Theoretical Frameworks for Understanding the Covid-19 Intrusion

ENVIRONMENT, 23 Aug 2021

Leonardo Boff - TRANSCEND Media Service

15 Aug 2021 – Every social-historical reality, no matter how good it looks or how deep in chaos it is, demands a theoretical framework (set of concepts) in order to be understood, whether to face the threats it may represent or to celebrate a new order that may emerge with its promises.

The first theoretical framework follows science as it is commonly practiced, whose method was inaugurated in the 18th century by the founding fathers of the modern scientific paradigm, which has gained its clearest expression through the results of the IPCC that accompany current warming and the health of the Earth.

The facts it reflects on are, for example, the Covid-19 intrusion showing the Earth’s reaction against the aggressions made by humans in the geological era of the Anthropocene. The other fact is the growth of global warming whose C02, as we know, remains in the atmosphere for more than a hundred years. Given the industrialist voracity, it is reaching a dangerous limit. It must be drastically reduced by 2030, otherwise we will experience a dramatic transformation of the Earth’s balance, seriously threatening the biosphere and generating millions of immigrants worldwide. If the current level of consumption that requires one and a half Earth continues, it could lead us to great rates of social inequity, especially among the poor. There are also the “9 planetary bounderies for development” that must not be crossed (climate, water, soil, biodiversity, the diminishing oxon layer, ocean acidification, and others). Four are in a high degree of erosion. After the fifth, a domino effect may occur, because all factors are systemic and interrelated. This could lead to a collapse of our civilization. The final result: the scenario is dramatic for the life-system and the Earth-system, aggravated by the great absence of collective awareness of the real threats that weigh upon humanity, by most people and heads of state. This reading leads to pessimism and lack of interest of people in the ecological factor.

The second framework starts from the new cosmogenesis, from life and earth sciences. The central category is not order, but chaos. Here we use the achievements of chaos theory, which gives us a more positive and promising reading. Together with Einstein’s theory of relativity, Heisenberg/Bohr’s quantum mechanics, and Lorenz/Prigogine’s Chaos theory, a new scientific paradigm was founded that interprets social-historical reality in a different way. Everything in the universe comes from an immeasurable chaos (big-bang), its explosion 13.7 billion years ago projecting matter, energy and information in all directions. Evolution is done as a way to put order into this chaos. From their explosion, the materials formed inside them were launched into all spaces, creating galaxies, black holes, stars, our sun and the earth and everything in it.This chaos is unique: it has a destructive (chaotic) and a constructive (generative) dimension. As shown by Bohm, Lorenz and Prigorine, within this chaos a new order always forms, which emerges dominant as the destructiveness of chaos diminishes (without ever totally disappearing). Chaos erupts in all beings, also in us humans whenever a given order can no longer cope with the problems created. Thus we humans are chaotic and cosmetic, wise and demented, carriers of love and empathy and simultaneously of hate and exclusion.

At this moment with the dramatic presence of the coronavirus we are at the heart of a powerful chaos, affecting the whole planet and every single human. But it has made us discover the Earth as a whole, and that we are also Earth, a conscious part of it, and not its owners and masters. It made us discover that our human essence is made of collaboration/solidarity and the ethics of caring for each other and for nature. It showed us the urgency of building the Earth as a common motherland/homeland, as the Great House within which we live, nature included. The pandemic has raised the need for a planetary social pact so that we can live as a species in peace and with a minimum of tensions. The conclusion that we derive from this type of interpretation is that an old order has entered into irreversible chaos, but that within it a new order is being created (not without suffering), that is to say, a new way of inhabiting the Earth in synergy with nature, with fraternity and social love. This does not happen in the blink of an eye, for chaos has a long history and a slow agony. But it does not promise any hope, just more of the same, impossible to repeat, because the new order will have more power to convince and to assume hegemony in the conduction of history. Summary of the opera: we are not heading for our own grave but for a new kind of world. The dream of the World Social Forums will be realized not only as a new possible world, but as a new necessary world. Within it will be the various cultural worlds, Chinese, Indian, Andean, African and Brazilian, with their values and traditions, showing the diversity of ways of being human.

Where to start? Pope Francis in his encyclical Fratelli tutti says: we must start from below (because from above there is always more of the same or worse), with each person, with each locality, with each country, down to the last corner of the planet. Everything will begin in the territory (bioregionalism), not as it is artificially delimited by the political geography of the municipalities, but by the ways that nature has configured the territory with its mountains, its rivers, its forests, its soils, its landscapes, and especially with the population that for decades or centuries inhabited that place. Everything will be integrated into small and medium-sized production enterprises, starting with agroecology, with a new type of social-ecological democracy, recognizing the rights of nature and of Mother Earth, with the participation of all and with policies to reduce poverty to the maximum and the peaceful integration of all. The cultural traditions, the profane and religious festivals, the veneration of artists, of exemplary politicians, of their saints and sages, will conform the territory in which real sustainability can be realized.

We could represent the Earth as an immense tapestry woven of autonomous and interconnected territories constituting the new era of the Common House, of Mother Earth, the Mother of all struggles and all victories, cared for, loved, and inhabited by people who feel they are brothers and sisters because they are all sons and daughters of the Magna Mater, or better, they are the Earth herself, who feels, thinks, loves, cares, and venerates. We will be together in the joyful celebration of the Mystery of the world and of the miracle of our own existence, shared with the whole community of life. A utopia? Yes, but a necessary one, because the path of ascending evolution points there, represents the longing of all peoples, and also fulfills the Creator’s plan.


Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian, ecologist, writer and university professor exponent of the Liberation Theology. He is a former friar, member of the Franciscan Order, respected for his advocacy of social causes and environmental issues. Boff is a founding member of the Earthcharter Commission.

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