Let’s complete the thought provoking commentary of the text of the Earthcharter affirming that we must seek a new start in order to forge a sustainable mode of living on planet Earth.
To that end, “a new sense of global interdependence is required.” The relationship of everything with everything, and consequently, global interdependence, represents a cosmological constant. Everything in the universe is relationship. It is also a quantum physics axiom, according to which all beings are inter-retro-related. We ourselves, human beings, are a rhizome (bulb of roots) of relationships that extend in every direction. This implies understanding that all problems: ecological, economic, political and spiritual, are interrelated. We will only save life if we align ourselves with this universal logic the logic of the universe and nature.
The Earthcharter continues: “universal responsibility is required.” Responsibility means being aware of the consequences of our actions, whether they are beneficial or hurtful to other beings. Hans Jonas wrote a classic book about The Principle of Responsibility, that includes the principles of prevention and precaution. Through prevention we can calculate the effects when we intervene in nature. The principle of precaution tells us that if we cannot measure the consequences we must not risk taking certain actions and interventions, because they may produce highly harmful effects for life.
We can see the lack of such collective responsibility in the current pandemic. It demands strict social isolation in order to avoid community spread, but the great majority of people do not abide by that principle. It must be universal.
Moreover, the Earthcharter calls on us: “to creatively develop and apply the vision” (of a sustainable mode of life). Nothing great is accomplished on Earth without imagining and creating the new societies and forms of being that have been envisioned. This is the function of viable utopias. All utopias broaden our horizons and call on our creativity. In the cheerful expression of Eduardo Galeano, “utopia takes us from horizon to horizon always making us walk.”
To overcome the habitual means of inhabiting the Common Home, which is a utilitarian relationship, we must dream of our planet as the great Mother, “The Earth of the Good Hope”, (Ignace Sachs and Ladislau Dowbor). Humanity can realize this utopia when it wakes up to the urgency of the need for a different world.
A sustainable mode of life
The Earthcharter also affirms “a vision of a sustainable mode of life”. We are used to the expression, “sustainable development.” It is in all the official documents and on the lips of the dominant ecology. All serious analyses have shown that our form of production, distribution and consumption is unsustainable, because it is impossible to maintain an equilibrium between what we take from nature and what we leave, such that nature may always reproduce and continuously evolve. Our voracity has made the planet unsustainable, because even if the rich countries wanted to extend their well being to all of humanity, it would require at least three Earths like the one we have, which is clearly impossible.
Current development, that measures economic growth by the Gross National Product, GNP, reveals astonishing inequalities, to the point that the NGO Oxfam, in its 2019 report, notes that 1% of humanity owns half of the wealth of the world, and that 20% controls 95% of that wealth, while the remaining 80% must get by with only 5% of the wealth. These data reveal the totally untenable world in which we live.
The Earthcharter is guided, not by profit, but by life. This is why the great challenge is to create a sustainable mode of living in all aspects of life: the personal, family, social, national and international.
The importance of bio-regionalism
Finally, this sustainable mode of living must be realized at local, national, regional and world levels. Of course, it is about a world project that must be realized through a process. Today, the more advanced portion of this search takes place at the local and regional levels, such that bio-regionalism is seen as the truly viable form of realizing sustainability. We take the region as a reference, not according the arbitrary divisions that still persist, but the one created by nature herself, with her rivers, mountains, jungles, woods, and everything that makes up a regional ecosystem. In this framework, an authentic sustainability can be achieved, including the natural goods, culture and local traditions, the personalities that have marked that history, favoring small enterprises and organic agriculture, with the broadest participation possible, in a democratic spirit. This way a “good living and good life” (the Andean ecological ideal) will happen, sufficient, decent and sustainable with the diminution of inequalities.
This vision, formulated by the Earthcharter, is both grandiose and feasible. What we need is more good will, the only virtue that for Kant has neither defects nor limitations, because if it did, it would not be good. This good will would motivate the communities and, in the end, all of humanity, to really accomplish “a new beginning” (To be continued).
*Leonardo Boff is an ecotheologian and philosopher who has written, To Protect the Earth-Care for Life: How to Avoid the End of the World, Record, Rio, 2010.