We have a problem: living with our eyes open without letting ourselves be defeated

Environment • June 7, 2022 • Joan Benach

It’s July 20, 1969. The Apollo 11 manned space mission lands on our moon, and a few hours later, Neil Armstrong takes his first steps on the lunar surface, filling the world with surprise and admiration. With this realization arises the deep emotion of feeling an intimate union with an Earth that drives us to love and protect it, the home of all humans we have known and will most likely know.

Four years earlier, Russian astronaut Aleksei Leonov had made the first spacewalk in history, expressing that the Earth is “our home, small, blue, and touchingly lonely,” a point lost in the surrounding cosmic darkness.

The preparation, realization and subsequent follow-up of the first trip to the moon was a long, expensive and difficult process, full of successes, but also of many difficulties. “A small step for man, a giant leap for humanity,” Armstrong said as he set foot on the moon, symbolizing the enormous human achievement. But another expression, often used as a joke when faced with a setback, has become even more popular: “Houston, we have a problem.”

Dawn of the Earth. [Photo: William Anders, December 24, 1968.]

The Earth has a problem

Today, it is not Apollo but the Earth that has a big problem. Of course, humanity faces many problems: growing social inequality, the danger of a nuclear war, the movement towards an authoritarian and plutocratic society under strict global technodigital control, the rise of neo-fascism, the the emergence of pandemics, mass social control and surveillance, new collective addictions, the global geopolitical risks arising from the decline of the American empire and the emergence of China, and many others.

Today, that blue balloon suspended in an infinite, dark space has an even bigger problem, if possible, the biggest challenge we have ever faced, a challenge that keeps knocking on our door: the crisis socioecological. No, it’s not just about cleaning up our rivers, planting trees, caring for forests, recycling products or encouraging the use of renewable energy, all of which are essential and urgent initiatives. Nor do I mean the crucial fact that we are facing a climate emergency that is already having dire consequences. Our problem is more complex; it’s something else.

The land is our home. Our planet is the only world in which we know for sure that the matter of the Cosmos has become alive and conscious, although it is not necessarily the only one that can be inhabited. The first time humanity saw “our smallness” took place on Christmas Eve 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission, when a photograph exploded the consciousness of our species.

That day, the poet Archibald MacLeish wrote:

“To see the Earth as it really is, small, blue and beautiful in this eternal silence where it floats, is to see us together as riders on Earth, brothers of this bright beauty in the eternal cold, brothers who now know that they are … truly brothers. ”

In his books and television shows, astronomer and science broadcaster Carl Sagan recalled that we are the legacy of 15 billion years of cosmic evolution and that we have the pleasure of living on a planet where we have evolved by to be able to breathe the air, drink the water and love the nature around us. Our cells have been forged in the heart of the stars. “We’re star dust,” he used to say. Today we are faced with an absolutely new circumstance, unprecedented in the history of mankind. We have created a civilization in which we have achieved great social progress and technological advances, but where, willingly or unwillingly, we have profoundly (and increasingly rapidly) altered the global environment and life on our planet. We no longer understand that we are part of nature, and that makes us a danger to all life on Earth, including ourselves. The Chilean poet Nicanor Parra warned that we have made the mistake of “believing that the Earth was ours when the truth is that we belong to the Earth,” and that we continue to have an anthropocentric, scientific-technological, and narcissistic way. of thought based on an “ego consciousness” rather than an “ecological consciousness.”

We tend to be blind, to attenuate what threatens us, to attenuate what is harmful or negative, not to look at what we do not like. Despite being before our eyes every day, we do not see, we do not hear, we do not understand; we do not want to become fully aware of the atrocious socio-environmental crisis in which we are immersed. We find it hard to believe the incessant and frightening warnings that scientists are constantly throwing at us. It is worth noting that we find many reasons to ignore voices, and that many people, social groups and institutions do their best to prevent us from listening. However, it is essential that we understand that it is not enough to enjoy the goods, resources and well-being that nature brings us; we also need to understand each other and understand each other. This awareness must come from a clean, scientific, ethical-political and spiritual human gaze at the same time. It is not enough to enjoy electric light, said Brazilian Dominican friar Frei Betto; it is necessary to understand how and why it occurs: “[O]Only those who have been trained as electricians know how to look at it with different eyes, because they understand how light reaches the room … this is political awareness: seeing the wires, knowing what is going on behind the scenes ”. The first is to know. In a well-known essay, the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant recalled an old slogan coined by Horace (1st century BC): Sapere Aude. He said, “He who has begun, has already done half: dare you know, he begins.”

Tiny and fragile habitat

For a long time, the planet seemed to us immense, the only world that could be explored. For a million years, mankind believed that we were the center of the world, that apart from the Earth there was no other place. Today, the Earth has become very small. In the last phase of the life of our species on the planet, we have realized that we live in a tiny and fragile world lost in immensity and eternity, adrift in a great cosmic ocean.

On February 14, 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft photographed the Earth from six billion kilometers away. It was an almost imperceptible point of light.

The Earth at a distance of six billion km from Earth by Voyager 1 in 1990.

Carl Sagan expressed his feelings in a spectacular way when he saw that photograph:

“Look at this point again. This is here. This is home. This is us. This is it. All you love, all you know, all you have heard, all human beings who lived, lived. All our joy and suffering, thousands of religions, ideologies and trusted economic doctrines, every hunter and gatherer, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful son, inventor and explorer, every moral teacher, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, all the saints and sinners in the history of our species lived there, on a grain of dust suspended in a ray of sunshine The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena … Our postures, our imagined self-importance, the deception that we have a privileged position in the Universe, are they are challenged by this pale spot of light. “

Human beings live in an environment that we model and that shapes us at the same time. We inhabit a natural world created over billions of years by the processes of physics, chemistry, and biology. We are just one of the species.

We are able to build comfortable homes to cater for our seniors as well as large 26-lane highways. We invent books or the global Internet, and we also build deadly nuclear weapons. We can explore the Poles and visit the Moon or Mars, create musical beauty and develop elegant and powerful scientific theories and highly efficient technologies. We remake nature to our size … we are a species capable of almost anything. We are not one more species.

We live in two worlds that are constantly interacting: the natural ecosphere or biosphere – the thin global skin formed by air, water, earth and the plants and animals that live there – and the technosphere created by humans, with all the devices and products that we have been able to invent. Two worlds at war, as the great biologist and ecologist Barry Commoner reminded us.

Today’s human capacity to exercise enough power to intervene decisively on nature has its origins in the capitalist industrial revolution that began in the late eighteenth century. In the last century we have witnessed the expansion of an unstoppable fossil fuel capitalism, and in the last five decades, the economic and ideological triumph of a neoliberal and cognitive capitalism, capable of creating exponential growth and wonderful technologies, but also of destroy. social bonds and deep solidarity, encouraging mass consumption and empty entertainment as a way of life and personal “fulfillment”. The triumph of neoliberal capitalism has been vast and very profound, at all levels, everywhere.

Today, the capitalist system does not seem capable of creating “welfare states” for all of humanity, not even, as the long-remembered Spanish urban planner and ecologist Ramón Fernández Durán called “welfare simulations.” Capitalism is a materiality that encompasses everything that destroys, builds and consumes. Mercantilization extends from the microcosm to the macrocosm, encompassing all spheres of life and things: health, education, nature, knowledge, culture, art, sports, the body … The body is analyzed, fragmented , is marketed and eventually sold as one more commodity. . Genetically modified genes, bacteria, seeds, …

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