By Rajith D. Fernando
Were, say, a Filipino peasant in Cebu to have fallen asleep in 1021 AD and woken up 500 years later in 1521. He would probably be shocked by the arrival of the white-skinned aliens lead by an unscrupulous man named Ferdinand Magellan,who started butchering his fellow peasants that rebelled against them. Despite many changes in the life of a Filipino peasant over the course of five hundred years, he would still feel ‘at home’ in Cebu. The surroundings, weather and natural resources would be the same even though he has just woken up from a five-hundred-year nap. But,say, had Magellan and his sailors fallen into a similar slumber and woken up to the ringtone of a twenty-first-century i-Phone, he would, I’m sure, have found himself in a world strange beyond comprehension. “Am I in heaven?”, he might well have asked himself. “Or perhaps hell?” He would perhaps be glad to realize that the government has taken up his task of killing peasants and acquiring their lands by force.
Undoubtedly, the last five hundred years have witnessed a phenomenal and an unprecedented growth in human power. Statistically speaking, in the year 1500 AD, there were about 500 million Homo sapiens in the entire world. Today, there are 7 billions of them. The total value of goods and services produced by humankind in the year 1522 is estimated at $250 billion in today’s dollars. Nowadays the value of a year of human production is close to $60 trillion. In 1522, humanity consumed about 13 trillion calories of energy per day and today we consume about 1500 trillion calories a day. Wait a second. Look at the numbers again. Our population has increased fourteen-fold, production 240-fold and energy consumption 115-fold. But our earth is the same size still as four billion years ago. The figure are scary. Now let’s talk about biodiversity.
2. Web of life and Homo sapiens: Are we the Spider at the Center of the Web?
Evolutionary biology has it that, seventy thousand years ago, Homo sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa. In the following millennia it transformed itself into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem. We have not only climbed to the top of the food pyramid but also secured our permanent place at the very centre of the web of life like a spider in a spider web. Homo sapiens, we call ourselves, meaning ‘wise man’. How wise are we? We have unwined the web of Life and increased the extinction of animals by a thousand times the normal rate. What a feat!
The Quantum theory says that we are made of tiny little particles dancing with energy. If this is true, millions of years ago, the atomic particles in my body would have been in the body of a bird, a lion, a mountain, a tree in the amazon etc. My task here, however, is not to prove if the theory is true or not but to admit the fact that we humans are not isolated from the planetary web of life. The fact that we are all interconnected is undeniable, whether we like it or not. Quite regrettably, “we have been brainwashed in individualism and isolationism. We are victims of a cultural ego-trip into estrangement and alienation” There’s no doubt that biodiversity is a blessing of God. But the question we ought to ask ourselves is; For whom is this blessing? Assuming that all who read this essay are Homo sapiens, the issue is that we think this blessing is for our consumption, entertainment and enjoyment. Afterall, we are God’s people created in His image’ aren’t we? The biggest share of the pie is ours!
3. Enemy of Biodiversity : Human Fear of Nature and the Nature of Human Fear
Biodiversity is a gift which took millions of years to be shaped into what it is today. Despite being created in God’s image and likeness we are proud to have brought the curtain down permanently for many species of animals and cleared forests to build habitats. We continue to wreak havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never being satisfied. Today, we have expanding deserts, disappearing ice caps, rising oceans. We enjoy the pride of dominating, possessing, manipulation and exploiting. God never gets tired of giving us blessings. As C.S. Lewis said, “God loves us not because we are lovable but because he is love” We are not the center of the universe. What we are as individuals, and what we will become in the future, is determined by the quality of our interdependence on others-humans and nonhumans alike. Perhaps the Red-Indian alpha male, Sealtle was a wiser (sapiens) Homo as he said a century ago: “We did not weave the web of life-we are merely a strand init. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves” Not only that, our alpha male, Pope laments: “Tragically, the human response to this gift has been marked by sin, selfishness and a greedy desire to possess and exploit. Egoism and self-interest have turned creation, a place of encounter and sharing into an arena of competition and conflict.”
4. Human Being: The Ecological Mass Murderer
Unfortunately, this existential crisis of our times, namely the ecological crisis, is hardly registered in political radars of our leaders. We humans are destabilising the global biosphere on multiple fronts. We are hardly aware of the myriad ways in which we disrupt the delicate ecological balance that has been shaped over millions of years. Habitats are degraded, animals and plants are becoming extinct and entire ecosystems such as the Australian Great Barrier reef and the Amazon rainforest are being destroyed. For thousands of years Homo sapiens behaved as an ecological serial killer; now it is morphing into an ecological mass murderer. In fact, we are the greatest enemy of biodiversity who will sooner or later cause the total annihilation of it. We seem to forget this and Pope Francis always has to remind us: “We were created not to be tyrants, but to be at the heart of a network of life made up of millions of species lovingly joined together for us by our creator”
5. Season of Creation in An Age of Destruction
We have heard so much on this. From Ted-Talks to Facebook videos, seminars, workshops to encyclicals and CBCP documents, we have been informed that there’s an urgent need. We all know that we have already reached the tipping point and that something needs to be done immediately. Now! But who will do it. Of course, 7 billion people have 7 billion agendas and why should I bother?
A single mother in the barangay in Davao, struggling to raise three children is focused on what she is going to cook for her children for dinner; a fisherman in Cavite is more concerned about his own problems; and a dying man in a hospital in Manila gathers all his strength to take in one more breath. They all have far more urgent problems than climate change and global warming. Climate change may be far beyond the concerns of people in the midst of a life-and-death emergency, but it might eventually make the Davao barangays uninhabitable, kills all the fish in the sea, and lead to a worldwide crisis in healthcare.
What is even more scary is this. According to environmental scientists, when the temperature reaches a high point, the ice will melt faster and once this goes out of hand, it become irreversible! We cannot stop it even if we stop burning coal, oil, and gas altogether. It is not enough that we recognise the danger, organise awareness-raising campaigns, listen to Ted-talk of Greta Thunberg or even celebrate the season of creation and hold essay competitions. But it is more important that we need to make a collective effort to do something before it is ‘too late’. When everything is said and done, we continue with our ‘business as usual’ while the lungs of the earth, the Amazon rainforest is on fire when this essay being written. The amount of care we give is as small as the period at the end of this sentence. The irony is that we are more carried away by the fact that Justin Bieber is sending two private planes full of water to put out the fire in Amazon than the fact that an area as large as the Philippines in Amazon is on fire and animals are being burned by the thousands.
6. Ecological Vocation
We have an ecological vocation. Biodiversity is the original blessing tarnished by our original sin. A blessing is to be shared not to be owned and manipulated. Pope Francis has been shouting from the rooftop of the Vatican ever since he assumed Papacy calling everyone to an ecological conversion. “We must not look at nature as an enemy to dominate and overcome but rather learn again to cooperate with nature. She has four ad a half billions of experience. Ours is considerably shorter.” (Hans Peter-Durr, German Physicist) We must remember that worship God in the Cathedral of the natural world. We must never forget that, “we humans are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures. Thanks to our bodies, God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement” We ought to strive both in and out of the season of creation for the liberation of the poor and the earth from out ego-cetric ways. “Everything is interconnected out of relatedness, sustained through relationships, and thrives no interdependence.”
I only hope that neither Magellan nor the 11th century Filipino farmer would not come back to life. For, they might commit suicide in shame of their fellow humans. Whether we like it or not, we have to admit that we have become addicts. Like any addict, we deny and disown that fact. Therefore, we must enter a rehab and confess our ecological sins: “Hi! I am a Homo sapiens and I’m addicted to fuels, natural resources and everything that nature has given for free. I am a killer. I kill biodiversity.”
Perhaps St. Paul has something to teach us. We must ‘put on Christ’, which is to say, putting a new mind that resonates with the mind of Christ until we could say “I live, but not I but Christ lives in me.” Not only does Christ lives in me, but Christ permeates all creation, as Paul taught. We must have a ‘cosmic spirituality’, thus we may act and live in conformity with a Christ-saturated mind and heart, seeing things in their salvifically conducive nature, then everything on earth (i.e., the whole story of God’s creation and the whole story of God’s people and opening up into a new age of the Final Resurrection) makes sense as the irruption of god’s Redemptively Royal Presence which had already exploded as a cosmic event such as the darkness that lasted several hours on Calvary on that Friday which we rightly call ‘good’ ever since.
Lastly, as Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, a lover of God and a lover of the cosmos said, we must be people with a cosmic sense. He said: The day is not far distant when humanity will realize that biologically it is faced with a choice between suicide and adoration. Our science, philosophy and religion are running out of time. “Now is the time to repent, to be converted and to return to our roots. We are beloved creatures of God, who in his goodness calls us to live it in communion with the rest of creation” Let’s take better care of this blessing.
BRO. RAJITH DULANJAYA FERNANDO C.Ss.R