Leonardo Boff : Social Justice / Ecological Justice

“The Innocent: Casualties of the Civil War in Northern Uganda.” Photo by Heather McClintock / Blue Earth Alliance.

Humanity’s intertwined dilemma:
Social and Ecological Justice

By Leonardo Boff / The Rag Blog / March 22, 2010

Among the many problems that afflict humanity, two are particularly grave: social injustice and ecological injustice. Both must be jointly dealt with if we want to put humanity and planet Earth on a secure path.

Social injustice is an old matter that derives from an economic model that, besides plundering nature, generates more poverty than it can handle and solve. It implies, on the one hand, great accumulation of goods and services, at the expense, on the other hand, of enormous poverty and misery.

The facts speak for themselves: there are one thousand million people who live on the edge of survival, on just one dollar per day, and 2, 600 million people (40% of humanity) who live on less than two dollars daily. The consequences are perverse. Suffice it to mention one fact: there are between 350 to 500 million cases of malaria, with one million avoidable victims annually.

This counter-reality has been kept invisible for a long time, in order to hide the failure of the capitalist economic model, made to create wealth for a few and not for the well-being of the whole of humanity.

The second injustice, the ecological, is linked to the first. The devastation of nature and current global warming affect all countries, without regard for national boundaries or their levels of wealth or poverty.

Of course, the rich have better means of adapting and mitigating the negative effects of climate change. In the face of extreme events, they have refrigerators or heaters and can build defenses against the floods that destroy whole regions. But the poor have no means of defending themselves. They suffer the consequences of a problem they did not create.

Fred Pierce, author of The Population Earthquake, wrote in The New Scientist, November 2009:

…the 500 million wealthiest people (7% of world population) are responsible for 50% of the gas emissions that produce global warming, while the poorest 50% (3,400 million of the population) are responsible for only 7% of the emissions.

This ecological injustice cannot be kept invisible as easily as the other type, because the signs are everywhere. Nor can it be solved only by the rich, because it is global and the rich are also affected. The solution must be born from the collaboration of everyone, in a differentiated way: the rich, being the more responsible in both past and present, must contribute much more with investments and transferal of technologies, and the poor have the right to an ecologically sustainable development, that will lift them out of misery.

Image from Enviroblog.

We certainly cannot overlook the solutions, but they alone are insufficient, because the global solution depends on a prior question: the paradigm of a society that is reflected in the difficulty of changing life styles and habits of consumption. We must point to universal solidarity, collective responsibility and caring for all that lives and exists (we are not the only ones who live in this planet and use the biosphere.) An awareness of the inter-dependency of all, and of the unity of the Earth and humanity, is fundamental.

Can the present generations be asked to follow such values if they have never lived globally before? How can we carry out this change, that must be done urgently and quickly?

Perhaps only after a great catastrophe that afflicted millions and millions of people could this radical change happen, because of the survival instinct. This metaphor occurs to me: if our country were invaded and threatened with destruction by some external power, we all would unite, beyond our differences. As in a war economy, all would be cooperative and solidarian; they would accept shortages and sacrifices in order to save motherland and life. Now the Motherland is the threatened Life and Earth. We must do everything to save them.

Original in Portuguese; translated into Spanish by Servicios Koinonia; translated into English by Refugio del Rio Grande, Texas.

[A Brazilian theologian, philosopher, educator, and author of more than 60 books, Leonardo Bofff lives in Jardim Araras, an ecological wilderness area in the municipality of Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro. Boff is Professor Emeritus of Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, and Ecology at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. A former Franciscan priest with a doctorate from the University of Munich, Boff was an early advocate of liberation theology. In 1991, after a series of clashes with the Vatican, Boff renounced his activities as a priest and “promoted himself to the state of laity.”]

The Rag Blog

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5 Responses to Leonardo Boff : Social Justice / Ecological Justice

  1. The rich are tired of creating a better planet and getting kicked in the nuts for it. The poor can barely take care of themselves and often prey of each other and those around them. They cant feed the world from a surplus of food production, they cant create life saving medicines, or life improving technologies. While we may all be inter-dependent, we are not all equally capable. Those who are more capable will be more successful and often more rich. The rich in the US give to others and support worthy causes with billions of dollars each year.

    Eliminating the rich will not raise those on the “edge of survival” from their plight. It will only ensure that far more of those at risk will suffer and die, far more will lead lives with less opportunity, more disease, less connectedness, and less hope.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Your lies are becoming malicious, DHS. Shame.

  3. Anon, please expound. Point out the lie that you are referring to so that I can address your concern.

  4. When the rich take up the prime agricultural land for the production of ‘luxury crops’ (coffee, etc) or destroy complex ecosystems for cattle production, each geared toward export, it is typical for the poor to be left with only erosion-prone land on which to subsist.

    I recently saw a picture my friend took in South America of a burning rain forest horizon. The land had been bought by Burger King.

    The population movement from the country to the city seen in developing and third world countries is largely the result of environmental degradation pursued by the hunger of “first-world”, “developed”, “civilized” consumerist culture; the land is no longer able to sustain them in the way that it had for generations. (Television’s corruption of the culture is another factor.) A simplified but recurrent story: Multinational corporations come in and extract the natural wealth of countries who’ve been enticed into crippling debt, and the people are left with nothing but slave-driving sweatshops and polluted shanty towns.

    Most indigenous peoples, before interference from political/imperial influence, had sustainable ways of living and raising food. This is logical: if a people living on a set amount of land overshoots capacity or significantly degrades its ecological support system, that lifestyle is not adaptive and it dies out. This is what happened, for example, on Easter Island. Imperialism is the only way to [temporarily] extend the ticket on unsustainable systems.

    The way the rich currently “feed the world from a surplus of food production” depends heavily on petroleum, uses inordinate tons of fertilizers (which run off and lead to the growing dead zones in the planet’s ocean) and pesticides (which kill the soil); it runs heavy machinery over the soil (which compacts it, depriving that soil, that living wilderness, of air and water, turning it to lifeless dirt, contributing to erosion and, since water cannot get through, to the depletion of our aquifers). Our industrial agriculture’s use of monocrops fed by the simple formula of NPK either ignores the fact that plants cannot perform alchemy or doesn’t care about the nutritional quality of the food it produces (probably both). We need a wide variety of vitamins and minerals that is better provided by a diverse diet and cannot be made simply from atmosphere, sunlight, dead dirt, and nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium. Because it is highly centralized, it depends further upon petroleum for transportation to the mouths of its consumers, not to mention its having become a powerful political force that has wrangled for itself absurd subsidies. The surpluses it generates are in part put to use undermining the self-sufficiency of poor nations who “can barely take care of themselves” because their own farmers are forced out of their own market by subsidized American crops.

    This is not a sustainable pathway.

    As for medicine, many of the maladies that our medicine seeks to cure – or rather, whose symptoms our medicine seeks to treat – are caused by the very practices and lifestyles of “rich” countries. Asthma rates in Houston and LA, the rise of cancer rates in general, obesity and diabetes (and all their resulting complications), the cultural phenomenon of depression and anxiety – all of these point to there being something wrong.

    I am in support of science and its breakthroughs as they apply to genuinely making life better. I am glad for the developments in sanitation that make cholera, for instance, such a rare occurrence. There is a problem, however, when the preponderance of our technology destroys life and makes it more miserable, yet at such an expense generates monetary profit for a few.

    Leonardo Boff is not suggesting “[e]liminating the rich”; on the contrary: “We must point to universal solidarity, collective responsibility and caring for all that lives and exists.” He writes, however, that “the rich, being the more responsible in both past and present, must contribute much more”.

    I think he makes a valid point.

  5. Opportunity is better than no opportunity. Its not only a universal truth for today, but has been for centuries.

    The Irish and Italian and German immigrants of the late 19th century found difficult living and working conditions and where often exploited. But they didn’t turn around and go back to where the arrived from. Why? Opportunity was better then no opportunity. They preferred the chance to make a better life for their families. They didn’t want your protections, they just wanted a chance.

    Mexican immigrants cross illegally into the US daily and often face exploitation. But they keep coming. Why? Opportunity is better then no opportunity.

    Today, indigenous people of the rain forest countries, leave their villages for the cities because opportunity is better than no opportunity. They want more than the life you idealize. They don’t want your protection, they just want an opportunity for something more.

    You idealize and romanticize a simple lifestyle. But throughout history and even today, many have risked everything to leave it behind for an opportunity at something they deemed better.

    The very people who you assume want your protection, prove how wrong you are with their daily choices. If you like mud huts and plowing behind an oxen, go for it. But don’t cast aspersions at rich people who have created commerce and industry and trade and .. oh yes, opportunity.

    You have your answer, you just don’t like it. People hunger most for opportunity and freedom and will do almost anything to get them. So go find a grass hut and an oxen and let those who want something more go and find it.

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