(Source: Leonardo Boff; translation: Novena)

When the coronavirus pandemic passes, we will not be allowed to return to the previous “normality”.

It would be, first of all, a show of contempt for the thousands of people who have been suffocated by the virus and a lack of solidarity with their family and friends.

Secondly, it would be the demonstration that we have learned nothing from what, more than a crisis, is an urgent call to change the way we live in our only Common Home.

It is a call from the living Earth itself, that self-regulating superorganism of which we are its intelligent and conscious part.

The current system endangers the foundations of life

To return to the previous configuration of the world, hegemonised by neoliberal capitalism – unable to resolve its internal contradictions and whose DNA is its greed for unlimited growth at the cost of the overexploitation of nature and its indifference to the poverty and misery of the great majority of the humanity that produces [that poverty] – is to forget that said configuration is shaking the ecological foundations that sustain all life on the planet.

To return to the previous “normality” (“business as usual”) is to prolong a situation that could mean our own self-destruction.

If we do not undertake a “radical ecological conversion”, in the words of Pope Francis, the living Earth might react and counterattack with even more violent viruses capable of making the human species disappear.

This is not a purely personal opinion, but the opinion of many biologists, cosmologists, and ecologists who are systematically following the increasing degradation of life-systems and the Earth-system.

Ten years ago (2010), as a result of my research in cosmology and in the new ecological paradigm, I wrote the book Cuidar da terra. Proteger a vida: como evitar o fim do mundo (“Caring for the Earth, protecting life: how to avoid the end of the world”).

The predictions I made have been fully confirmed by the current situation.

The capitalist and neoliberal project has been rejected

One of the lessons we have learned from the pandemic is this: if the ideals of neoliberal capitalism – competition, the private accumulation [of wealth], individualism, the primacy of the market over the life and minimization of the State – had been followed, most of humanity would be lost.

What has saved us has been cooperation, interdependence with one another, solidarity and a State sufficiently equipped to offer the possibility of universal coronavirus treatment, in the case of Brazil, the Unified Healthcare System (Sistema Único de Saúde, SUS).

We have made some discoveries: we need a global social contract, because we continue to be hostages to the obsolete sovereignty of each country. Global problems require a global solution, agreed upon between all countries.

We have seen the disaster in the European Community, in which each country had its plan without considering the necessary cooperation with other countries. There was a widespread devastation in Italy, in Spain and lately in the United States, where healthcare is totally privatised.

Another discovery has been the urgency of a plural centre of world government so as to guarantee for the whole community of life (not only humans but all living beings) sufficient enough to live decently.

Natural goods and services are scarce and many of them are not renewable. With them we must satisfy the basic demands of the life-system, also thinking about future generations.

It is the opportune moment to create a universal minimum income for all, the persistent preaching of the brave and worthy politician Eduardo Suplicy.

A community of shared destiny

The Chinese have clearly seen this demand by promoting “a community of shared destiny for all humanity”, a text incorporated into the renewed article 35 of the Chinese Constitution.

This time, we will either all be saved, or we will swell the procession of those heading to the collective grave.

That is why we must urgently change our way of relating to nature and the Earth, not as lords, riding on it, squandering it, but as conscious and responsible parties, putting ourselves next to it and at its feet, caretakers of all life.

We must confront the famous TINA of the culture of capital – “There Is No Alternative” – with another TINA, “There Is A New Alternative”.

If in the first alternative the central place was occupied by profit, the market and the domination of nature and of others (imperialism), in this second it will be life in its great diversity, also human life with its many cultures and traditions, that which will organise the new way of inhabiting the Common Home.

That much is imperative and within human possibilities: we have science and technology, we have a tremendous accumulation of monetary wealth… but the vast majority of humanity and – what’s worse – of heads of government are lacking an awareness of the need and the political will to implement [a change].

Perhaps, in the face of the real risk of our disappearance as a species – for having reached the point where the Earth can take no more – our survival instinct makes us sociable, fraternal, solidary with each other and everyone a collaborator.

The time for competition has passed. Now is the time for cooperation.

The inauguration of a bio-centered civilisation

I believe that we will inaugurate a bio-centered, thoughtful and life-friendly civilisation, as some say, “the land of good hope”. It will be possible to live out the “good living and coexistence” of the Andean peoples: the harmony of each with one another; in the family, in society, with the other beings of nature, with the waters, with the mountains and even with the stars of the firmament.

As Nobel laureate in Economics Joseph Stiglitz has rightly said: “We will have a science not at the service of the market, but a market at the service of science”. And, I would add, a science at the service of life.

We will not get out of the coronavirus pandemic as we went into it. There will surely be significant changes, perhaps even structural ones.

The well-known indigenous leader, Ailton Krenak, from the Rio Doce valley, has rightly said:

“I don’t know if we’ll come out of this experience the same way we went into it. It is like a jolt to see what really matters; the future is here and now, we may not be alive tomorrow; Hopefully we will not return to normal” (O Globo, 05/01/2020, B 6).

Logically, we cannot think that the transformations will take place from one day to the next.

It is understandable that factories and chains of production want to return to the previous logic. But they will no longer be acceptable.

They must undergo a reconversion process in which the entire industrial and agro-industrial apparatus of production must bring in the ecological factor as an essential element.

Corporate social responsibility is not enough. Socio-ecological responsibility will be imposed.

Alternative energies to fossil fuels will be sought, less impactful on ecosystems. More care will be taken with the atmosphere, [and the] waters and forests. The protection of biodiversity will be fundamental for the future of life and for food for humans and for the whole community of life.

What kind of Earth do we want for the future?

There will surely be a great discussion about what kind of future we want and what kind of Earth we want to inhabit.

[About] what will be the most appropriate configuration for the current phase of the Earth and of humanity itself, the phase of planetisation and the increasingly clear perception that we have no common home to inhabit other than this one. And that we have a common, happy or tragic, destiny. To be happy, we must take care of it so that we all, including nature, can fit inside.

There is a real risk of polarisation of binary models: on the one hand, the movements of integration [nd] of general cooperation and, on the other, the reaffirmation of national sovereignties with their protectionism. On the one hand, “natural” and green capitalism and on the other hand, third-generation reinvented communism as predicted by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek.

Others fear a process of radical brutalisation by the “owners of economic and military power” to secure their privileges and capital.

It would be despotism in a different way because it would be based on cybermedia and artificial intelligence with its complex algorithms, a system of surveillance on all the people on the planet. Social life and freedoms would be permanently threatened.

But every power will always have a counterpower. There would be great confrontations and conflicts due to the exclusion and misery of millions of people who, despite the vigilance, will not settle for the crumbs that fall from the tables of the rich Diveses.

Not a few propose ‘glocalisation’, that is to say, that the accent be placed locally, in the regional with its geological, physical, ecological and cultural specificity but open to the global that involves everyone.

In this bioregionalism, a truly sustainable development could be achieved, taking advantage of local goods and services.

Practically everything would be made in the region, with smaller companies, by means of agro-ecological production, without the need for the long transportation that consumes energy and pollutes.

Culture, arts and traditions would be revived as an important part of social life. Governance would be participatory, reducing inequalities in complex societies and reducing poverty, something which is always possible.

It is this thesis that cosmologist Mark Hathaway and I defend in our joint book The Tao of Liberation (2010), that was so well received in scientific circles and among ecologists that Fritjof Capra offered to contribute an interesting preface.

Others see the possibility of a planetary ecosocialism, capable of achieving what capitalism, due to its competitive and exclusive essence, is incapable of managing: a world social contract, egalitarian and inclusive, respectful of nature, in which the ‘we’ (the community and societal) and not the ‘self’ (individualism) would be the structuring axis of societies and the world community. Planetary ecosocialism found in the French-Brazilian Michael Löwy its most brilliant formulator.

We would have, as both the Earth Charter as well as Pope Francis’ encyclical “on the care of the Common Home” reaffirmed, a truly sustainable way of life and not just sustainable development.

In the end, we would go from an industrial/consumerist society to a lifelong support society with sober and solidary consumption; from a culture of accumulation of material goods to a humanistic-spiritual culture in which intangible assets such as solidarity, social justice, cooperation, emotional ties, and not least of all love and the logique du coeur, would be at its foundations.

We do not know which trend will prevail. The human being is complex and indecipherable; he moves by benevolence but also by brutality.

He is complete but not fully finished yet. He will learn, through mistakes and successes, that the best configuration for human coexistence with all other beings of Mother Earth must be guided by the logic of the universe itself: this universe is structured, as notable cosmologists and quantum physicists tell us, according to complex networks of inter-retro-relations.

Everything is relationship. There is nothing outside of relationship. Every thing helps each other to continue existing and to co-evolve. The human being himself is a rhizome (root bulb) of relationships in all directions.

If I may say it in theological terms: [the human] is the image and likeness of Divinity that emerges as the intimate relationship of three Infinites, each singular (singularities can’t be added together): Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who exist eternally the one for the other, with the other, in the other and through the other, constituting a God-communion of love, goodness and infinite beauty.

Times of crisis like ours, of passing from one type of world to another, are also times of great dreams and utopias. [Crises] are what move us towards the future, incorporating the past but leaving our own mark on the ground of life.

It is easy to follow the footprints left by others, but that does not lead us to any hopeful path.

We must make our own mark, marked by the inexhaustible hope of life’s victory, because the path is made by walking and dreaming. So let’s get going.

More by Boff on Novena:

Liberation theologian Boff: “Capitalism is only good for the rich; for the rest it is hell and for nature, a war”

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

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

Liberation theologian Boff blames coronavirus on “retaliation of Gaia”


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