. In this moment the famous dualisms were introduced: world/God, man/nature, reason/sensibility, theory/practice. Reason created metaphysics, that in Heidegger’s understanding objectifies everything, and sets itself as the holder of power over that object. The human being no longer felt he was part of nature, but placed himself above her, and subjected nature to his will.

This paradigm reached its highest expression one thousand years later, in the XVI century, with Descartes, Newton, Bacon and others, founders of the modern paradigm. The dualist and mechanical world view was consecrated by them: nature on one side and the human being on the other, prior to and above nature, as her “teacher and owner” (Descartes), the crown of creation in function of which everything exists. The ideal of boundless progress was developed, that assumes that progress can continue infinitely into the future. In recent decades, greed to accumulate transformed everything into merchandise, to be negotiated and consumed. We have forgotten that the goods and services of nature are for everyone and cannot be appropriated only by a few.

After four centuries of applying this metaphysics, this is, this way of being and seeing, we see that nature has paid a high price for this model of growth/development. We are now reaching the limits of her possibilities. The scientific-technological civilization has reached a point where it can destroy itself, profoundly degrading nature, eliminating a great part of the life-system and, eventually, eradicating the human species. It could result in an eco-social armagedon.

It all began in Greece thousands of years ago. And now it looks as though it all will end in Greece, one of the first victims of the economic horror, whose bankers, to salvage their profits, have pushed the entire society into desperation. It has reached Ireland, Portugal, and Italy. It could extend to Spain and France, and perhaps to the entire world order.

We are witnessing the agony of a millenarian paradigm that is apparently completing its historic trajectory. It can still be delayed for a few decades, in a moribund state that resists death, but the end is predictable. It cannot reproduce itself with its own resources. 

We must find another way of relating to nature, another form of production and consumption. It must develop an awareness of dependency with the community of life and of collective responsibility for our common future. If this change does not begin, we will be sentencing ourselves to extinction. Either we transform ourselves, or we will disappear.

I make my own the words of the economist-thinker Celso Furtado: «The people of my generation have shown that it is within the reach of human ingenuity to lead humanity to suicide. I hope the new generation shows that it is also within the reach of the human being to open a path to a world where compassion, happiness, beauty and solidarity prevail.» If, that is, we change paradigms.

 

Leonardo Boff
01-20-2012

,

Leave a comment

“Only a God can Save us” – Leonardo Boff

“Only a God can Save us”

Leonardo Boff

Theologian
Earthcharter Commission

 

This phrase does not come from a pope, but from Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), one of the most profound German philosophers of the XX century, in an interview with the weekly Der Spiegel, of September 23, 1966, but only published on May 31, 1976, a week after he died. Heidegger was always an attentive observer of the threatening destinies of our technological civilization. To him, technology, as an intervention in the natural dynamics of the world for human benefit, had penetrated our way of being in such a way that it had become second nature.

We cannot imagine ourselves today without the vast scientific-technological apparatus on which our civilization is based, but which is dominated by an opportunistic compulsion that translates into the formula: if we can do it, we must do it, without any ethical considerations. Weapons of mass destruction came from this attitude. They exist, so why not use them?

For the philosopher, such a technique, without conscience, is the clearest expression of our paradigm and mentality, both born at the dawn of modernity, in the XVI century, but whose roots already existed in classical Greek metaphysics. This mentality is guided by exploitation, by calculation, by mechanization and by efficiency, applied in all fields, but mainly in relation to nature. This understanding has so overtaken us that we consider technology to be a panacea for all our problems. Unconsciously we define ourselves in opposition to nature, which must be dominated and exploited. We, ourselves, become objects of science, as our organs and even our genes are manipulated.

The divorce of human beings from nature is shown by the ever increasing environmental and social degradation. The maintenance and acceleration of the technological process, according to the philosopher, can lead us to eventual self-destruction. The death machine was already built decades ago.

Ethical and religious calls, and, least of all, simple good will, are not enough for us to escape this situation. It is a metaphysical problem, that is, of a way of seeing and thinking about reality. We are on a fast moving train; headed towards an encounter with the abyss ahead, and we do not know how to stop it. What can we do? That is the question.

If we wanted, we could find a different mentality in our cultural tradition, in the pre-Socratic philosophers such as Heraclitus, among others, who still recognized the organic connection between human beings and nature, between the divine and the earthly, and nourished a sense of belonging to a main Whole. Knowledge was not placed at the service of power, but of life, and of the contemplation of the mystery of being. Or, it could be found in all the contemporary reflections about the new cosmological-ecological paradigm, that see the unity and complexity of the sole and great process of evolution, from which all beings emerge and are interdependent. But this path is forbidden to us by the excess of techno-science, of calculating rationality, and by the immense economic interests of the great consortiums that live off the present status quo.

Where are we headed? It was in this context that Heidegger pronounced this famous and prophetic sentence: «Philosophy cannot directly provoke a change of the present situation of the world. And this is not true only for philosophy but also for all activity of human thought. Only a God can still save us (Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten). The sole possibility we have, in thought and poetry, is to prepare our availability for the appearance of that God or for the absence of God in sunset times (Untergrund); given that we, if God is absent, will disappear.» 



What Heidegger affirmed is also being forcefully expressed by notable thinkers, scientists and ecologists. Either we change our ways, or our civilization endangers its own future. Our attitude is one of openness to an advent of God, that powerful and loving energy that sustains every being and the whole universe. That God can save us. This attitude is well represented by the openness of poetry and free thinkers. And since God, according to Scriptures, is «the supreme lover of life» (Sabiduría 11,24), we hope that God will not allow a tragic end for the human being. Humans exist to shine, to live in harmony and to be happy.

 

Leonardo Boff
01-13-2012

, ,

Leave a comment

Judgment Day For Our Culture? Leonardo Boff

Judgment Day For Our Culture?

Leonardo Boff

Theologian
Earthcharter Commission

 

The end of the year offers a chance to make an accounting of our human situation on this planet. What can we hope for and what way will history go? Those are worrisome questions, because the global landscape is somber. A crisis of structural magnitude lurks in the heart of the dominant economic-social system (Europe and United States), with repercussions for the rest of the world. The Bible has a recurrent theme in the prophetic tradition: judgment day is near. It is the day of revelation: the truth comes out, and our mistakes and sins are revealed as enemies of life. Great historians like Toynbee and von Ranke also speak of judgment of entire cultures. I believe we really are faced with a global judgment of our way of living on the Earth, and of the relationship we maintain with her.

Considering the situation at a deeper level, one that looks beyond the economic analysis prevailing with governments, businesses, world forums, and the media, we can see with ever more clarity the contradiction that exists between the logic of our modern culture, with its political economics, individualism and consumerism, and the logic of the natural processes of our living planet, the Earth. They are incompatible. The first is competitive, the latter, cooperative. The first is exclusive, the latter, inclusive. The first puts its principal value on the individual, the latter, on the good of all. The first gives centrality to merchandise, the latter, to life in all its forms. If we do not do something, this incompatibility could lead us to a very severe impasse.

This incompatibility is aggravated by the premises underlying our social process: that we can grow without limits, that the resources are inexhaustible and that material and individual prosperity bring us the happiness that we so desire. These premises are illusory: resources are limited and a finite Earth cannot sustain infinite development. Prosperity and individualism are not bringing us happiness, but great loneliness, depression, violence and suicide.

There are two problems that interact, and could cause upheavals in the future: global warming and human overpopulation. Global warming is a term that encompasses the impact our civilization has on nature, threatening the sustainability of life and the Earth. The result is the annual emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane, which is 23 times more destructive than the former. The accelerating thawing of the frozen soil of the Siberian tundra (the permafrost), will create in the coming decades the danger of an abrupt warming of 4 to 5 degrees centigrade, that could devastate great portions of life on Earth. The increase in human population causes more goods and natural services to be exploited, more energy used, and more greenhouse gasses to be expelled into the atmosphere.

The strategies for controlling this threatening situation are largely ignored by governments and decision-makers. Our deeply rooted individualism has precluded a consensus from being reached in UN gatherings. Each country sees only its own interests, and is blind to the collective interest and the planet as a whole. And this way we are recklessly approaching an abysm.

But the mother of all the above-mentioned distortions is our anthropocentrism, the conviction that we human beings are the center of everything, and that everything has been created for us alone, losing sight of our dependency on everything around us. That is the source of our destructiveness, that causes us to devastate nature to satisfy our desires.

Some humility and perspective is urgently needed. The universe is 13.7 billion years old; the Earth, 4.45 billion; life, 3.8 billion; human life, 5-7 million; and the homo sapiens, some 130-140,000 years. Consequently, we were born only “few minutes” ago, the fruit of all the previous history. And from sapiens we are going to demens, threatening our companions in the community of life.

We have reached the apex of the process of evolution, not to destroy, but to guard and care for this sacred legacy. Only then will judgment day reveal our true identity and our mission here on Earth.

 

Leonardo Boff
12-30-2011

, , , ,

Leave a comment

The Earth Defends Herself by Leonardo Boff

 

The Earth Defends Herself By Slowing Down Growth

Leonardo Boff

Theologian
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

 

09-09-2011

 

, ,

Leave a comment

Teaching how to celebrate Life and the Earth by Leonardo Boff

Teaching how to celebrate Life and the Earth

Leonardo Boff

Theologian
Earthcharter Commission

 

Given the generalized crisis we are presently enduring, all forms of education must include caring for everything that exists and lives. Without caring, we cannot guarantee a sustainability that will allow the planet to maintain its vitality, its ecosystems, its equilibrium, and the future of our civilization. We are taught critical and creative thinking, to have a profession and a good standard of living, but we forget to teach responsibility, and caring for the common future of Earth and Humanity. Education that does not include caring reveals alienation and irresponsibility. The more serious analysts of the ecological status of the Earth warn us that, if we do not care, we may experience catastrophies worse than those experienced in 2011 in Brazil and Japan. To maintain herself, the Earth might be forced, perhaps, to reduce her biosphere, eliminating species and millions of human beings.

Among the many good qualities of the concept of caring, I would like to point out two that are of interest to the new model of education: inclusion of the globe in our everyday imagery, and enchantment with the mystery of existence. When we contemplate planet Earth from outer space, a feeling of reverence arises, at seeing our only Common Home. We are inseparable from the Earth, with her, we form a whole. We feel that we must love her and take good care of her so that she may offer us all we need to continue living.

Leonardo Boff

The second quality of caring as an ethical attitude and a form of love, is the enchantment that we feel for the most spectacular and beautiful apparition that has ever existed, namely, the miracle of the existence of each individual human person. The systems, institutions, sciences, technical achievements and schools lack that which every human possesses: consciousness, the capacity for loving, caring, creativity, solidarity, compassion and the feeling of belonging to a larger Whole that sustains and animates us: the realities that constitute our Profundity.

We surely are not the center of the universe. But we are the beings that carry its conscience and intelligence, through which the universe thinks of itself, is conscious and sees itself in its splendid complexity and beauty. We are the part of the universe and the Earth that has come to feel, to think, to love and to venerate. That is our dignity, that must be internalized and imbued in every person of the new planetary era.

We should be proud of being able to perform this mission for the Earth and for the whole universe. We only fulfill this mission if we care for ourselves, for others, and for every being that inhabits the Earth.

Perhaps few have expressed these noble feelings better than the distinguished musician and poet Pablo Casals, (1876–1973.) In a speech at the United Nations in the 1980s, he

Pablo Casals

addressed the General Assembly, thinking of the children as the future of the new humanity. His message is also valuable for us adults. Casals said:

The child must know that he himself is a miracle, that from the beginning of the world, never has there been another child just the same, and that in the whole future, there will never be another child like him. Every child is unique, from the beginning to the end of time. That way the child assumes a responsibility, as he confesses: it is true that I am a miracle. I am a miracle as the tree is a miracle. And being a miracle, could I do evil? No, because I am a miracle. I can say God or Nature, or God-nature. That’s not that important. What is important is that I am a miracle made by God and by nature. Could I kill someone? No. I cannot. And could another human being, who is also a miracle, kill me? I believe that what I am telling the children, could help bring about another way of thinking of the world and of life. The world of today is bad, yes it is a bad world. The world is bad because we do not talk to the children as I am talking to them now, in the way they need us to talk to them. Then the world will have no reason to be a bad world.

Great realism is revealed here: every reality, especially human reality, is unique and precious, but at the same time, we live in a conflicted world, contradictory and with terrifying aspects. In spite of all that, we must trust in the strength of the seed. The seed is filled with life. Every child that is born is a seed of a world that can be better. Because of that, it is worth having hope. A patient in a psychiatric hospital that I visited, printed with fire on a small board that he later gave me: «Every child who is born is a sign that God still believes in the human being.» It is not necessary to say anything more, because in these words lies the meaning of our hope as we face the evils and tragedies of this world.

 

Leonardo Boff
09-01-2011

 

, , ,

Leave a comment

Ruled by the Blind and Irresponsible by Leonardo Boff

 

Ruled by the Blind and Irresponsible

Leonardo Boff

Theologian
Earthcharter Commission

 

 

 

Looking carefully at the many analyses of the crises that are destroying us, we see something that seems central, and about which we must think seriously. Societies, globalization, the process of production, the economic-financial system; the predominant dream and the explicit object of the desire of the great majority is to consume, and to consume without limits. A culture of consumerism has been created and is propagated by the media. We must have the latest models of cell phones, training shoes, and computers. 66% of the Northamerican GNP does not come from production, but from general consumption. British authorities were surprised to learn that, among those who created the disturbances in many cities, were not only the usual foreigners in conflict with each other, but many college students, unemployed, teachers; and even soldiers. They were people enraged because did not have access to consumption. They did not question the consumption paradigm, but questioned the means of excluding them from that paradigm.

 

In the United Kingdom after Margaret Thatcher, and in the United States after Ronald Reagan, and in the world in general, great social inequality is growing. In the United Kingdom the income of the wealthiest has increased 273 times as much in recent years as that of the poor, according to Carta Maior, of 08/12/2011. Because of that, there is no surprise in the disappointment of the frustrated, who face a «social software» that denies them access to consumption and forces them to confront the cuts in the social budget, 70% of which falls punishingly hard on them: 70% of the youth recreation centers were simply closed.

 

What is alarming is that neither Prime Minister David Cameron nor the members of the House of Commons took the time to ask themselves the whys of the looting in so many cities. They responded with the worst remedy: more institutional violence. Conservative Cameron said, emphasizing every word: «we will detain the suspects and will publish their faces in the mass media and we could care less about the fictitious worries about human rights». This is the solution of pitiless neo-liberal capitalism: if an order that is unequal and unjust demands it, democracy is annulled, and human rights are ignored. And this happens in the country where the first declarations of the rights of the citizens were born.

 

If we look carefully, we can see that we are embroiled in a vicious cycle that can destroy us: we need to produce to allow such consumption. Without consumption, enterprises go broke. Resources of nature are needed to produce. These resources are ever more scarce and we have already disposed of 30% more than what the Earth can replace. If we stop extracting, producing, selling and consuming there will be no economic growth. Without annual growth countries fall into recession, generating high rates of unemployment. With unemployment, explosive social chaos erupts, degenerating into all types of conflicts. How can we get out of this trap that we have set for ourselves?

 

The opposite to consumerism is not non-consumption, but a new «social software» as expressed by political expert Luiz Gonzaga de Souza Lima. That is, we urgently need a new agreement, between a frugal and solidarian consumption, accessible to all, and the limits of nature that must be respected. How to do it? There are several suggestions: the «sustainable way of life» of the Earth Charter, the «good living» of the Andean cultures, founded on the equilibrium human being/Earth, the solidarian economy, the bio-socio-economy, the «natural capitalism» (unfortunate expression) that attempts to integrate the biological cycles in the socio-economic life, and others.

 

But when the heads of the wealthy States get together, they do not talk about these things. They try to save a system that is leaking everywhere. They know that nature can no longer pay the high price charged by the consumerist model. It is already endangering the survival of life and the future of generations to come. We are ruled by blind and irresponsible leaders, incapable of understanding the consequences of the economic-political-cultural system they defend.

 

A new global path is imperative, if we want to guarantee our lives and the lives of all other living beings. The scientific-technical civilization that has allowed us exaggerated levels of consumption can ruin that civilization itself, destroying life and degrading the Earth. It is certainly not to such an end that we have reached this point in the process of evolution. We must have the courage and daring to create radical change, if we still have a little of love for ourselves.

 

 

 

Leonardo Boff
08-19-2011

 

, , , ,

Leave a comment