Daniela Pastrana interviews LEONARDO BOFF, Brazilian writer and theologian* – Tierramérica
MEXICO CITY, Dec 28 (IPS) – “The market is not going to resolve the environmental crisis,” says theologian
and environmentalist Leonardo Boff, professor at Brazil’s State University of Rio
de Janeiro. The solution, he says, lies in ethics and in changing our relationship
Boff, who teaches ethics, philosophy of religion and ecology, is one of the
leading figures of Liberation Theology, a progressive current in the Latin
American Catholic Church. He has written more than 60 books and has
dedicated the last 20 years to promoting the green movement.
He was one of the 23 proponents of the 2000 Earth Charter, and a year later
received the Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative “Green” Nobel,
which recognises exceptional efforts in seeking solutions to the most urgent
global environmental problems.
“If we don’t change, we are headed for the worst… Either we save ourselves or
we all perish,” said Boff in an interview with Tierramérica in the Mexican
capital, after he participated as an observer in the recent 16th Conference of
Parties (COP 16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change, held in Cancún.
Q: What is your assessment of the COP 16?
A: What predominated, save for the last two days, was an atmosphere of
disappointment, of failure. But surprisingly there were three convergences of
opinion: the commitment to fight against reaching (a global temperature
increase of) two degrees Celsius; the creation of the Green Climate Fund of 30
billion dollars (for 2012) to help the most vulnerable countries, in an
interesting sign of solidarity; and the creation of a large fund for the
reduction of deforestation and degradation of forests, because that is where
the principal cause of global warming lies.
Q: How should we interpret the stance of Bolivia, the only country that did not
agree to those commitments?
A: 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 position, which is set in the framework of the
market: selling carbon credits, for example, means granting the right to
The dominant societies see the Earth as a treasure chest of resources that can
be used indefinitely, although now they have to be utilised in a sustainable
way, because they are scarce. They don’t recognise 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 did not enter into the discussions at
Cancún or any other COP.
Q: Why should they be included?
A: Because the system that has created the problem is not going to save us. If
each country has to grow a little each year, and to do so means degrading
nature and increasing global warming, then that system itself is hostile to life.
Q: The argument is that it is necessary for development…
A: Growth means what? Exploiting nature? It is precisely that type of growth
and development that could lead us to the abyss, because we humans are
consuming 30 percent more than what the Earth can replace.
That is the vicious circle. China can’t go on emitting 30 percent (of global
greenhouse emissions), because the pollution does not stay in China, it enters
the global system.
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.
Q: Is it really that serious?
A: There are regions in the world that have changed so much that they’ve
become uninhabitable. That is why there are 60 million displaced persons in
Africa and Southeast Asia, which are the most affected by climate change and
which emit less carbon. If we don’t stop it, in the next five to seven years
there will be as many as 100 million climate refugees, and that is going to
create political problems.
Q: What is the role of Latin America in all this?
A: It is the continent with greatest possibilities for making a positive
contribution to the ecological crisis: it has the largest rainforests and water
reserves, the greatest biodiversity, and perhaps the biggest areas for crops.
But there is still insufficient environmental awareness in a large portion of the
population. And, in any case, there is a very dangerous invasion of big
corporations that are appropriating vast regions. It is an appropriation of
common goods in function of individual benefits.
In Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, gradually they are realising how the
new game of capital works: a great concentration of livelihoods to ensure the
future of the system.
Q: What options are there?
A: We have funds and technology, but we lack political will and sensitivity to
nature and human suffering. That has to be recovered. And along with ethics
of caring go the ethics of cooperation. Now it has become necessary for
everyone to cooperate with everyone.
Q: Is that possible? What needs to be done?
A: There are movements, especially among groups who see that there lands
are being divided, like Vía Campesina (international peasant movement) and
Brazil’s MST landless movement. 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.
We are seeking a balance, and that is the collective duty of humanity, which
the market and the economy are not going to resolve. Everyone needs to do
his or her part, to be more with less, to have a sense of proportion. The
problem isn’t money.
(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are
part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service
produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development
Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.)