There's No Heaven Without Earth
Everybody is talking today about ecology, but what kind of ecology? Technified ecology only sharpens the wolf’s teeth. Politicized ecology doesn’t question the meaning of “development”. Ethical ecology is centered on universal compassion. Holistic ecology provides a more complete vision.
Perhaps the ecological discourse in these moments is the most universal because its objective-the collective destiny not of a system of life, but of the planet itself-interests everyone. If the slogan of the Stockholm Meeting in 1972 was "Just One Planet," today we can talk of "Just one Cosmos," when we consider the immense chain of relationships through which a garden snail and forest plants are related to the moon, the galaxy, the quasars or to the Big Bang produced 15 billion years ago.
Neither the Luxury of the Rich Nor Exclusivity of the "Greens"For many, ecology is an issue that sparks conflicts and objections from the start: "Why Ecology?" "What does Liberation Theology have to do with Ecology?" Some claim that Ecology is a luxury of the rich, especially the rich from the Northern Hemisphere, who already conquered the earth, reached the highest possible levels of wellbeing, and are now concerned about the little animals-the golden monkey, panda bears, whales. Many relate Ecology to the discourse of the "Northern" rich or the "Greens," who limit themselves to defending the preservation of forests and animals. They also consider Ecology to be a new science. This is so much the case that a high-level Brazilian institution, UNICAMP, designed a graduate course on this issue that encompasses diverse academic disciplines: Botany, Oceanography and an infinity of sciences having to do with nature.
All of the above is true, but it's only one part of the truth. Today Ecology has reached such a level of depth that it has become too important to remain only in the hands of the Greens, residents of the North or scientists. Ecology has to do with our daily life and cannot be used as a category or instrument to demobilize our social, political and economic struggles. In the name of Ecology we cannot be forced to stop strikes, stop demanding higher salaries, stop working for a socialist utopia or stop criticizing the paradigm of capitalist accumulation.
Ecology forces us to incorporate new elements into all those struggles, to the degree that today the ecological struggle has also become a grassroots movement that manifests itself not only in favor of animal and plant species, but also constitutes an articulated social movement with the other movements, and challenges them to incorporate new dimensions present in the ecological discourse.
Darwin's Revolutionary TheoryWhat does Ecology deal with fundamentally? Because it's a complete science, fundamentally an interdisciplinary discourse that joins a series of fields, gaining access to it with a certain level of depth and critical analysis requires appropriating certain basic information of the new Cosmology, or quantum physics; of the new Biology, especially molecular biology and biogenetics; and of the new Anthropology, which considers the human being to be part of a chain of living beings immersed in the totality of the universe. What interests us, fundamentally, is social ecology, linking questions of society, especially those put forward by the poor, which is why the ecological question is also a subversive and liberating reflection.
The term "ecology" was created in 1869 by German biologist Ernest Haeckel, a great admirer and collaborator of Darwin, who to a certain degree completed the vision of the author of The Origin of the Species. Darwin's thesis produced an enormous commotion in the cosmovisions of the epoch, especially in religious world visions. Human beings, created in the image of God, created by God, suddenly discover that their predecessors are primates, herbivorous animals, fish; the fruit of evolution is discovered in those animals.
Ecology: Science of RelationshipsTaking off from the Darwinian vision, Haeckel invented the word "ecology," based on the concept that all species, all living beings, had not fallen from the clouds, but made up a great chain of relationships with the non-living world, that is, with the abiotic world, and with living beings, or the biotic world. Chemical and physical elements, the environment and the relationship among them turns out to be one great symbiosis, an exchange of energy, and it is impossible to understand the living being if it is disconnected from all of these elements. Ecology, therefore, is the relationship among all living beings and between living beings and the non-living world. It is, fundamentally, the science of relationships. To understand ecology we have to understand the vast network of relationships that interweave all ecosystems. In other words, the habitat systems of all beings of creation.
Etymologically, the term "ecology" is linked with ecumenism and economy. All are derived from the Greek work "oikos," which means "house." Economy is the art of administering the house and ecumenism is the way in which beings that inhabit the earth relate to God. Therefore, ecumenism, economy and ecology have the same root: the human habitat.
The essence of ecology is the play of relationships. We live with materials, we eat, we dress ourselves, we watch the clouds and the stars... It's all a combination of relationships that go through us, influence us and are influenced by us. We are in the midst of that immense weft that constitutes the concrete destiny of our existence.
That is why ecology is also associated with holism. "Holism," a term created in the 1960s, is derived from the Greek "holos," which means totality. Holism is a perspective of convergence that attempts to consider reality as a whole. Therefore, it refers more to synthesis than to analysis; more to the totality of things than to their parts. The first affirmation of holism is that the universe is a whole, whether planet Earth, on which we live, or the solar system, or our galaxy, the Milky Way. The universe forms a total that the Greeks termed "cosmos."
Holism fundamentally has to do with an understanding of transversality, cross-cutting things, one linked with another. It is a perspective that consists of the sum of all the others, a synthesis of diverse fields. Mathematics has to do with physics, physics with chemistry, chemistry with bio-logy, biology with philosophy, philosophy with geography, geography with biology.
In sum, it has to do with everything that we in our Western tradition transform into disciplines and compartmentalize into fields and specialties (people know ever more about ever less). The division is in our head, not in reality; in reality everything is together and lives in an enormous equilibrium that is at once fragile, can be broken at any moment, and is continuously self-regulating and redoing. Thus knowledge is temporal and historical, open always to a new synthesis.
Ecology doesn't only have to do with living beings. It's not biocentered, but cosmocentered. Thus it's an uncomfortable discourse for those accustomed to specializations, whether in the union struggle, the class struggle, or the ministry. Those people ask themselves what ecology has to do with "our" concrete struggle. Trying to achieve totality and the play of relationships in that struggle is to think ecologically.
Growth Has LimitsThe ecological struggle arose from a crisis. In reality, all great questions emerge from crisis, whether personal, social or of living organisms. Reality only emerges as consciousness, as a problem, when it presents us with a reaction for which we have no answer. The first warning cry about that crisis was made in 1972, when a group of wise people met in Rome. Scientists, economists, sociologists and anthropologists produced a text that had great repercussions titled, "The Crisis of the Limit of Growth." All western ideology-our industrial paradigm of modernity whether capitalist or socialist-began with the assumption of the absence of limits. Growth moved between two infinities: the infinity of the earth's natural resources and the infinity of development, of growth.
To the affirmation that we could grow indefinitely, produce the maximum possible means and instruments of life, more technology, more wellbeing, the wise responded that "there are limits to everything." Resources are being used up and we can even predict when some of them will be exhausted. To continue with that ideology, with that paradigm and that vision of unlimited growth, we will meet in the abyss in which we all will fall.
Oil, Water and Ozone Are being DepletedWe are using up fossil fuels; that is, petroleum-vegetal and animal residues deposited in the depths of the earth, the result of a long history of cataclysms that eliminated the mastodons, those great prehistoric animals. Everything that was formed by carbon, all the crystallized energy that we today extract in the form of petroleum. In the year 2015, approximately, the petroleum supply will be depleted, at least for the industrial consumption levels typical of this petroleum-based culture we have developed: cars, thermo-electrics. There has also been a drop at the world level in potable water, accompanied by an alarming desertification of the planet and the consequent drop in cultivatable land. The proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere is diminishing, and there is a dangerous increase in carbon dioxide, which could create a barrier that would make passage of the sun's rays difficult, damaging plants and all life. Add to this that the production of chemical wastes that end up in the air is destroying the ozone layer, which is no more than a rarefied oxygen that protects us from skin cancer-producing infrared rays. Some 2,500 cities in the world depend on 6-12 million factories that massively contaminate air, water and atmosphere.
Humanity's demographic growth is far out of proportion to the food possibilities. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion human beings; in 1975, 4 billion; in 1989, 5.2 billion; and in 2000 there will be 6.4 billion of us. The global population growth rate is 3-4%-fundamentally the result of Third World growth-and the food production growth rate is 1.3%. World food reserves barely cover one and a half months. If there are great catastrophes in Pakistan or India, 70, 80 or even 100 million people could die within months. We do not possess strategic food reserves.
Tropical Forests: 42% DestroyedForty-two percent of tropical vegetation has already been destroyed. Some information extracted from the magazine Concilium in an issue dedicated to Biology and entitled, "There Is No Heaven Without the Earth," illustrates the rhythm of destruction:
* Between 1500 and 1850, one living species became extinct every 10 years.
* Between 1850 and 1950, the industrial age, one species disappeared per year.
* From 1950 to 1990, 10 species became extinct per day.
* It is calculated that by 2000 one species will disappear per hour.
* Between 1975 and 2000, 20% of animal species will have disappeared.
We don't dare make estimates to the year 2100, given the probable level of desertification and contamination of the earth.
A book on the Brazilian Amazon written by Emilio Morán -- a Cuban living in the United States who worked over 20 years in the Amazon as a Human Ecology specialist and is considered one of the most knowledgeable specialists on tropical forests -- and published recently by the Vozes publishing company, includes 1989 data from the Brazilian Statistical Institute. According to the data, some 5% of the Amazon jungle was deforested in that year. Other organizations linked to Belem's Goeldi Museum claim deforestation was 12%.
Despite the fact that both the Sarney government and the current one have frankly considered 5% to be a tolerable percentage, the author notes that 1% of the Amazon jungle is equivalent to 4,000 square meters. This means that in recent years 20 million square kilometers have been deforested. The rhythm is growing. By 1970, 5 million square meters had been deforested. From 1970 to 1988, 20 million square meters. The absolute area is larger than any European country.
The Earth is Dying!"Growth has limits, the Earth is dying," was the cry heard in 1972 at the Club of Rome, the Club of the Wise. That was where the expression was coined that the human being is the Satan of the Earth, the primary aggressor against the earth. And if the path is not reversed, it could lead to a nuclear apocalypse.
In the last 400 years, from 1500 to today, we have lived immersed in the myth and obsession of limitless development. Marx himself praised capitalism by saying that never in history had a social system mobilized all the earth's possible productive forces. Neither Marx nor the capitalist theorists like Adam Smith or Keynes put to a test the nature of that development. One of the limits of Marxist understanding itself is that it forgets Nature when it speaks of capitalist accumulation. That concept does not see the exploitation of Nature as a generating component of capital, by offering "raw materials." The assumption is that Nature is unlimited.
The paradigm of the last 400 years has consisted of aggression and the systematic, planned and organized pillage of Nature to extract everything possible for our benefit, through a technical-scientific project and through knowledge which produces fruits for us in terms of goods and services. That model wasn't put to a test until 1972. After that date words were added to our vocabulary like "biocide," the elimination of life and species; or "geocide," killing the earth, making it uncultivable, sterile, like a desert. Today we also speak of "ecocide," or the destruction of human, animal and vegetal habitat systems. There is an immense process of death in which we are all victims and at the same time actors in its mechanics. That is exactly what Ecology wants to address.
20,000 Nuclear AccidentsWe currently have the ability to destroy all ecosystems. According to MIT in the United States, the most advanced university in astrophysics and nuclear energy research, there are enough stored atomic and bacteriological weapons to destroy the world ecosystem several times over. There are discussions of what species will survive. It is said that perhaps some cockroaches, some very small animals could escape the death process that is descending on us. The machine continues with illnesses like cancer, resulting from destructuring the life system, water, the atmosphere. This means that the Apocalypse could be the work of human beings. Human beings have power to put an end to their planet, and there is no lack of political will for it, as witnessed by the nuclear and arms race.
Recent statistics about the European Community, released by Enzo Tiezzi, an Italian scientist, demonstrate that no matter how secure nuclear plants are, cancer cases increased 58% in the last ten years in an 18-mile radius around nuclear plants in Germany, France and Italy. According to data that was secret until two years ago, there have already been 20,000 nuclear disasters at those atomic centers. Such accidents go unpublicized because officials are sworn to silence with the threat of trials, losing their jobs, fines and being expelled from the country.
In Danger: The Poor Human SpeciesWe are facing realities that provoke the crisis. And the crisis demands thinking. The ecological question has become an issue of life or death for the inhabitants of the earth. With respect to Christianity, our inquiry today consists of knowing to what degree we can help save earth and humanity; how each church, each religion, each spiritual movement, with the baggage accumulated during thousands of years of domesticating the human being and human beings' interior being, can contribute to that end, since domesticating desire is the key to overcoming the ecological crisis: how each one of those instances can help human beings overcome that monumental crisis. There is no longer a Noah's Ark to save some animals and some cultures. There will be no Noah's Ark for anybody. There will be no rainbow either, the promise between God and living beings, the fundamental alliance between God and humanity: save all living beings. All of this is threatened, and the most threatened species is not the uirapuro, the golden monkey or the panda bear. The most threatened is the poor human species, because it is the species that is dying most rapidly and even in a planned way. For us, those who live on that side of the world where 83% of humanity lives, a great part of it poor and oppressed, who die early because of hunger and over-exploitation, for us, Ecology must begin with the question of how to save the lives of poor, exploited human beings. It fundamentally means an Ecology that begins with social aspects, social aspects seen from the victims' view.
In Solidarity with Those who will ComeOur development style not only favors exploitation of today's working class, but also of the future working class, because it is likely that future generations will inherit much more contaminated air, a world without forests, without animals, without potable water. We are now exploiting the classes not yet born and we must develop a generational solidarity, that is, solidarity with the generations that will come after ours. They also have the right to live on the earth, to breathe air, to drink water, to have human relations. We all must develop a new awareness that does not invalidate our current struggles, but enriches them; go on strike, a union strike that also incorporates an ecology of the mind, of discourse, a type of relations that not only gains a better life for the working class, but also wins social goods or natural goods, the collective good, not just of humans. What would our cities be if there was no vegetation, no plants, no birds, no stones, no trees? What would our imagination be like, our relationship to things? What would happen if, as happened in Mexico for several months on end, we didn't have the chance to see a star or the moon because of air pollution?
Human beings are part of that totality that is greater than us and that we depend on: the air we breathe, the rice and beans we eat, the earth for our feet, where we can walk barefoot without getting parasites or toxic acids that transmit diseases to us. We must be able to breathe without risk of getting sick, we must be able to eat our salads, our vegetables, without getting cholera or other illnesses.
We have that right, but things also have their autonomy. The stone has the right to exist and the animal, who took millions of years to form, has the right to continued existence. But almost instinctively, whenever we see any little animal, we step on it and kill it.
Animals Have RightsThe discovery that not only human beings have rights and that all beings have subjectivity means that they deserve respect and a more advanced legislation than ours. Animals cannot be tortured; it's a crime. Spurring oxen is illegal, because the animal has rights that must be protected.
What right, what relative autonomy should be conceded to all those beings of Creation, fundamentally human beings? It is a relation of respect, of veneration. Everything that exists and coexists preexists, comes from before. And everything will subsist together. Therefore it's necessary to pay attention to what our Western society puts to the side; the difference between biological time and technological time. A large pine tree needs from 30 to 40 years to grow; that's Nature's time. An electric saw takes less than two minutes to destroy it.
Even our language is contaminated. If we speak of natural resources, of raw materials, it's because we understand that these things are at our disposal. We reduce things to "natural resources" and human beings to "human resources."
"The Mountain is Bleeding"In May 1991 I took a trip accompanying the cacique Aniceto along the Petropolis River route. During the trip Aniceto asked me the following questions: "Who has the right to make a martyr of the mountain? It's still bleeding today. Why did they cut it that way? Why didn't they respect it and make the curves that she suggested?" It's another perspective, another way of living, of fraternizing with Nature. Who then is the barbarian and who is the civilized person? We are the barbarians, we've built the barbarous machines that we use first against human beings to exploit and enslave them. We attack women and then classes, races, and still not content, using the same logic, we attack Nature and make it submit to us.
The moment has come to balance the accounts and see what can be saved; how to change the course of our path and how to elaborate in the collective conscience an ecological culture, a level of awareness that is not translated into ideas, because ideas do not change reality; what changes reality are attitudes transformed into action and practice.
We Must Listen to the StarsWhat attitudes should we develop, how should we read the world, what pronouncement about reality should we incorporate so that we are not the Satan of the earth, but, as suggested in Genesis, the being that's in the garden, caring for and cultivating the earth? And cultivating is to make culture, the liturgy of the earth; the way, for example, the Andean cultures cultivate. For them, working is not attacking the earth, but helping it to produce, because it is the generous great Mother that gives all fruits, all foods, to human beings. With our labor we help the Great Mother Earth to produce. That is why sometimes we work ten hours, sometimes two hours, and other times don't work at all, because we are integrated into that process and have a relationship of veneration and respect for her.
The Aymara indigenous people-like our Tupiguaranies, Yanomanis and others-have a ritual in which they ask for forgiveness every time they plan to cut down a tree. They don't like to cut down trees, but they need the land, they need the lumber. Not us. We devastate Nature, attack it, with a fantastic and boundless potential for pillage and destruction.
Nature, with her cry, is demanding that we change. Perhaps the fundamental imperative of our day is to listen to our conscience, to our hearts, to Nature, to the stars, the Cosmos. Scientists have developed listening skills to such a degree that they heard the echo of the Big Bang that can still be heard, and whose light is now reaching us, bringing with it the echo of the beginning of creation. We must listen to the universe.
Technical Ecology: It Doesn't Attack the CausesThere are currently four great trends in the ecological debate. The first, "Technical Ecology," is a response dating back some 50 years that fundamentally maintains the paradigm of unlimited technological and material progress, ever more accelerated and informed and now integrated worldwide because of the establishment of the total market, the victory of the capitalist mode of production over the socialist one. That paradigm is presented as the great proposal for all humanity.
What is the technical response to that crisis whose drama touches us so closely? The response is to maintain that paradigm and, at the same time, develop procedures that try to preserve the environment or cushion the undesired effects of development on people and on Nature. For example, when a factory is polluting excessively, it should use filters. Or agriculture should use fewer toxic products, although the same capitalist aggression is maintained in the fields.
The technical response only attacks the consequences, but not the causes. The way of thinking about Nature remains the same; pillage and domination. The wolf's teeth are filed down, but it maintains its ferocity.
Political Ecology: No Change in DirectionThere is a second, currently important, line which is "Political Ecology." Behind the aggressions against Nature, social classes, minorities, the body, women, is political and economic power that is well sustained by the state-with its industrial, agricultural, transport, urban and energy development policies-or by the large national and transnational companies that carry out sectoral and global plans within that paradigm of accelerated, quantitative, limitless development.
Political questions intercede ever more when a factory is installed or any project is implemented: it is critical to take into account whether the project attacks the environment or nature, if it affects human populations, if it has implications for deforestation, elimination of animals or microorganisms and the region's ecological equilibrium.
All of these questions are taken into consideration. The World Bank and the great financial centers have included the ecological dimension in their policies. There is an attempt to seek a certain equilibrium between the advantages of development and their ecological costs. There is a tentative attempt to reach equilibrium. Whenever there is a basic conflict, however, the ecological side loses. Development is preserved, even knowing the ecological damages, the destruction, the disarticulation that this can cause. In summary, there is an attempt to design development that more or less takes into account ecology and the population in question.
That was the great political struggle of Brazilian Chico Mendes against the World Bank and other financial centers: "Clearly, we want development in the Amazon. We're not obscurantists or retrogrades. But we want development designed for the Amazon region." Not development against nature, but with nature.
His was a wise proposal. It consisted of extracting from the Amazon jungle what the jungle itself could renew, and not extracting what was not renewable, what could be destroyed. He opposed deforestation, which is the basis of large projects like the Jari, the great hydroelectric dams, that decimate fish, poison waters, produce an immense ecological imbalance and don't even continue producing electricity because the decomposing plants and aquatic animals prevent the machines from functioning.
Communitary Cultures: Which "Development"?Political Ecology incorporates consideration for the natural and human environment in development projects. It's an important step, but a limited one because it doesn't look at the type of development. Normally, it seeks a more collective form of political decision-making to ameliorate the damaging effects of projects. This is especially important today, because we are ever more aware of regional singularities. One type of development is appropriate for southern Brazil, another for the country's mountainous region, another for the tropical and subtropical jungles. In sum, it means working with various types of development, not a single model, understanding that nature is humanly integrated, culturally related.
Not all cultures aspire to the same type of development. Latin American Andean cultures, which are comunitary cultures, are not inclined to or interested in accelerated technological development. They are more integrally related to nature, and more linked to the needs of life than to market requirements.
When the comunitary culture receives the impact of capitalist, Western, white, European development, it tends to fall apart completely. No agrarian reform has been successful in Peru, Bolivia or Ecuador, because the Indian has a different concept of the land. In Peru, the government of Velasco Alvarado carried out a large agrarian reform, dividing the land with helicopters and US technology. The Indians followed along to a certain point and then stopped, because for them the limits of land are sacred.
We have an individualist, Western tradition that excludes others and treats nature as an object to be exploited. We transform land into capital. There is another concept throughout the East; much more collective, communitary, that tries to adjust itself to biological cycles. There is respect, therefore, for what nature itself can renew. I am talking especially about the Chinese and Japanese cultures, influenced by Buddhism, which is an immense school of ecology, because the basic thesis of Buddhism is that desires should be domesticated-collectively limited.
We, on the contrary, exasperate desires to the maximum, to infinite and insatiable desire. We become neurotic and suffer when we try to satisfy all of our consumption possibilities given ever more diversified products that are absolutely useless for human life. They are important for market demands, but not for life demands. Our culture lacks, then, any communitary base.
Japanese Capitalism and US CapitalismAutochthonous American and Asian cultures are more communitarian, more collective. That is why Japanese capitalism cannot be compared to German, English or North American capitalism. For example, the Japanese do not take vacations, because they have a different relationship to work. For the Japanese, their ancestors, whose ashes they guard for four or five centuries, are the ones who choose their work. Even Japanese immigrants are this way. One way to respond and be loyal to ancestors is to always work in this or that profession. This also leads to loyalty to factories, to the workplace, with a profound communitarian feeling.
The ancestral does not exist for us; everyone forgets it. There, however, it is present. Capitalism exploits that cultural tendency to accumulate more, to produce more. In an exhaustive analysis of Japanese or oriental capitalism we cannot use the categories that we apply to North American or to our own savage capitalism of the Third World, which is a dependent capitalism, without brakes, associated with large capital, and has an enslaving colonial tradition. These idiosyncrasies make us question development models. We are the victims of a type of development that the North Atlantic imposed on the entire world, with immense political sacrifice for peoples, traditions, and human and family values. That development perturbed our imagination and our symbolic associations with work; they were degraded when we became a work force, selling productive labor. The political dimension of ecology is important, but is not enough. It reveals the means, the situation; it is critical to respect ecology, to develop less damaging technologies. But this does not change the direction of Western development.
Ethical Ecology: More Unitary and GlobalThere is a third ecological trend, what I would term "Ethical Ecology," and it's more advanced than the previous two. It doesn't begin from a utilitarian vision that places the human being at the center, as if everything functions for the human being, but assumes a holistic vision, more unitary and global.
It affirms that living beings are linked to each other, depend on each other, and all depend on nature, on chemical reactions, on viruses and bacteria, on the exchange of elements that makes symbiosis in forms of life, and that life is the unity of birth and death.
Buddhism and Hinduism appear to us as distant ideas. However, when we speak of Buddhism or Hinduism we are speaking of China, India, the entire Orient, practically two-thirds of humanity. That world has another relationship with the universe, marked by what first Buddha and then Schopenhauer and Albert Schweitzer in the West developed: universal compassion.
Having compassion means suffering with the universe, respecting and being with the most suffering reality of the universe. Universal compassion seeks the happiness of all living beings, not just human beings. From this emerges the ethic of veneration. Its primary ethical basis is the following: everything that conserves and promotes life is good, and everything that kills and diminishes life is bad.
Albert Schweitzer was a German doctor, a great theologian who specialized in research on Jesus, and a great musician. He renounced all of this and went to Africa, where he opened a hospital to treat Hansen's disease, leprosy. He dedicated his life to forgotten people because of the compassion he felt for them.
In 1960 he wrote his famous book Culture and Ethics, in which he expounds on an ecological and ethical vision of human beings linked to other living beings. To conserve and promote life, to have compassion on those who suffer. To console, defend and be with those who suffer; that is the great human task.
Another assertion of Ethical Ecology is that of unlimited responsibility for every living thing, for what nature took thousands of years to produce. The life system began four billion years ago with primordial viruses and bacteria and we human beings are an articulated conglomeration of billions of bacteria and viruses within us that allow the entire genetic system to function. That's why we have limitless responsibility for everything that lives, whether visible to our eyes or to the scientist's eyes that today can be used to see the infinitely small. We are even responsible for subatomic elements, which are the primordial elements of life.
It's critical to set limits on human voracity and rescue love for nature. The great Max Weber, one of the founders of Sociology, stated that the first aggression by the scientific, technical and bureaucratic project was to disenchant the world. Today the moon is only a satellite of the earth, a desert, with no enchantment. What he wanted to say was that the anthropological dimension was lost, the symbolic character of the moon, the sun. Ethical Ecology proposes recovering that dimension of veneration, of the mystery of things. And it recovers the validity of other approaches to reality that differ from those we began to develop 400 years ago: scientific access, which emerged in conflict with religion and persecuted the alchemists, the witches and the magicians.
Science does not accept any mystery. It deciphers the genetic code, it discovers chemical laws, atomic and subatomic composition, and liquidates the mysterious. Even so, any minimally serious scientist has to ask what is the energy that penetrates all, that sustains all, and from which all comes. They are faced with a great mystery. Magic is important because it's a dialogue that captures that mysterious dimension of nature.
We Human Beings are Nature, We have a Shaman DimensionIn his work How I See the World, Einstein, the greatest genius of modern science, rescued lyric discourse, the importance of religion, and confessed that he was a profoundly religious person, of a cosmic religiosity, neither traditional Jewish nor Christian.
Nature is not only what is outside of ourselves, but also what is within each one of us. When one asks, "Where is nature?" everyone points outside themselves, to trees and birds. We should point within ourselves, because nature is in human beings. The human being is stone, plant, animal, self-knowledge, divinity. That's why we came to creation so late and join everything in ourselves.
With the alchemist recovery, human beings are not limited to suffering the impact of nature-the moon that enchants, the sun that shines-but can establish a dialogue with reality, can talk with nature. What in popular language is termed "Let's think positively," is in reality a profoundly alchemist statement, as true as the statement "let's make a superposition of waves" in the language of Quantum Physics.
Psychoanalists talk about recovering the shaman dimension of our psyche. The shaman, the Brazilian paje, the healer, has the force of the cosmos, what sustains dialogue with the hidden energies of nature, of plants, stars, moon. They are the intermediaries and articulators of those energies, and they heal.
Autochthonous cultures developed shaman medicine. Each person has a shaman dimension, and is in contact with and interrelated to the whole. We human beings inhabit the stars, because our bodies are made of physical and chemical elements older than the sun and the earth, that come from the cosmos and compose our reality. The veneration of the universe is important because it returns to human beings the company of other beings.
Death: The Other Side of LifeThe ethical dimension by itself is not enough, however, because Schopenhauer and Buddha and Schweitzer all have a profound pessimism about life. I would say that it is a biocentric perspective, centered on life, when in reality nature is not centered on life, but on the equilibrium between life and death. Nature assimilates death itself, important in nature. We run from death, we don't accept it. Until we can accept it we will not be ecologically integrated. Death pertains to the universe, because it's temporal; it has been advancing for centuries, and my death is important because others live, even physically to take my place.
For the Tupi-Guaranies, death has no tragic element. They commit suicide-last year 70 of them did-which for us is an attitude that constitutes a disaster. For them, on the other hand, death is the other side of life. They die, but they continue in the group, in the thinking, in their imagination.
We have distanced ourselves so much from nature that we don't see it as encompassing death; we don't see that death isn't the end, but the beginning. We are dying bit by bit until we actually die, because our life is mortal. Death doesn't come from outside; we begin to die when we're born, and a small fetus is old enough to die. Its energetic potential is being used up. The red cells have a sovereign hegemony over the white cells, but the white cells slowly gain hegemony until they eat all the red cells. It is a normal ecological process.
The understanding that we want to develop is that life passes through death, it's not stagnated in it. All the universe is like this. The universal law is ruled by entropy, by the second law of thermodynamics. The first law establishes that energy in the Universe is constant, but its forms can change. The second, that energy, to produce work, is used up until it produces no work. And the universe is slowly marching toward thermal death.
The End of the Human Species?Ilya Prigione, Nobel prize winner in Biology and Chemistry and one of the greatest scientists of our day, wrote a book titled The New Alliance, in which she states that the more we ascend in evolution, the more complicated life mechanisms become, the more energy they consume and, therefore, more inner organization creates more external chaos.
We find ourselves immersed in an ever growing acceleration. There is a cosmic law that is perceived in plants and stars. The stars, when they reach their end, consume all the hydrogen and leave the helium, which is much brighter. The helium shines extraordinarily and suddenly the star goes out, losing its red color until it gets dark and goes out. The same thing happens with the "naranjo" tree -- before dying it fully blooms.
Biology has put forward the hypothesis that we could find ourselves in a similar situation. Could it be that the acceleration of technological, anthropological development, of consciousness, of evolution, and also the using up of energy through pollution, could signify the end of the human species? This human being, "homo sapiens," can disappear, and nature could continue forward, for millions of years, until from some mouse, or some cockroach, a new human being could emerge with a different form. Death belongs to that dimension. Ethical Ecology is important because it obliges the human being to work with mortality, temporality, and integration into the universe.
Holistic Ecology: The World is a MysteryIn addition to the above, there is another trend, that of "Holistic Ecology," reintegrated, lived by the great religions, even Christianity. It begins from a different basic platform; the rediscovery of the whole, of integrity, of organicity, of the animation of all beings. All living beings carry messages, and that's why we should listen to all of them. That vision is termed holistic because it tries to capture all the dimensions of real life: physical, aesthetic, ethical, psychological depth, mysticism. Reality returns to a fundamental common denominator, which is mystery.
The word "mystic" comes from mystery. The world as a great mystery. It's not that we don't know it, but that the more we know, the more we are opened to new knowledge. The mystery, therefore, is not in what we don't know, not in the limits of reason, but in the limitlessness of reason. The more we know, the more we are capable of knowing.
The human being is the most complete and elaborate expression of the network of relationships in the first moment of creation, in the moment of the first explosion. Most modern theory is inflationary. According to this theory, at the first moment in which the primitive atom, charged with energy and condensed matter, swelled up like a child's balloon, at that first moment, the first structure of the universe was produced. The explosion then followed, whose echo we can hear today.
Religions Always Knew ThisReligions always understood that fact, not through science, but through mystical, religious intuition in tune with what is real. We have broken the alliance with creation and have stepped over it. The Judeo-Christian tradition made us consider ourselves owners of creation, dominators of the earth. And we feel like orphans in that world, when in reality we are brothers and sisters in that long chain. Religions understand all of that naturally, like a mother who simply has to put her hand on her child's forehead to know if it has a fever or not. The baby's cry tells her whether it is hungry, when it is in pain, when it is sick, by instinct. The more immersed she is in the human being, the more attentive she will be to the cycles of nature.
Self-consciousness of the human being is the product of evolution. The higher one is on the evolutionary chain the more self-consciousness one possesses. Thus, God does not come from outside to fill the human soul, but is there from the beginning, uniting all energies. God within reality, reality within God, causing the emergence of ever more forms of creation, so that consciousness is not only specific to human beings, but to the whole universe. Consciousness as self-consciousness is unique to human beings, but the amoeba also has its level of consciousness, and the animal or the stone have their forms of dialogue with reality. That is not only in the discourse of Quantum Physics, but in the religious, psychological, aesthetic, and ethical discourses. As a challenge to a new alliance of human beings in support of life.
We Call Him God, Buddha, Jehovah...That vision does not invalidate the technical dimension, because we have to work to minimize ecological disasters as much as possible, to be vigilant so that official policies and families contribute to ecological preservation, treating trees, residues, trash with wisdom. The human being must be integrated ever more into respect for all things, and not in sacrifice or in protagonizing a process of victimizing reality.
Human beings must develop and recover the dimension of veneration, of respect for all existence. Look at history, look at the genealogy of each reality in terms of joining with it and getting involved in that process of life and death, not as realities that take us out of the world, but, on the contrary, bring us more deeply into the world.
To see death as the opportunity to achieve more mysterious, more radical forms. And finally, to reach that spirituality that tries to integrate all reality, whether in the past, from whence we have come, or in the future, not exploiting future generations, developing that deep generational solidarity, a feeling of radical brother/sisterhood with all reality, fraternity and tenderness with the real, knowing that this reality is plagued with messages, emotions, values. It's an alphabet that we must learn to read. We call the articulator of that discourse God, Jehovah, Buddha, it doesn't matter: that reality penetrates and makes everything brilliant, and makes us all both one and diverse.
If We Don't Do It, We Won't Save AnythingThe human being that understands all of this and can transform it into a discourse of veneration, a song, unity, and who also fights to preserve not life and death, but the equilibrium between life and death, that human being is the priest or priestess. When it is achieved, death will no longer be a tragedy; human beings will stop feeling like orphans in someone else's world, and will feel part of all that began before, goes through the present and continues forward.
This is an urgent proposal for a new humanity. If we don't put it into practice now, we won't be able to save anything. It's not a proposal of the possible or impossible, of the interesting or uninteresting; it is an urgent proposal: the earth must be rescued, because she is captive. Not only the oppressed must be liberated, but all beings, so that they can live like brothers and sisters with veneration and respect.
(Part two: next issue)