In Defense of the Nameless, Invisible Workers
ENVIRONMENT, 28 August 2017
Leonardo Boff – TRANSCEND Media Service
20 Aug 2017 – In spite of the threats to our Common Home, the Earth, attacked on all fronts by the type of culture that we have developed in the last two centuries, limitless exploitation of her finite goods and services, essentially for the material accumulation of a few; in spite of everything she continues to generously offer us the beauty of the fruits, flowers, plants, animals and broad bio-diversity.
I am impressed by the tiny red and yellow flowers of the three vases that hang outside one of my windows. They happily smile to the universe. That reminds me of the phrase of the German mystic poet, Ángel Silesius, who says: «the flower does not have a why, the flower flourishes just to flower, the flower does not worry if she is being seen or not, the flower simply flourishes to flower».
We know that only a 5% of life is visible. The rest is invisible, made up of microorganisms, bacteria, virus and fungi. I have already written about this here and I repeat it with the words of one of the main living biologists, Edward O. Wilson: «only in one gram of earth, that is, in less than a handful, there are about 10 billion live bacteria, belonging to up to 6 thousand different species» (The Creation: how to save life on Earth, 2008, p. 26). If that is so only in a handful of earth, image the trillions of trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the Earth’s subsoil. That is why James Lovelock and his group are correct when they affirm that the Earth is a living super organism; not in the sense of an immense animal, but in the sense of a self regulating system that expresses the physical, chemical and ecological in such an intelligent and subtle form that it always produces and reproduces life. James Lovelock called her Gaia, a Greek name for the living Earth.
In nature nothing is superfluous. With a certain sense of humor Pope Francis wrote his encyclical letter, “On the Caring for the Common Home” making reference to Saint Francis, who would ask the friars to «leave a part of the field for the wild weeds», because they in their own way also praise the Creator.
We must care for these anonymous workers that guarantee the fertility of the soil and are responsible for the unimaginable diversity of her beings, the many fruits, the wide variety of flowers, the diversity of plants, and also the existence of human beings, each in their different ways of being what and who they are. With the billions of liters of agro-toxic (only in Brazil around 760 billion liters are poured on the ground) we are threatening and killing them. Humanity is the first species in the history of life that has already been around for 3.8 billion years, that has become a lethal geophysical force. Humanity is the low meteor, capable of generating, for its lack of caring and for the death machine it has created, the conditions for the extermination of visible life and of our civilization. There are those who say that therefore a new geological era has been inaugurated, the anthropocentric era. But to those microorganisms that is meaningless. A naturalist, Jacob Monod, launched the idea that, due to the failure of our species, perhaps another being will arise, capable of holding the spirit that will be more loving of life. Let’s consider these facts: of the small living and visible organisms, such as the ants, there are about 10 thousand billion, with a weight equivalent to the whole human population of 7.5 billion people. The insects, by the billions, are responsible for the pollination of the flowers that, eventually, will give fruits.
Who could image that a simple wild herb from Madagascar would supply alkaloids that cure the majority of cases of acute childhood leukemia? Or that an obscure fungus from Norway would provide a substance that facilitates organ transplants? Even more surprising: from the saliva of leeches a blood thinner has been developed that prevents its coagulation during surgery.
As is deduced, all beings posses value in and of themselves, for the simple fact of having arisen throughout the millions of years of evolution, and of being generously useful to their brothers and sisters, the human beings. The species considered “harmful” that, in fact, are wild, enrich the soil, clean the waters, and pollinate the majority of flowering plants. Without them, our lives would be more vulnerable to disease, and could be much shorter. That legion of microorganisms and miniscule invertebrates, especially the nematodes that constitute four fifths of all living beings on the Earth, as biologists tell us, are neither useless nor fail to fulfill their function in the cosmogenic process. We need them to survive. They do not need us.
Saint Francis walked softly over the Earth, for fear of killing even a small bug. We walk trampling, unaware that, hidden in the subsoil, there are members of the community of life.
Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian, ecologist, writer and university professor exponent of the Liberation Theology. He is a former friar, member of the Franciscan Order, respected for his advocacy of social causes and environmental issues. Boff is a founding member of the Earthcharter Commission.
Translation by Melina Alfaro at Refugio Del Rio Grande, Texas, USA.