after the coronavirus

Image: Elyeser Szturm
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By Leonardo Boff*

As long as global warming grows and the devastation of natural habitats increases, we will not have immunity: animals will transmit more viruses to us.

Many have already declared: after the coronavirus, it is no longer possible to carry forward the project of capitalism as a mode of production, nor of neoliberalism as its political expression. Capitalism is only good for the rich; for others it is purgatory or hell and for nature, a war without truce. What is saving us is not competition (its main engine), but cooperation, nor individualism (its cultural expression), but the interdependence of all with all.

But, let's go to the central point: we found that life" it is the supreme value, not the accumulation of material goods. The mounted war apparatus, capable of destroying life on Earth several times, proved ridiculous in the face of an invisible microscopic enemy, which threatens the entire humanity. would be the Next Big One (NBOs) of which biologists fear, “the next Great Virus”, destroying the future of life? We don't believe. We hope that Earth will still have compassion on us and will only give us a kind of ultimatum.

Since the threatening virus comes from nature, social isolation offers us the opportunity to question ourselves: what was and what should be our relationship with nature and, in more general terms, with the Earth as our Common Home? Medicine and technology, however necessary, are not enough. Its function is to attack the virus until it is exterminated. But if we continue to assault the living Earth – “our home with a unique community of life”, as the Earth Charter (Preamble) puts it – it will strike back again with more deadly pandemics, even one that wipes us out.

It so happens that the majority of humanity and the heads of state are not aware that we are within the sixth mass extinction. Until today we did not feel part of nature and we humans its conscious portion; our relationship is not with a living being – Gaia – which has value in itself and must be respected, but with mere use for our comfort and enrichment. We exploit the Earth violently to the point where 60% of the soils have been eroded, in the same proportion the rainforests and we cause an amazing devastation of species, between 70-100 thousand per year. It is the duration of the “Anthropocene” and the “Necrocene”. Continuing on this route, we are going to meet our own disappearance.

We have no choice but to – in the words of the papal encyclical “Stake care of our common home” - an “radical ecological conversion”. In this sense, the coronavirus is more than a crisis like others, but the demand for a friendly and careful relationship with nature. How to implement it in a world built on the exploitation of all ecosystems? There are no ready-made projects. Everyone is in search. The worst that can happen to us would be, after the pandemic, to go back to what it was before: factories producing at full steam even with a certain amount of ecological care. We know that large corporations are working together to recover lost time and gains.

But it must be conceded that this conversion cannot be sudden, but procedural. When French President Emmanuel Macron said that “the lesson of the pandemic was that there are goods and services that must be put off the market” he provoked a rush by dozens of large ecological organizations, such as Oxfam, Attac and others, calling for the 750 billion Euros from the European Central Bank intended to remedy the losses of companies were directed to “social and ecological reconversion” of the productive apparatus in view of more care for nature, more justice and social equality. Logically, this can only be done by broadening the debate, involving all types of groups, from popular participation to scientific knowledge, until a conviction and collective responsibility emerge.

We must be fully aware of one thing: while global warming grows and the world's population increases, it devastates habitats and thus bringing humans closer to animals, the latter will transmit more viruses. We will be their new hosts, a situation to which we are not immune. Then devastating pandemics can arise.

The essential and irrevocable point is the new conception of the Earth, no longer as a business market placing us as masters (dominus), outside and above it, but as a living super Entity, a self-regulating and self-creative system, of which we are the conscious and responsible part, along with other beings as brothers (frater). the passage of dominus (owner) to frater (brother) will require a new mind and a new heart, that is, seeing the Earth differently and feeling with our hearts our belonging to it and to the Great All. Together with this, the sense of inter-retro-relationship of all with all and a collective responsibility towards the common future. This is the only way we will arrive, as the Earth Charter predicts, at “a sustainable way of life” and a guarantee of the future of life and of Mother Earth.

The current phase of social withdrawal can mean a kind of reflective and humanistic retreat for us to think about such things and our responsibility in the face of them. Time is short and urgent and we cannot be too late.

*Leonardo Boff, an ecologist, is the author, among other books, of How to take care of the Common Home (Voices, 2018).

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