Tierramérica recently had an interview with Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff on his thoughts about the COP 16 meeting in Mexico that took place in December. These talks have both been heavily criticized by some and hailed as hope for the future by others. As debates about climate change continue to rage in some circles, Boff argues that the crisis we are facing is one of ultimate consequences. Bolivia was the only country at the meeting not to sign on to the agreement. Here are Boff’s thoughts on that.
Bolivia supports the thesis that the Earth is “Pachamama,” a living organism that must be respected and cared for, not just exploited. It stands in opposition to the dominant vision, which is set in the framework of the economy: selling carbon credits, for example, means granting the right to pollute.
The dominant societies see the Earth as a chest of resources that can be used indefinitely, although now they have to be utilized in a sustainable way, because they are scarce. They don’t recognize the dignity and rights of natural beings, they see them as means of production and their relation is based on utility. These are issues that do not enter into the discussions at Cancún or any other COP.
I would like to do a longer post on this concept of Pachamama, what little of it I understand. I find it interesting to see the difference between the way a country is perceived from a North American, or international perspective compared to the view from within that particular country. I’m no expert on Bolivia, but it is already very clear that it is not accurate to say that the actions of Bolivia’s government or Evo Morales in particular represents all Bolivians. This is certainly the major flaw in democracy, though it may be the best thing going.
That said, I think Boff’s comments resonate with some recent thinking and reading on the intersection of ecology and economics (Ultimate Means and Biophysical Constraint). The view that earth is simply a “chest of resources” objectifies it. This is what makes it possible for us to believe that we can endlessly pillage the chest and it will never affect us, as if we are somehow independent of this spinning blue marble of resources.
I think Boff is right that there is a whole other order of thinking about our relationship with the planet that the structures and Powers cannot comprehend or take into account. It is beyond the scope of their view. This is the domain of the prophetic and the role of the church, to call the world and the Powers into another way of being.
The problem is the relation of the human being with the Earth, because it is a violent relationship, a closed fist… As long as we fail to change this, we are headed for the worst. And this time there is no Noah’s Ark. Either we save ourselves or we all perish.
Not everyone believes this. As I’ve discussed, there are many who believe that technology will be the new Noah’s Ark whether it’s to another planet or inventing the perpetual motion machine. Others simply trust that God will intervene or will perhaps destroy this planet when God creates a “new heaven and new earth.” Therefore saving this planet doesn’t really matter. I’m working on a post about that right now, but I will direct your attention to N.T. Wright’s article in The Green Bible called “Jesus is coming… Plant a tree!” It is an excellent article on why this planet matters in the Christian scheme of the coming kingdom and Jesus’ Second Advent.
Until we are able to see that our relationship with the earth is violent, I don’t think we’ll be able to overcome the problems we face. If the earth is our spouse, then our relationship suffers from serious dysfunctions. There is certainly abuse at work, but just like with domestic violence the abuser justifies his/her actions.
In the end we may be the instrument of God’s judgment on our own actions and beliefs about our relationship to the earth as the consequences implode in on themselves. If we don’t take this reality or possibility seriously, we violate the covenant with God to have dominion, be stewards or care for creation (Independent of which word you prefer or your theology, it seems that we should all agree that we will be held responsible for that which God has given us, as in the Parable of the Talents).
And there are the indigenous peoples, who don’t see the Earth simply as an instrument of production, but rather as an extension of their body, and they need it to uphold their identity.
I read this quote before reading Sharing Possessions which has some interesting connections with the idea that the earth is an extension of our bodies and our identity in relationship to “having” and “owning”. Perhaps I will have to explore this more when I reflect on that text. However, I think what Boff intends here is to direct us back to what homo sapiens knew for millenia before the advent of agriculture. We are intimately and inextricably bound up with our environment. Not only is it a bad idea to try and extricate ourselves from this relationship, it is in all actuality not possible when all is said and done.