Earth strikes back

Sergio Sister, 1969, hydrographic, greasy crayon on paper, 33,5 x 70 cm
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By LEONARDO BOFF*

The coronavirus must be seen within the context that allowed its outbreak.

To date, all concern regarding Covid-19 is centered on medicine, technology and all the inputs that prevent health operators from being contaminated. Especially if an effective vaccine is urgently sought. In society, social isolation and avoiding the conglomeration of people. All of this is fundamental. However, we cannot consider the coronavirus as an isolated fact. It must be seen within the context that allowed its irruption.

He came from nature. Well, as Pope Francis rightly said in his encyclical On caring for our common home: “We have never mistreated and hurt our Common Home as much as we have in the last two centuries” (n.53). It was the industrialist process that hurt it: real socialism (while it existed) and mainly the capitalist system that is now globalized. This is the Satan of the Earth that devastates it and leads it to all kinds of imbalances.

He is the main (not the only) responsible for the various threats that hang over the life-system and the Earth-system: from the possible nuclear holocaust, global warming, the scarcity of drinking water to the erosion of biodiversity. I echo the words of the well-known American geographer David Harvey: “Covid-19 is nature’s revenge for more than forty years of mistreatment and abuse at the hands of a violent and unregulated neoliberal extractivism”.

Isabelle Stengers, chemist and philosopher of science who worked a lot in partnership with Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine, supports the same thesis that I also support: “the coronavirus would be an intrusion of Terra-Gaia in our societies, a response to the Anthropocene”.

We knew of other intrusions: the Black Death (bubonic plague) which, coming from Eurasia, decimated, in all, according to estimates, between 75-200 million people. In Europe between 1346-1353 it embezzled half of its population from 475 to 350 million. It took 200 years to recover. It was the most devastating ever known in history. Notorious was also the Spanish flu. Possibly originating from the USA between 1918-1920, it infected 500 million people and led to the death of 50 million, including President-elect Rodrigues Alves in 1919.

Now, for the first time, a virus has attacked the entire planet, leading thousands to death without being able to stop it due to its rapid spread, since we live in a globalized culture with high displacement of people who travel to all continents and can be carriers of the epidemic.

Earth has already lost its balance and is seeking a new one. And this new one could mean the devastation of important portions of the biosphere and a significant part of the human species.

It will happen, we just don't know when or how. say notable biologists. If the dreaded NBO comes (The Next Big One), the next big and devastating virus, could, according to USP researcher Eduardo Massad, lead to the death of around 2 billion people, reducing general life expectancy from 72 to 58 years. Others fear the end of the human species.

The fact is that we are already well into the sixth mass extinction. We have inaugurated, according to some scientists, a new geological era, that of the “Anthropocene” and its most damaging expression, that of “necrocene”. Human activity (Anthropocene) is responsible for the mass production of death (Necrocene) of living beings.

The different scientific centers that systematically monitor the state of the Earth attest that, from year to year, the main items that perpetuate life (water, soil, clean air, seeds, fertility, climates and others) are deteriorating day by day. When will this stop?

The day ofEarth Overload” (the Earth Overshoot Day) was reached on July 29, 2019. This means: by this date all available and renewable natural resources have been consumed. Now Earth has entered the red and overdraft.

How to stop this exhaustion? If we insist on maintaining current consumption, especially sumptuous consumption, we will have to apply more violence against the Earth, forcing it to give us what it no longer has or can no longer replace. Its reaction is expressed by extreme events, such as the bombing windstorm in Santa Catarina at the end of June and by the attacks of the various types of known viruses: zika, chicungunya, ebola, Sars, the current coronavirus and others. We must include the growth of social violence since Earth and Humanity constitute a single relational entity.

Either we change our relationship with the living Earth and with nature or we will be able to count on new and more potent viruses that could decimate millions of human lives. Never has our love of life, the human wisdom of peoples and the need for care been so urgent.

*Leonardo Boff is an ecologist and writer. your last book Covid-19: Mother Earth strikes back at humanity” will be published by Editora Vozes later this year.

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