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UN: “We are all sons, daughters of Earth”
September-October 2009

The following article includes excerpts from the address given by Maryknoll Father Miguel D’Escoto, president of the UN General Assembly, at the beginning of the UN Conference on the Financial and Economic Crisis in July 2009. His entire address and concluding remarks are available here.

… It is neither humane nor responsible to build a Noah’s Ark only to save the existing economic system, leaving the vast majority of humanity to their fate and to suffer the negative effects of a system imposed by an irresponsible but powerful minority. We must take decisions that affect us all collectively to the greatest extent possible, including the broad community of life and our common home, Mother Earth …

First of all, we must overcome an oppressive past and forge a hopeful future. It must be acknowledged that the current economic and financial crisis is the end result of an egoistical and irresponsible way of living, producing, consuming and establishing relationships among ourselves and with nature that involved systematic aggression against Earth and its ecosystems and a profound social imbalance, an analytical expression that masked a perverse global social injustice. In my opinion, we have reached the final frontier. We seem to have reached the end of the road travelled thus far, and if we continue along this way, we could arrive at the same destiny which has already befallen the dinosaurs.

… From this perspective, it is essential to seek what the Earth Charter calls “a sustainable way of life.” This implies a shared vision of the values and principles promoting a particular way of inhabiting this world that guarantees the well-being of present and future generations. As great as the danger we all face from the convergence of these various problems is, the opportunity for salvation that the global crisis is helping us or forcing us to discover is even greater.

We have built a globalized economy. Now is the time to create globalized policy and ethics based on the many cultural experiences and traditions of our peoples…

The viewpoint that comes to us from the so-called earth sciences, that the Earth is contained within a vast, complex and evolving cosmos, must be incorporated. This Mother Earth, the term approved by the General Assembly this past April 22, is alive. Mother Earth regulates herself, maintaining the subtle equilibrium among the physical, chemical and biological in such a way that life is always favored. She produces a unique community of life from which the community of human life — humanity — emerged, as the aware and intelligent part of the Earth herself.

This contemporary concept agrees with the ancestral vision of humanity and of the native peoples for whom the Earth always was and is venerated as Mother, Magna Mater, Inana, Tonantzín, as the Náhuatl of my country, Nicaragua, call it, or Pacha Mama, as the Aymaras in Bolivia name it.

There is a growing awareness that we are all sons and daughters of Earth and that we belong to her. As President Evo Morales has reminded us many times, she can live without us, but we cannot live without her. …

At this time in history, with the global crisis and for the sake of the common good of the Earth and humanity, we must take collective short- and medium-term action to keep society functioning on the one hand, and to set a foundation for new forms of sustainable living on the other. Five essential elements could give coherence to new initiatives that seek to construct alternatives …:

First: the responsible and sustainable use of limited natural resources. This means moving beyond exploitation and strengthening a relationship of respect and synergy with nature.

Second: putting the economy back in its proper place in society as a whole by abandoning the reductionist vision which had made it the main focus of human coexistence. The economy should respect values but not be a source of values; it should be seen as the activity that lays the foundation for the physical, cultural and spiritual life of all human beings on the planet, while respecting social and environmental norms.

Third: to spread democracy to all social relations and institutions. It should not only be applied and strengthened in the political arena, with a new definition of the State and of international organizations, but also extended to the spheres of economics, culture and the relationship between men and women so that it becomes a universal value and democracy is permanent.

Fourth: to build a minimum ethos on the basis of multicultural exchange and the philosophical and religious traditions of peoples, so that they can participate in defining the common good of humanity and the Earth and in developing new values.

Fifth: to strengthen a spiritual vision of the world that does justice to man’s search for a transcendent meaning of life, of the creative work of human beings and of our brief appearance on this small planet.

Personal, social and planetary well-being can only be achieved if these five essential elements are made real. This is made possible by an economy that makes sufficient and decent provision for the whole community, where human beings live in harmony with each other, with nature and with the Whole of which we are a part.

These are the foundations for a bio-civilization which gives a central role to life, the Earth and humanity, whose citizens are sons and daughters of joy rather than of need. …

The common good of humanity and the Earth is a dynamic reality that is constantly evolving. Four ethical principles are important for keeping it alive and open to further development.

The first ethical principle is respect. Every being has intrinsic value and can serve the good of humanity if guided not by purely utilitarian ethics, such as those which predominate in the current socioeconomic system, but rather by a feeling of mutual belonging, responsibility and conservation of existence.

The second is care [which] implies a non-aggressive attitude to reality, a loving attitude which repairs past harm and avoids future harm and, at the same time, extends into all areas of individual and social human activity. If there had been sufficient care, the current financial and economic crisis would not have occurred. Care is intrinsically linked to maintaining life, because when there is no care, life weakens and disappears. The oriental expression of care is compassion, which is so needed these days when much of humanity and the Earth itself are being battered and crucified in a sea of sufferings. In a market society which is driven more by competition than cooperation, there is a cruel lack of compassion towards all suffering beings in society and in nature.

The third principle is collective responsibility. We are all dependent on the environment and interdependent. Our actions can be beneficial or harmful for life and for the common good of the Earth and humanity. The many crises now occurring are largely the result of a lack of responsibility in our collective projects and practices which has led to a global imbalance in markets and in the Earth system.

The fourth principle is cooperation. If we do not all cooperate, we are not going to emerge stronger from the current crises. Cooperation is so essential that in the past it enabled our anthropoid ancestors to make the jump from animality to humanity. When they had food, they did not eat individually but brought everything to share with everyone in the group in cooperation and solidarity. What was essential in the past is still essential in the present.

Lastly, there is a belief which pertains to the common good of humanity, a belief that comes from spiritual traditions and is affirmed by contemporary cosmologists and astrophysicists, that behind the whole universe, every being, every person, every event and even our current crisis, there is a fundamental energy at work, mysterious and ineffable, which is also known as the nurturing source of all being. We are sure that this nameless energy will also act in this time of chaos to help us and empower us to overcome selfishness and take the action needed so there is no catastrophe, but an opportunity for creating and generating new forms of coexistence, innovative economic models and a higher sense of living and living together.

In conclusion, I would like to place on record my deep conviction that the current scenario is not a tragedy but a crisis. Tragedy has a bad outcome, with an Earth that is damaged, but can continue without us. Crisis purifies us and forces us to grow and find ways to survive that are acceptable for the whole community of life, human beings and the Earth. The pain we now feel is not the death rattle of a dying man but the pain of a new birth. So far we have fully exploited material capital, which is finite, and now we have to work with spiritual capital, which is infinite, because we have an infinite capacity to love, to live together as brothers and to penetrate the mysteries of the universe and the human heart. ...

[W]e will shine our light again ... in a planetary civilization which is more respectful of Mother Earth, more inclusive of all people and with more solidarity with the poorest, which is more spiritual and full of reverence for the splendor of the universe and which is much happier. ...

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