The climate dome

Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze), [untitled], 1988
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By LEONARDO BOFF*

Either we change or we run the risk of disappearing from the face of the Earth.

In Glasgow, at the end of 2021, COP26 is discussing how to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases so that we do not reach 2030 degrees Celsius in 1,5 and then a path of no return. Most are skeptical as large emitters have not complied with the Paris Agreement. They only reduced up to 7% and Brazil, on the contrary, grew its emissions by 9%. Given the gearing of the world productive process with a capitalist bias that tends not to assume any limits on its earnings, we will probably not reach this goal. Our children and grandchildren will inherit a devastated Earth and may curse us for not doing our homework. Earth's dramatic situation is absent from the debates. There is no mention of the destructive relationship with nature. Let's quickly see, in the course of history, how we arrived at the current drama.

 

The interaction with nature

Our ancestors, who are lost in the penumbra of immemorial times, entertained a non-destructive interaction: they took what nature plentifully offered them. That time lasted for millennia, starting in Africa, where the human being appeared for the first time a few million years ago. Therefore, we are all, in some way, Africans.

 

Intervention in nature

More than two million years ago, in the process of anthrogenesis (the genesis of the human being in evolution), the skilled man (homo habilis). Here a first turning point occurred. It began what culminated in an extreme way in our days. The skillful man invented instruments with which he operated an intervention in nature: a pointed stick, a sharp stone and other similar resources. With them he could wound and kill an animal or he could cut plants. This intervention developed much more intensely with the introduction of agriculture and irrigation, which occurred around 10-12 thousand years ago in the era called the neolithic. They diverted water from rivers, improved crops, raised animals and birds to be slaughtered.

It is the time when humans stopped being nomadic and became sedentary, with towns and cities, generally, along rivers such as the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates in the Middle East, the Indus to the Tanges in India and around of the immense internal lake, the Amazon that, thousands of years ago, flowed into the Pacific.

 

The aggression to nature

From intervention we move to the aggression of nature, in the industrial age from the XNUMXth century onwards. Factories with mass production appeared. All kinds of technical instruments were forged that allowed extracting enormous riches from nature. It was based on the premise that human beings are “lord and owner” of nature, no longer feeling like a guest and part of it. The driving idea was the will to power, understood as ability to dominate everything: other people, social classes, peoples, continents, nature, matter, life and the Earth itself as a whole. Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction were produced.

The Englishman Francis Bacon, considered the founder of the modern scientific method, even wrote: “Nature must be tortured as a torturer tortures his victim, until he surrenders all his secrets.”. Scientific knowledge was soon transformed into techniques for the extraction of natural resources, which were increasingly perfected, in order to fulfill the purpose of unlimited accumulation. Here aggression gains official status. It was and continues to be applied to the present day.

 

The destruction of nature

In recent times, especially after the Second World War (1939-1945), systematic aggression has gained dimensions of true destruction of ecosystems, biodiversity, scarce goods and services of nature, even of Mother Earth attacked on all its fronts.

According to notable scientists, we have inaugurated a new geological era, called the Anthropocene, in which human beings emerge as the greatest threat to nature and the balance of the Earth, particularly its climates. It has reached the point where our industrialist process and consumerist lifestyle decimate around 100 living organisms annually. More than a million of them are under severe threat of disappearance.

From this true biological tragedy, people began to talk about the necrocene, that is, death (black) en masse of lives of nature and of human lives for misery, hunger of millions and millions and now for the planetary Covid-19.

 

The erosion of the relational matrix

The perspective of the Whole was lost. There was a real fragmentation and atomization of reality and the respective knowledge. More and more is known about less and less. This fact has its advantages, but also its limits. Reality is not fragmented. Therefore, knowledge cannot be fragmented either. We are talking about the alliance between all types of knowledge, including the popular ones (Prigogine).

The relationships of interdependence that all things have among themselves were neglected. In a word: the relational matrix of everyone with everyone, which involves the universe itself, has been eroded. Nothing exists outside the relationship. In a poetic formulation by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato si: on caring for our common home (2015) it is stated:The Sun and the Moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow, the spectacle of theirs diversities means that no creature is self-sufficient; they are interdependent on each other to complete each other in each other's service!” (n. 86).

If we are all really intertwined, then we must conclude that the capitalist, individualistic, nature-predatory mode of production, aiming at the greatest possible profit without realizing the existing relationships between all things, emitting greenhouse gases, is against the grain of logic nature and the universe itself.

Earth created us a friendly place to live but we are not being friendly to her. On the contrary, we started a war on her, with no chance of winning, to the point where she couldn't take it anymore and started to react in a kind of counterattack. This is the greater meaning of the intrusion of a whole range of viruses, especially Covid-19. From nature's caregivers we made ourselves in its menacing Satan.

 

Either we change or we risk disappearing

Until the advent of modernity, human beings perceived themselves as connected to the Whole. Now Mother Earth has been transformed “into a toilet” and “we are digging our grave” said UN Secretary General António Guterres when opening work at COP26 on 31/10/2021, or a trunk full of resources to be explored. In this understanding that ended up imposing itself, things and human beings are disconnected from each other, each one following its own course.

The absence of the feeling of belonging to a greater Whole, the disregard for the webs of relationships that connect all beings, made us uprooted and plunged into a deep loneliness, something that prevented an integrating vision of the world, which existed before.

Why did we make this reversal of course? It will not be a single cause, but a complex of them. The most important and harmful one was that we abandoned the aforementioned “relational matrix”, that is, the perception of the web of relationships that intertwine all beings. It gave us the feeling of being part of a greater Whole, that we were inserted in nature as part of it, like brothers and sisters, as the Fratelli tutti of Pope Francis and not simply its users and with merely utilitarian interests. We have lost the capacity for admiration for the height of creation, reverence for the starry sky, respect for all life, and the capacity to weep for the suffering of the majority of mankind

If we do not make this turn of “lords and owners” (dominus) from nature to “brothers and sisters (frater) among all, humanity and nature, it will not be possible agreements reached at COP26 to reduce greenhouse gases that will save us. The issue is the paradigm shift. Either we change or we run the risk of disappearing from the face of the Earth.

*Leonardo Boff he is an eco-theologian. Author, among other books, of How to take care of the Common Home (Voices).

 

 

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