INTEGRAL ECOLOGY: Heal Our Mother Earth

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/ 22 April) — The first annual Earth Day celebration was observed in the United States on April 22, 1970 to promote a worldwide ecological consciousness. It has been said that one of the main events that led to this global celebration was the captivating beauty of the first Earth photograph from space (known as Earth Rise) taken by the astronauts of the Apollo 8 mission on Christmas Eve in 1968. Al Gore remarked that the Earth Rise photograph “exploded into the consciousness of humankind” and, within two years, it gave birth to “the modern environmental movement,”[1] including the annual Earth Day celebration.

Earth Rise, as photographed by the Apollo 8 crew on 24 December 1968. Photo credit: NASA

Moreover, our view of the Earth has dramatically unfolded when the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972 produced a fully illuminated picture of the Earth. So far, this is the last Earth photograph we have today, arguably the best picture and the most unique one taken by a human being from space which became the most commonly published Earth photograph in our time.

This picture of Earth is sometimes called the Blue Marble.
Photo credit: NASA

Significantly, the Earth photograph from space offers a new ecological worldview: “the Earth and humankind make up a single entity.[2] It reveals that “our fate is inseparably connected to the fate of the Earth and the cosmos of which Earth is a part.”[3]  It visualizes the ecological principle that “everything is related to everything else in all respects.”

The Wounded Earth is Bleeding

We know today that this small, fragile, and precious planet Earth is suffering from, at least, two bleeding wounds: dehumanizing poverty and the ecological crisis. The wound of dehumanizing poverty has been bleeding for centuries due to several forms of oppression and violence suffered by the poor children of the Earth from the hands of their perpetrators. Many of them are not just economically impoverished but also culturally despised by their oppressors. Such is the case of our poor indigenous peoples whose wounds continually bleed due to the ongoing historical injustices.

The wound of ecological crisis was the result of the systematic assault on the Earth. This was fueled by the modern paradigm of conquest used by Europeans who colonized the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and exploited their natural resources. Today, our generation makes use of technological violence to unsustainably exploit and greedily extract all the natural resources of our planet. In the Philippines, where 95% of the mining activities are open pit, the Earth is violently attacked on all sides in the guise of development.

The increasing ecological degradation in our planet produces both the global climate crisis and pandemic. According to the emerging scientific view, both global problems have their common root in the declining forest ecosystems. “Deforestation simultaneously adds to atmospheric carbon dioxide and forces bats and other animals that may be carrying disease into contact with humans, which was likely how this coronavirus originated.”[4] In any case, the poor unjustly suffer the worst effects of climate crisis and the pandemic.

An Integral Ecological Approach is Needed

We need to treat together the urgent concerns of poverty and the ecological crisis as one complex problem. In Laudato Si’ (LS), Pope Francis teaches that our option for the poor must include an option for the Earth, since “the earth herself is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” (LS 2). At the same time, he insists that our option for the Earth must also include the “preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (LS 158) who are “the most vulnerable people on the planet” (LS 48), “whose ability to defend their interests … is limited” (LS 186). It is morally inconsistent if one has a concern for the natural environment but remains unconcerned with the suffering of the poor.

We are challenged to overcome the tendency to view poverty and ecological crisis as two competing concerns. We have to correct the common mistake of reducing ecological advocacy simply to activities of protecting the natural environment as if human beings are not an integral part of nature. To do this, it is appropriate to see the conditions of poverty and all forms of social crisis as “ecological aggressions against the most complex being of creation, the human being.”[5] It would be pretentious to claim that we value God’s creation if we are blind to the marginalization and impoverishment of the most complex of creation—the human beings.

The holistic option to care for the poor and for the Earth is summed up in the notion of Integral Ecology, which is based on the ecological principle that “everything is inter-connected” (LS 70, 138, 240). This inclusive notion brings together the environmental, economic, social, cultural, and everyday life ecologies (see LS 138–55), including the ethical principles of the common good, human rights, intergenerational justice, and the intrinsic value of nature (LS 140). Thus, we are reminded to take care of Mother Earth as a whole—both her social and ecological dimensions.

Thanks to this running priest, Robert Selecios of the Diocese of Malaybalay, a zealous advocate of health and ecology, who organized an Earth Day 2021 Virtual Run with the theme “Heal Our Earth” participated by many Mindanawons. Photo credit: Fr. Reynaldo D. Raluto.

To Heal Mother Earth is Imperative

Thomas Berry (1914-2009), the distinguished Passionist priest and “geologian,” claimed that “There is much healing that must take place throughout the planet, healing that will at times require our assistance — although for the most part, the natural world will bring about its own healing, if only we will permit it to function within the dynamics of its own genius.”[6] This view affirms that our living planet has a self-regulating property as shown in its ability to heal itself. But how about if the damage or destruction of our living planet is already enormous?

Using the analogy of wound, it must be noted that our living body has the capacity to heal itself if its wound is just minor. But if the wound is deep and wide, our body can no longer heal itself. A severely wounded body urgently needs the help and intervention of healers.

Presumably, the wounds of Mother Earth are already beyond her self-regulating capacity to heal. Sadly, many of her wounds are our making. Thus, as part of our ecological reparation, it is our responsibility to help rehabilitate herself so as to allow her to regenerate herself and continue her evolution as she has done for four and a half billion years.[7] It is imperative for us to assist the self-healing of Mother Earth, our Common Home.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Reynaldo D. Raluto is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Malaybalay. He is the Academic Dean of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro where he also teaches fundamental/systematic theology and Catholic social teaching. He is the author of Poverty and Ecology at the Crossroads: An Ecological Theology of Liberation in the Philippine Context (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2015). His ecological advocacy includes planting/growing Philippine native trees, mountain climbing, and defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples.] 

[1] Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We can Do about It (New York: Melcher Media, 2006), 12.

[2]  Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, translated by Phillip Berryman (New York: Orbis Books, 1997), 14.

[3] Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, 14.

[4] Jeffrey Frankel, “The COVID-climate nexus,” in CGTN (October 1, 2020); https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-10-01/The-COVID-climate-nexus-Ue8KMopZ4s/index.html (date accessed: April 18, 2021).

[5] Leonardo Boff, “Social Ecology: Poverty and Misery,” in David Hallman, ed., Ecotheology: Voices from South and North (New York: Orbis Books, 1994): 235-247, on p. 237.

[6] Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 99.

[7] Leonardo Boff, “Respect and Care for the Community of Life with Understanding, Compassion, and Love,” in Peter Blaze Corcoran (ed.), The Earth Charter in Action: Toward a Sustainable World (Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2005), 43-46, on p. 44.

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