Catholics for a Changing Church

"To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often" - Bl. John Henry Newman

What will our children and grandchildren say to us?


Leonardo Boff

Theologian-Philosopher, Earthcharter Commission

  Every country, especially those that are experiencing financial crises, such as Brazil in 2015, has a persistent obsession: we have to grow; we must assure the growth of the GNP, namely, the sum of all the wealth produced by the country. This economic growth is fundamentally the production of material goods. It causes a high degree of social inequity (unemployment and reduction of salaries) and a perverse environmental devastation (exhaustion of the ecosystems).

In reality, we should first talk about the kind of development that entails essential non-material elements, principally such subjective and humanistic dimensions as the expansion of liberty, creativity and ways of shaping life itself. Unfortunately we are all hostages of the mirage that is growth. Long ago the balance between growth and the preservation of nature was destroyed, in favor of growth. Consumption is already 40% above the planet's capacity to replace its goods and services.  And the planet is losing her sustainability.


We know now that the Earth is a self regulating living system in which all factors interact (the theory of Gaia) to maintain her integrity. But her self regulation is failing. Hence climate change, extreme events (strong winds, tornadoes, climate deregulation) and the global warming that may surprise us with grave catastrophes. 

The Earth is seeking a new equilibrium, raising temperatures between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees centigrade. That would bring on the era of the great devastations, (anthropocene) with rising ocean levels,  that will affect more than half of humanity who live on her coasts. Thousands of living organisms would not have enough time to adapt or to mitigate the harmful effects and would vanish.  A great part of humanity itself, up to 80% according to some, could no longer subsist on a planet whose physical-chemical base was so profoundly altered.

With certitude environmentalist Washington Novaes affirms: «now it is no longer about caring for the environment, but about not exceeding the limits that could endanger life». There are scientists who claim that we are reaching the point of no-return. It is possible to slow down the oncoming crisis, but not to stop it.

This question is disturbing. In their official speeches, heads of State, businessmen,  and, what is worse, principal economists, rarely tackle the limits of the planet and the resulting problems for our civilization. We do not want our children and grandchildren to look to the past, and curse us and our generation because even knowing the dangers, we did little or nothing to avoid the tragedy.

Everyone's mistake may have been to follow literally the strange advice of Lord Keynes for emerging from the great depression of the 1930's:

«For at least a century we ought to pretend to ourselves and to everyone else that what is beautiful is dirty and what is dirty is beautiful, because what is dirty is useful and the beautiful is useless. Greed, profiteering, distrust must be our gods because they will guide us towards the end of the tunnel of economic need towards the clarity of the day… After all that will come the return to some of the more secure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue: that greed is a vice, that profiteering  is a crime, and that the love of money is detestable» (Economic Possibilities of our Grand-Children). That is how those principally responsible for the crises of  2008, who were never punished, think.

It is urgent that we redefine our goals and seek the best means of attaining them. They no longer can be simply to produce, while destroying nature, and to consume without limit. No one has a solution to this crisis of civilization. But we suspect that it must be guided by the wisdom of nature herself: respect for her rhythms, her capacity to endure, giving centrality not  to growth but to sustainability. If our modes of production respected the natural cycles, there surely would be enough for everyone, and we would preserve nature, of which we are part.

We cover the Earth's wounds with band aids. Mitigation is not a solution. We essentially restrict ourselves to mitigating, with the illusion that we are resolving the urgent issues that are matters of life or death.

Leonardo Boff

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