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May/June 2011
Vol. 36, No. 3

 

Sustainability: The Buen Vivir network

The following is the founding statement of the Red Buen Vivir (Living Well Network), formed after a Latin America-wide meeting of Maryknoll missioners in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The network aims to educate and mobilize people and communities around religious and indigenous solutions to the economic and ecological crises we face today.

Never before have human systems created such vast divisions of wealth and poverty, nor such vast destruction of our planet. Never before has the urgency of a fundamental change in vision been so strongly forced upon us by a common necessity.

We are people from different cultures and grassroots movements across the Americas who share a common urgency in the face of the unprecedented challenges and opportunities currently facing the human family and Earth. Never before has humanity collided with the economic and environmental limits of the planet as we do today.

To continue on the present economic and environmental course is suicidal.

Partly because of this inescapable urgency we are hearing new voices and new visions. These are voices of hope, of peace, of equity and complementarity instead of competition and war. One of the strongest of these voices comes from indigenous peoples of Latin America as they urge us to live well, or vivir bien, instead of trying to "live better" in a world of limited environmental capacities.

Religious communities are issuing similar clarion calls for deep changes in the way we act in order to assure that all are able to benefit from Earth's bounty and that this bounty will be respected and maintained for future generations. Many of these communities are on the forefront of preserving and recuperating ecosystems for the benefit of all.

With the traditional cultures of the world, we know that the Creator has provided us with a rich, beautiful planet with more than enough to provide a satisfying life for all humans and other forms of life. Perhaps these traditional cultures carry the collective memory of the human family as they recognize the intense interconnectedness of all living beings on the planet; that each living being depends on the other to maintain the intricate web of life.

As Gandhi so aptly stated, "Earth provides enough to satisfy every [hu]man's need, but not every [hu]man's greed." We are deeply concerned about the current global economic system that encourages greed, perpetuates inequity and is clearly unsustainable. Not only does the current economic system exclude a huge portion of the world's population, relegating millions to starvation and to lives of desperation, but it also consumes many key natural resources at rates that will leave our children and theirs with very few resources with which to build satisfying, dignified lives. It is clear that deep changes are needed to create a new system that provides livelihoods for all within the biophysical limits of Earth.

Many indigenous communities use the term Buen Vivir (Living Well) or Estar Bien (Being Well) to describe a way of living in harmony with Earth while creating equitable societies where all are included. Within Judaism and Christianity, themes like Sabbath economics, Jubilee and the Catholic Church's social teachings provide guidelines for sustainable lifestyles and economic systems that prioritize the Common Good.

The Buen Vivir Network strives to promote such alternative economic, ecological and cosmological visions and to assist in the implementation of the concrete social structures and strategies that flow from them at community, national and international levels. We carry this out in four working areas:

  • Cosmological visions: We will explore the rich diversity of cosmological visions from indigenous and other cultures around the world to gain a deeper understanding of humanity's role on Earth and of traditions which can guide our actions.
  • Stories of life: To help these concepts be better understood, we will share stories of people and communities carrying out concrete actions that embody the concept of Living Well.
  • Alternatives: We will participate in grassroots movements and activities aimed at moving our communities to be more in harmony with Earth and all forms of life through concrete social arrangements, cooperative businesses, and communal projects.
  • Campaigns: We will support and promote important educational and advocacy campaigns that we feel embody the beliefs of Buen Vivir and to help more people and organizations to actively participate in these campaigns.

We would be unwise not to recognize that the recently developed ways of life based on overconsumption are in crisis. These crises are economic and ecological, but they are also reflections of a more fundamental spiritual crisis. As a species, humans have lost touch with our place in the Earth community. We forget that we are but a part of the wonderful mystery brought about by the Creator.

We are confident that these crises themselves represent a unique opportunity and a reason to be optimistic. With strong vision and courageous action the human family can become a positive and sustainable part of an Earth community with greater equity, harmony, complementarity and peace.

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