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What is the crux of the ecological question? (I)


We are used to generalized environmental discussions by the mass media and the collective conscience. But restricting ecology to environmentalism is to fall into serious reductionism. It is not enough to limit the production of carbon while maintaining the same irresponsible exploitation of nature’s goods and services. It would be like filing down a wolf’s teeth in hope of eliminating its ferocity. But the wolf’s ferocity resides in its nature, not in its teeth. Something similar occurs in our industrial, production oriented and consumerist system. Its nature is to treat the Earth as the provider of merchandise for market. We must overcome this attitude if we want to create a new paradigm for relatimg with the Earth, and thus halt a process that could take us to the abyss.

We are tired of a “half-environment”. We want the whole environment, that is, a global vision of the Earth-system, the life-system and the human-civilization system, forming one great whole, constructed of interdependencies, complementaries and reciprocal networks.

With good reason the Earthcharter tends to substitute life community for environment, because modern biology and cosmology teach us that all living beings carry the same basic genetic code – the twenty amino acids and four phosphate bases – from the very first bacteria that appeared 3.8 billion years ago, through the great jungles, the dinosaurs, the hummingbirds and extending to us. The differentiated combinations of those amino acids and phosphate bases creates the diversity of living beings. It follows from this observation that a kinship link bonds all life, forming in fact a community of life that must be «cared for with understanding, compassion and love» (Earthcharter, n. I, 2). What Francis of Assisi sensed in his cosmic mysticism, calling all beings by the sweet name of brothers and sisters, we now know through scientific experimentation.

Among those living beings planet Earth stands out. Since the 1970s, much of the scientific community affirmed, first as a hypothesis, and since 2001 as theory, that the Earth does not just have life on her: She herself, the Earth, is alive. She has been called Gaia by the principal formulator, James Lovelock, and in Brazil, by Jose Lutzenberger. Gaia is the name for the living Earth in Greek mythology. She combines the chemical, physical, ecological and anthropological in such a subtle, delicate form that it is always capable of producing and reproducing life. Because of this observation, the United Nations Organization, the UN itself, in its famous General Assembly session of April 22, 2009, unanimously approved calling the Earth Mother Earth, Tierra Madre, Magna Mater and Pachamama. It is like saying that she is a super Entity: alive, complex, sometimes seemingly contradictory (the Earth makes order and disorder live together), but always the source of all beings, in their distinct orders, particularly of living beings, especially humans, men and women.

According to the biochemist who popularizes scientific matters, Isaac Asimov, one fact is the greatest legacy of the space journeys: the indivisibility of the Earth and humanity. From these great distrances, from the spacecrafts and the Moon, Asimov says and the astronauts confirm, there is no difference between human being and Earth. Together they form a unique entity. In other words, the human being, endowed with intelligence, caring, and love, arose from an advanced and highly complex moment of the Earth herself. The Earth evolved to the point that she began to feel, to think, to love, to care and to venerate, as the great Argentinean indigenous poet and singer Atahualpa Yupanqui has already pointed out. And then the human being appeared on the scene of this miniscule planet Earth. Therefore it is said that humanity derives from the humus: good and fertile land; or adamah in Biblical Hebrew: the son and daughter of the arable and fertile land.

The entire process of the creation of life would be impossible without all the physical-chemical substratum (the Mendeleiev scale) that formed billions of years ago in the cores of the big red stars that, when they exploded, launched those elements in all directions, creating galaxies, stars, the planets, the Earth and us, ourselves. Therefore, the part that seems inert also belongs to life, because without it, yesterday as today, life and human life would be impossible.

Sustainability – a central category of this vision– is everything needed to maintain the existence of all beings, especially the living beings and our culture on the planet.

What do we conclude from this quick review? That we must change our vision of the Earth, of nature and of ourselves. The Earth is our primary mother, who, like our own mothers deserves our respect and veneration. That is, to know and to respect her rhythms and cycles, her capacity of reproduction, and not to devastate her as we have done since the advent of technology and of the anthropocentric spirit that considers that the Earth has value only for as long as she is useful to us. But the Earth does not need us, it is we who need the Earth.

The current paradigm is approaching its limits, for Mother Earth is giving unequivocal signs of being depleted and ill. Either we invent a different form of attending to our vital needs in relation to the Earth, or she, who is alive, may not want us on her soil anymore.

Adopting such a new vision and new practice is to me the crux of the issue, and the decisive challenge presented by the present ecological situation.

Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia,

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