the earth defends itself

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Leonardo Boff*

The planet not only has life on it. He himself is alive. It emerges as a living Entity, as a system that regulates physical-chemical and ecological elements. They called it Gaia.

The coronavirus pandemic reveals to us that the way we inhabit the Common Home is harmful to its nature. The lesson it transmits to us sounds: it is imperative to reformat our way of living on it, as a living planet. She is warning us that as we are behaving we cannot continue. Otherwise, the Earth itself will get rid of us, beings that are excessively aggressive and harmful to the life-system.

At this moment, given the fact that we are in the midst of the first global war, it is important to raise awareness of our relationship with it and the responsibility we have for the common destiny of the living Earth-Humanity.

Follow me in this reasoning: the universe has existed for 13,7 billion years since the big bang occurred. Earth has 4,4 billion. Life is 3,8 billion. The human being there are 7-8 million. We, the homo sapiens/demens current 100 years ago. All formed with the same physical-chemical elements (about 100) that were forged, like in a furnace, inside the big red stars, for 2-3 billion years (thus 10-12 billion years ago): the universe, the Earth and ourselves.

Life probably began with an original bacterium, the mother of all living things. An unimaginable number of microorganisms accompanied it. Edward O. Wilson, perhaps the greatest living biologist, tells us: in just one gram of soil live about 10 billion bacteria up to six mil different species (The Creation: How to Save Life on Earth, Companhia das Letras, p. 26). Imagine the countless amount of these micro-organisms, all over the Earth, with only 5% of life visible and 95% invisible: the realm of bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Let me still follow my reasoning: today it is considered scientific data, after 2002, when James Lovelock and his team demonstrated before a scientific community of thousands of scientists in Holland, that the Earth not only has life on it. She herself is alive. It emerges as a living Entity, not as an animal, but as a system that regulates physical-chemical and ecological elements, as other living organisms do, in such a way that it remains alive and continues to produce a myriad of life forms. They called her Gaia.

Another fact that changes our perception of reality. From the perspective of astronauts whether from the Moon or from spacecraft, as many of them testified, there is no distinction between Earth and Humanity. Both form a single, complex entity. It was possible to take a picture of the Earth, before it penetrated into outer space, outside the solar system: there it appears, in the words of cosmologist Carl Sagan, only as “a pale blue dot”. Well, we are inside this pale blue dot, like that portion of the Earth that, in a moment of high complexity, began to feel, think, love and perceive itself as part of a greater Whole. Therefore, we, men and women, are Earth, which derives from humuss (fertile land), or do Adam biblical (arable land).

It happens that we, forgetting that we are a portion of the Earth itself, begin to plunder its riches on the ground, in the subsoil, in the air, in the sea and everywhere else. It sought to carry out a daring project of accumulating as much material goods as possible for human enjoyment, in fact, for the powerful and already wealthy subportion of humanity. For this purpose, science and technology were created.

By attacking Earth, we attack ourselves, who are thinking Earth. So far has the greed of this voracious little group been carried, that it now feels exhausted to the point where its impassable limits have been touched. It's what we technically call "Earth Overload” (the Earth overshoot). We take more than she can give. Now she can't replace what we took from her. Then it shows signs that it has become ill, it has lost its dynamic balance, heating up increasingly, forming typhoons and earthquakes, blizzards never seen before, prolonged droughts and devastating floods.

Even more: it released microorganisms such as sars, ebola, dengue, chikungunya and now coronaviruss. They are the most primitive forms of life, almost at the level of nanoparticles, only detectable under powerful electron microscopes. And they can decimate the most complex being that it produced and that is part of itself, the human being, man and woman, regardless of their social level.

Until now the coronavirus could not be destroyed, only prevented from spreading. But there it is producing a general destabilization in society, in the economy, in politics, in health, in customs, in the scale of established values.

Suddenly, we wake up scared and perplexed: this portion of the Earth that we are could disappear. In other words, Earth itself defends itself against the rebellious and sick part of itself. It may feel compelled to amputate as we do a necrotic leg. Only this time, it's all this portion considered intelligent and loving, that the Earth no longer wants to belong to it and ends up eliminating it.

This will be the end of this kind of life which, with its singularity of self-awareness, is one among millions of other existing ones, also parts of the Earth. This one will continue to revolve around the sun, impoverished, until it gives rise to another being who is also its expression, capable of sensitivity, intelligence and love. Once again, a long path will be taken in molding the Common Home, with other forms of coexistence, we hope, better than the one we mold.

Will we be able to capture the signal that the coronavirus is giving us or will we continue to do more of the same, hurting the Earth and hurting ourselves in the desire to get rich?

*Leonardo Boff is a theologian, author, among other books, of Caring for the Earth – Protecting Life: How to Escape the End of the World (Record).

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