Let us forget for a second our normal way of looking at things, and try to put our present crisis in the framework of cosmic time. Perhaps this way we can understand it better; by seeing it relatively, we can gain a better grasp of it, in a hopeful context.
The Time of the Cosmos
Let’s imagine that the more or less 13 billion year history of the universe has been condensed into a single century. Each “cosmic year” would be equivalent to 113 million Earth years.
From this point of view, the Earth was born in the year 70 of the cosmic century, and life appeared in the oceans, to our surprise, somewhere after the 73rd year. During almost two cosmic decades, life was essentially limited to single cell bacteria.
A new creative phase began in the year 93, with the appearance of sexual reproduction of living organisms. This, together with other forces, was responsible for changing the face of the planet, because it radically transformed the atmosphere, the oceans, and geology of the Earth, allowing our planet to sustain more complex forms of life. A great part of the biosphere is the creation of those microorganisms.
In this new phase, the evolutionary process accelerated rapidly. Two years later, in the year 95, the first multi-cellular organisms appeared. One year later, in the year 96, we witnessed the appearance of nervous systems, and in the year 97, the first vertebrate organisms. Mammals appeared in the middle of the year 98, that is, two months after dinosaurs and an immense variety of plants.
Five cosmic months ago, asteroids fell on the Earth, destroying many species, including the dinosaurs. However, shortly thereafter, the Earth, as if taking revenge, produced a diversity of life such as never before.
It was during this era, when flowers appeared, that our ancestors entered the evolutionary scene. Then they became bipeds (twelve cosmic days ago), and with homo habilis, they began to use tools (6 cosmic days ago), while the homo erectus conquered fire (just one cosmic day ago). Twelve cosmic hours ago, modern humans appeared (homo sapiens).
During the afternoon and night of our first cosmic day, we lived in harmony with nature, and were attentive to her rhythms and dangers. Our presence had little impact on the biological community until 40 minutes ago, when we began to domesticate plants and animals and to develop agriculture. After that, our interventions on nature intensified, and twenty minutes ago, we began to build and inhabit cities.
Only two minutes ago has our impact become really threatening. Europe transformed herself into a technological society and expanded her power through colonialist exploration. In this phase the project-world was formed, creating a center with several peripheries and a gap between the rich and the poor.
In the last twelve seconds (since 1950) the rhythm of ecological exploration and destruction has dramatically accelerated. In this brief period, we have brought down almost half of the largest jungles. In the next twenty cosmic seconds, the temperature of the Earth will rise by up to 0.5º C, and within a short time, it could rise by up to 5º C, endangering the greater part of the biosphere and millions of people. In the last five cosmic seconds, the Earth has lost an amount of soil equivalent to all the arable land of France and China, and has been inundated by dozens of thousands of new chemical products, many of which are highly toxic, and threaten the very bases of life.
We are now exterminating from 27 to 100 thousand species a year. Some scientists estimate that in the next 7 cosmic seconds, from 20 to 50 % of all species will disappear. When will this stop? And why so much devastation?
We respond: so that a small portion of Humanity can have the private or corporate enjoyment of the “benefits” of civilization. The richest 20% actually make two hundred times more than the poorest 20%. At the start of 2008, before the present economic-financial crisis, a few thousand millionaires together had more or less double the combined annual income of the poorest 50%. In terms of income, the richest 1% of humanity receives the equivalent of what the poorest 57% receives.
The Time of the Earth
Our planet, the fruit of more than four billion years of evolution, is being devoured by a small minority of humans. For the first time in the history of human evolution, such a minority, and, to a lesser degree, all of us, are causing the problems discussed above. The dangers this creates threaten our future and our way of life.
However, while we insist on the gravity of the crisis, we don’t want to project such an apocalyptic vision that it causes paralysis and desperation. Just as we created these problems, we can also solve them, although some are irreversible. This means that there is hope of satisfactorily resolving the crisis.
Those who joined the High Gathering of the Peoples this past July in Rio de Janeiro, or took part in the World Social Forums, are aware that there are thousands and thousands of conscious and creative people, all over the world, working to formulate practical alternatives that can allow humanity to live with dignity, without hurting the health of the ecosystems and of Mother Earth.
We have the information and knowledge necessary to solve the present crisis. What we need is to activate the cordial and emotional intelligence that elicits the necessary dreams, solidarity, compassion, and feelings of interdependency and universal responsibility.
It is important to recognize that the threats we face are symptoms of a chronic cultural and spiritual illness. It affects all of us, especially the 20% of us who consume the greater part of the world’s wealth. This crisis forces us to create a different paradigm of civilization, because the present one is too destructive. This is what we write about so frequently in our articles.
Times of crisis can also be times of creativity, times when new visions and new opportunities appear. The Chinese character for crisis, weiji, results from the combination of the characters for danger and opportunity. This is not a simple contradiction or paradox; the very real dangers force us to look to the deeper causes and seek alternatives, so as not to waste the opportunities.
In our culture, crisis derives from the Sanskrit word, kri, that means to purify and to reveal. Thus, it is about a very painful, but highly positive, process of purifying our vision, that functions as a crucible of our ethical-spiritual attitudes. Both meanings, the Chinese and the Sanskrit, are illuminating.
We need to revisit the sources of wisdom of humanity’s many cultures. Some are ancestral and come to us through very diverse cultural and spiritual traditions. The category of the “good living” of the Andean cultures is fundamental. Others are more modern, such as profound ecology, feminism and eco-feminism, transpersonal psychology, and the new cosmology, derived from the complex sciences, astrophysics, and the new knowledge about life and the Earth.
I end with the testimony of two noted Northamerican ecologists and educators, Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, who affirm: «The most extraordinary characteristic of the present historical moment of the Earth is not that we are headed towards the devastation of our planet, because we have already been doing so for a long time, but that we are starting to awaken from a millenarian dream to a new type of relationship with nature, with life, with the Earth, with the others and with ourselves. This new understanding will make possible the so much longed for Great Transformation.» (Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Nossa vida como Gaia, 2004, 37). The Great Transformation will come, by the grace of evolution, and of God.
– Leonardo Boff, Theologian / Earthcharter Commission
Free translation from the Spanish sent by Melina Alfaro, done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU