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"This Time There Will Be No Noah's Ark"
email this pageprint this pageemail usDaniela Pastrana - Tierramérica
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December 28, 2010

There could be 100 million climate refugees in the next five to seven years, warns Leonardo Boff. (Daniela Pastrana/IPS)
Mexico City - "The market is not going to resolve the environmental crisis," says theologian and environmentalist Leonardo Boff, professor at Brazil's State University of Rio de Janeiro. The solution, he says, lies in ethics and in changing our relationship with nature.

Boff, who teaches ethics, philosophy of religion and ecology, is one of the leading figures of Liberation Theology, a progressive current in the Latin American Catholic Church. He has written more than 60 books and has dedicated the last 20 years to promoting the green movement.

He was one of the 23 proponents of the 2000 Earth Charter, and a year later received the Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative "Green" Nobel, which recognises exceptional efforts in seeking solutions to the most urgent global environmental problems.

"If we don't change, we are headed for the worst... Either we save ourselves or we all perish," said Boff in an interview with Tierramérica in the Mexican capital, after he participated as an observer in the recent 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Cancún.

Q: What is your assessment of the COP 16?

A: What predominated, save for the last two days, was an atmosphere of disappointment, of failure. But surprisingly there were three convergences of opinion: the commitment to fight against reaching (a global temperature increase of) two degrees Celsius; the creation of the Green Climate Fund of 30 billion dollars (for 2012) to help the most vulnerable countries, in an interesting sign of solidarity; and the creation of a large fund for the reduction of deforestation and degradation of forests, because that is where the principal cause of global warming lies.

Q: How should we interpret the stance of Bolivia, the only country that did not agree to those commitments?

A: Bolivia supports the thesis that the Earth is "Pachamama," a living organism that must be respected and cared for, not just exploited. It stands in opposition to the dominant position, which is set in the framework of the market: selling carbon credits, for example, means granting the right to pollute.

The dominant societies see the Earth as a treasure chest of resources that can be used indefinitely, although now they have to be utilised in a sustainable way, because they are scarce. They don't recognise the dignity and rights of natural beings, they see them as means of production and their relation is based on utility. These are issues that did not enter into the discussions at Cancún or any other COP.

Q: Why should they be included?

A: Because the system that has created the problem is not going to save us. If each country has to grow a little each year, and to do so means degrading nature and increasing global warming, then that system itself is hostile to life.

Q: The argument is that it is necessary for development...

A: Growth means what? Exploiting nature? It is precisely that type of growth and development that could lead us to the abyss, because we humans are consuming 30 percent more than what the Earth can replace.

That is the vicious circle. China can't go on emitting 30 percent (of global greenhouse emissions), because the pollution does not stay in China, it enters the global system.

The problem is the relation of the human being with the Earth, because it is a violent relationship, a closed fist... As long as we fail to change this, we are headed for the worst. And this time there is no Noah's Ark. Either we save ourselves or we all perish.

Q: Is it really that serious?

A: There are regions in the world that have changed so much that they've become uninhabitable. That is why there are 60 million displaced persons in Africa and Southeast Asia, which are the most affected by climate change and which emit less carbon. If we don't stop it, in the next five to seven years there will be as many as 100 million climate refugees, and that is going to create political problems.

Q: What is the role of Latin America in all this?

A: It is the continent with greatest possibilities for making a positive contribution to the ecological crisis: it has the largest rainforests and water reserves, the greatest biodiversity, and perhaps the biggest areas for crops.

But there is still insufficient environmental awareness in a large portion of the population. And, in any case, there is a very dangerous invasion of big corporations that are appropriating vast regions. It is an appropriation of common goods in function of individual benefits.

In Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, gradually they are realising how the new game of capital works: a great concentration of livelihoods to ensure the future of the system.

Q: What options are there?

A: We have funds and technology, but we lack political will and sensitivity to nature and human suffering. That has to be recovered. And along with ethics of caring go the ethics of cooperation. Now it has become necessary for everyone to cooperate with everyone.

Q: Is that possible? What needs to be done?

A: There are movements, especially among groups who see that there lands are being divided, like Vía Campesina (international peasant movement) and Brazil's MST landless movement. And there are the indigenous peoples, who don't see the Earth simply as an instrument of production, but rather as an extension of their body, and they need it to uphold their identity.

We are seeking a balance, and that is the collective duty of humanity, which the market and the economy are not going to resolve. Everyone needs to do his or her part, to be more with less, to have a sense of proportion. The problem isn't money.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.

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