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Many see it clearly now: after the coronavirus, it no longer will be possible to continue capitalism as the mode of production, nor neo-liberalism as its political expression. Capitalism only serves the rich, for everyone else it is purgatory, or hell, and for nature, capitalism is an endless war.

What is saving us now is not competition –the principal motor of capitalism– but cooperation. Not individualism –the cultural expression of capitalism– but the inter dependency of everyone and everything.

But getting to the central point: we have discovered that life is the supreme value, not the accumulation of material goods. The military apparatus, capable of destroying several times over all life on Earth has proven to be ridiculous when faced with a microscopic invisible enemy that threatens the whole of humanity. Could this be the Next Big One (NBO) the biologists fear?, “the next great virus” that will destroy the future of life? We do not believe so. We hope that the Earth will continue having compassion for us and that she is only giving us a kind of ultimatum.

The threatening virus comes from nature, so social isolation offers us the opportunity to question:what our relationship with nature, and, more generally, with the Earth as Common Home, have been and how they should be. Medicine and technology, while very necessary, are not enough. Their function is to attack the virus – to exterminate it. But if we continue attacking the living Earth, “our home with a unique community of life”, as the Earthcharter says (Preamble), she will counter attack again with even more lethal pandemics, until one will exterminate us.

As it happens, the majority of humanity and heads of state do not realize that we already are in the sixth massive extinction. Until now we neither felt ourselves as part of nature, or even as its conscious part. Our relationship is not like the relationship one has with a living being, Gaia, that has value in itself and must be respected, but merely one of use, for our comfort and well being. We are violently exploiting the Earth to the point that 60% of the land has been eroded, and the same percentage of the tropical jungles. We are causing an amazing devastation of species, between 70-100 thousand extinctions a year. This is the current reality of the anthropocene and the necrocene. If we continue on this path we will come face to face with our own extinction.

We have no alternative than to perform, in the words of the papal Encyclical Letter “On he caring of the Common Home”, a “radical ecological conversion”. In this sense, coronavirus is not a crisis as other crises, but the friendly and caring demand of our relationship with nature. How can we implement it in a world dedicated to the exploitation of all the ecosystems? There are not ready available projects yet. Everyone in the world is engaged in the search. The worst that could happen to us would be, after the pandemic, to go back to what there was before the pandemic: factories producing at full speed, if with minimal ecological care. We know that the huge corporations are coordinating with each other to recuperate the time and profits lost.

But we must recognize that this conversion cannot be swift, but gradual. When Emmanuel Macron, President of France, said, “the lesson of the pandemic was that there are goods and services that must not depend on market forces”, it provoked a rush of tens of great ecologist organizations such as Oxfam, Attac and others, asking that the 750.000 millions of euros that the European Central Bank earmarked to remedy the corporate losses be destined instead to social and ecological conversion of the productive apparatus towards a better caring of nature, more justice and social equality. Logically, this only will be accomplished by widening the debate, involving all types of groups, from popular participation up to scientific knowledge, until conviction and a collective responsibility arise.

We must be fully conscious of one thing: as global warming rises and the world population increasingly devastates natural habitats, thus bringing human beings closer to wild animals, they will transmit more viruses, to which we humans will not be immune, that will find in us new hosts. Thus will be born the devastating pandemic.

The essential point that cannot be set aside is the new conception of the Earth, no longer as a market of businesses that put us as her masters (dominus), apart from and above her, but as a living super entity, a self regulating and self creating system, of which we are the conscious and responsible part, together with the other beings as brothers and sisters. The transition from dominus (owner) to brother and sister will require a new mindset and a new heart, capable of seeing the Earth through new eyes, and feeling in our hearts that we belong to her and to the Great Whole. Along with that, the feeling of inter-retro-relationship of all with all and a collective responsibility in facing the common future. Only that way will we reach, as the Earthcharter prognosticates, “a sustainable way of life” and a guarantee for the future of life and of Mother Earth.

The present phase of social seclusion may be a sort of reflexive and humanist retreat to think about such things and our responsibility towards them. It is urgent and time is short. We must not get there too late.

Leonardo Boff Eco-Theologian-Philosopher of  the Earthcharter Commission

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro, [email protected]