To Whom Does The Earth Belong? - América Latina en Movimiento
ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento

2009-06-05

To Whom Does The Earth Belong?

Leonardo Boff
Clasificado en: Social, MedioAmbiente, Economia,
Disponible en:   English       Portugues    


There is a great deal of discussion in Brazil about the internationalization of the Amazon, or to whom does this rich portion of planet Earth belong. Without entering into this discussion, which I will address on another day, I see this question as sending us to another, even more fundamental one: to whom does the Earth belong?

There are many possible replies, some are true, others insufficient or even false. With a certain degree of ease we could reply: the Earth belongs to the human race. We could appeal to the Word of Scriptures that says: «I have given you all things ... be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly from the Earth, and multiply therein.»  (Genesis, 9,3-7.)  Strangely, humans burst onto the evolution scene when the Earth was 99.98% ready. Humans were not present at her birth, nor did she need them to organize her complexity and biodiversity. How can she belong to them? Only ignorance, coupled with arrogance, makes them claim possession of the Earth.

We could also answer: the Earth belongs to the most numerous of the beings that inhabit her. Then, she belongs to the microorganisms —bacteria, fungi, virus— because they constitute 95% of all living beings. According to noted biologist E. Wilson, a gram of earth contains about 10,000 million bacteria, of six thousand different species. Let's imagine the quintillions of quintillions of microorganisms that inhabit the totality of earthly soil. They all have more right to possession of the Earth that we do, due to their antiquity, their numbers, or their function of guaranteeing the vitality of the planet.

Or maybe the Earth belongs to the totality of the ecosystems that serve the community of life, regulating the climate and the physical-chemical composition of the planet. This reply is good, but insufficient because it ignores the relationships that the Earth maintains with the energies and the elements of the universe.

Thus, the Earth belongs to the solar system that, in turn, belongs to our galaxy, The Milky Way, which finally, belongs to the cosmos. The Earth is one moment of a 13,700 million year old evolutionary process.

But this reply is not satisfactory, because it sends us to the ultimate question: and to whom does the cosmos belong? It belongs to that background Energy, to the Quantum Vacuum, to the Abyss that nourishes all beings, to the Source whence all originates. This is the reply astrophysicists and cosmologists usually give. And it is the correct one. But still, it is not the end of the matter.

A final question is inevitable: to whom does the background Energy of the universe belong?  One could answer simply: it belongs to no-one, because it belongs to itself.  But that is a non-reply, because it brings us to a wall. Rather, it sends us to theology, to God.

Changing gears and coming down to our everyday and brutal economic reality: to whom does the Earth belong?  In fact, it belongs to those who hold power, to those who control the markets, to those who buy and sell their soil, their goods and services, water, genes, seeds, human organs, persons - all are converted to merchandise. These people claim to own the Earth, and to dispose of her as they see fit.

But they are ridiculous owners, because they forget they do not own themselves, or their origins, or even their own deaths.

To whom does the Earth belong?  I hold to the most sensible and satisfactory reply as given by the various religions, well represented by the Judeo-Christian tradition. In it, God says: «for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.» (Lv 25,23).  God is the only Lord of the Earth and has not given rights of ownership to anyone. We are temporal hosts and simple caretakers, with a mission to make of her what she was once, the garden of Eden.

- Leonardo Boff, Theologian, Earthcharter Commission

(Free translation from the Spanish by  contacto@servicioskoinonia.org, Refugio del Rio Grande, Texas)



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