Mother Earth is a Living Being

Cochabamba and the Civilizational Root of the Climate Crisis

Leonardo Boff’s elegant white beard and wavy white hair make him look like classical depictions of God(s) in ancient and early modern art. And as a catholic priest, he would appear to be both benefactor and bulwark of what’s often called “western civilization.” But when you ask the world-renowned catholic theologian about the root causes of the climate crisis being discussed and debated at the CMPCC here in Cochabamba, Bolivia, he does indeed speak passionately about western civilization-as the primary cause of that crisis.

“Nature does in fact have its ups and downs, its changes in temperature,” says Boff, who lives in Brazil. “But as scientists are now warning us, 90 or more percent of the increases in temperature are caused by human activity, not the activity of the Aymara, Quechua and other indigenous groups here (in Bolivia), but of those of us belonging to the civilizational system based on the exploitation of natural and human resources for profit, the western civilizational system.”

As a consequence, he adds, western civilization is taking us to “the serious possibility that we may reach a 4 degrees (C) increase in temperature, the point at which God’s children will cease to exist.”

Boff’s critique of the economic, political, legal, cultural and other practices centered in Europe and North America and exported throughout the planet, was shared and expanded upon by many of the more than 35,000 attendees from more than 100 countries. Taking place primarily in the air-conditioned environments of a hotel and a wireless-ready (most of the time) university-both of which are surrounded by large rural and urban Quechua communties, the civilizational critique CMPCC was not without its own share of western practices. But these apparent contradictions only served to illustrate how the civilizational critique is hardly nor solely a black and white, north-south issue. Rather, the critique is complex and seeks to draw a line of demarcation between 2 different practices: those practices that respect humans and nature and those that exploit them.

In this sense, those attending the CMPCC seek to create greater urgency among individuals and communities, nations and multi-lateral institutions about the limits of how the practices that make up societies are organized.

“The climate crisis is not about which civilization is right and which civilization is wrong” said Angelica Navarro, Bolivia’s chief climate negotiator to the United Nations, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions. “It’s about who has real solutions. As we can see from the convergent crises the world is facing-the food crisis, the financial crisis, the climate crisis and other crises- we have reached the limits of the planet’s resources. The connections between these crises is telling us that we have exhausted the solutions offered by a certain kinds of economic practices- and of a civilization based on those practices. We need to re-think the relationship between humans and nature in which land, water and biodiversity are seen as things to be abused, controlled and destroyed.”

Central to the solutions to what she and other CMPCC participants consider the devastating effects of the top-down, patriarchal economic models at the heart of western civilization is the expansion of the global rights regime to include the “Universal Rights of Mother Earth.” “Technological solutions alone will not suffice.” she said. “We need to develop new systems of rights to include the rights not just of humans, but of nature. In the same way that the concepts and legal practices of human rights evolved over time, we must now evolve towards a system of rights for nature, something that other civilizations did long ago.”

“The models of the indigenous and peasant peoples of the world are the only ones that will cool the planet” declared Quechua leader of the Federation of Bolivian Campesinas,

Leonida Zurita during a meeting between presidents and other representatives of 49 governments and CMPCC leaders, who, like Zurita, were elected to represent the civil society groups attending the conference. “Capitalism has used Mother Earth as a slave to exploit” said Zurita, adding a reminder that “Mother earth is a living being.”

First published in the Huffington Post.

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