(Source: Leonardo Boff; translation: Novena)

Many have seen it clearly: after the coronavirus, it will no longer be possible to continue the project of capitalism as a mode of production, nor of neoliberalism as its political expression.

Capitalism is only good for the rich; for the rest it is purgatory or hell, and for nature, a relentless war.

What is saving us is not competition – the main engine [of capitalism – ed.] – but cooperation; not individualism – its cultural expression – but the interdependence of everyone with everyone.

But let’s get to the point: we have discovered that the supreme value is life, not the accumulation of material goods.

The war apparatus we’ve set up – capable of destroying life on Earth several times over – has proven ridiculous against an invisible microscopic enemy that threatens all of humanity.

Could this be the Next Big One (NBO) that biologists fear, the next big virus” that destroys the future of life?

We don’t think so. We hope that Earth continues to have compassion on us and is giving us only a kind of ultimatum.

Given that the threatening virus comes from nature, social isolation offers us the opportunity to ask ourselves: what was and how should our relationship be with nature and, more generally, with the Earth as our Common Home?

Medicine and techne, although very necessary, are not enough. Their function is to attack the virus until it is exterminated. But if we continue to attack the living Earth, “our home… with a unique community of life”, as the Earth Charter says (Preamble), it will strike back again with more lethal pandemics until one exterminates us.

Most of humanity and the heads of state are not aware that we are now in the sixth mass extinction. Until now we did not feel part of nature, nor [did we realise we are] its conscious part.

Our relationship is not the relationship you have with a living being, Gaia, which has value in itself and must be respected, but instead [a relationship] of mere use for our comfort and enrichment.

We are exploiting the Earth violently to the point that 60% of land has been eroded, in the same proportion as the rainforests, and we cause an astonishing devastation of species, between 70 to 100,000 a year.

This is the current reality of the Anthropocene and the Necrocene. If we continue down this road we’ll meet our destruction head-on.

We have no other alternative than to undertake, in the words of the papal encyclical “on the care of the Common Home”, a “radical ecological conversion”.

In this sense, the coronavirus is not a crisis like others, but a demand for a amicable and careful relationship with nature.

How can we implement that [a “radical ecological conversion”] in a world dedicated to the exploitation of all ecosystems? There are no ready-made projects. Everyone is searching.

The worst thing that could happen to us would be, after the pandemic, to go back to what we had before: factories producing at full steam with little ecological care.

We know that large corporations are working together to make up for lost time and profits.

But it must be recognised that this conversion cannot be sudden, but instead [must be] gradual.

When French President Macron said that “the lesson of the pandemic is that there are goods and services that must be taken off the market”, it sparked a race on the part of dozens of the major environmental organisations, such as Oxfam, Attac and others, calling for the 750 billion euros of European Central Bank money destined to remedy company losses to be destined instead to the social and ecological reconversion of the productive apparatus for the sake of a greater care for nature and more social justice and equality.

Logically, this will only be done by broadening the debate, involving all kinds of groups – from the participation of citizens to that of scientists – until a collective conviction and responsibility emerge.

We must be fully aware of one thing: as global warming and world population increase, habitats will be destroyed and humans will be brought closer to animals; animals will transmit more viruses, to which we will not be immune, and that will find new hosts in us. From there will come the devastating pandemics.

The essential and inalienable point is the new conception of the Earth, no longer as a business market that places us as lords (dominus), outside and above it, but as a living super-entity: a self-regulating and self-creating system of which we are the conscious and responsible party, together with other beings as brothers (frater).

The transition from dominus (owner) to frater (brother) will require a new mind and a new heart; that is, to see Earth differently and to feel with our hearts our belonging to it and to the Great All.

Coupled with this, the sense of inter-retro-relationship of all with all and a collective responsibility towards the common future.

Only in this way will we arrive, as the Earth Charter predicts, to “a sustainable way of life” and to a guarantee of the future of life and of Mother Earth.

The current phase of social seclusion can be a kind of thoughtful and humanistic retreat to think about such things and about our responsibility towards them. It is urgent and time is short; we mustn’t get there too late.

More by Boff, on Novena:

Liberation theologian, on coronavirus: “All individualism, soul of the culture of capital, is false and anti-human”

Theologian Boff warns on coronavirus: “This pandemic demands a different relationship with nature and the Earth”

Cardinal, theologian blame coronavirus on “rich countries’ aimless experiments”, “retaliation of Gaia”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.