Emotions and sensitivity are "the essence, the core dimension of the
human being," said the Brazilian theologian at a panel on "ethics,
biodiversity and sustainability". The panel formed part of the Global
Civil Society Forum, held parallel to the Mar. 20-31 Eighth Conference
of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP8).

It is not reason but feeling that is involved in our first contact with
reality, and "today’s great crisis is not economic, political or
religious, but a crisis of affect, of the capacity to feel a connection
with others," he said.

It is indispensable to "take care of all living things," and science
shows that cooperation is the "supreme law of the universe," he added.

"The world is not made up of objects but of relationships. It was
cooperation that made possible the leap from animal to humanity, and
without it we are dehumanised, which is what occurs in the case of
capitalism," the theologian told around 300 activists, most of them
small farmers.

He added that the principle of responsibility underlies the criticism of
transgenic products, the need to take precautions in the face of
unpredictable and unknown consequences, the possibility that genetic
modification of food could break down the balance between the "billions
of bacteria" and molecules that make up a human being.

Boff, who left the priesthood after suffering sanctions at the hands of
the Vatican for expressing "dangerous ideas" over the past two decades,
has outlined his ecological concerns in several books. He has been
invited to give talks at several panels at the COP8.

Boff is one of the founders of liberation theology, which is based on a
"preferential option for the poor", whose proponents’ involvement in the
struggles of the poor and marginalised sectors of the population often
brought them into conflict with a more conservative Catholic Church
hierarchy in the past.

The expression "sustainable development" is "a deception to undermine
the demands of environmentalists" by joining together two contradictory
concepts, he told the participants in the Global Civil Society Forum.

Development "comes from the capitalist economy," which supposes a
constant rise in production, consumption and wealth as part of an
illusion of "infinite resources," while sustainability has to do with
biology, "the dynamic equilibrium of interrelated beings," he said.

In order for the consumption levels of industrialised countries to
become universal, "two additional planet earths" would be needed, he

But earlier international conferences have already concluded that by
continuing along that road, the earth would no longer be sustainable by
2030 or 2035, and would suffer major catastrophes, said Boff. "We have
become the earth’s Satan," said Boff. "Either we change or we die."

An equally menacing portrait was painted by Louise Vandelac, director of
the Environmental Sciences Institute at the University of Quebec at
Montreal (UQAM), Canada. Vandelac focussed on the area of biotechnology,
and warned that more than biodiversity, it is "the world’s biological
security that is threatened by the cannibalism of the market."

A second generation of transgenic research and technology has now
emerged, devoted to producing genetically modified animals, she said.

The research being carried out today is very different from that of the
previous 25 years, she noted. Scientific literature from the last few
months reveals that more than 200 tests have already been conducted on
pigs, rabbits, cows and fish, and soon the first transgenic salmon could
be unveiled in Canada, she reported.

This technology has been highly concentrated up until now, with just
four countries - the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Canada û
accounting for 96 percent of transgenic commercial production. Moreover,
95 percent of this production is made up of only four crops, namely
soybeans, cotton, corn and canola. In the meantime, Monsanto Roundup
Ready (RR) soybeans occupy a full 75 percent of the total area planted
with transgenic crops in the world today.

The biotechnology industry’s marked interest in developing
pesticide-resistant plant varieties owes to the fact that producing a
new pesticide costs ten times more, said Vandelac.

Roundup Ready seeds, which produce crops that are resistant to
Monsanto’s own glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, have guaranteed
continued sales of the weedicide. The use of Roundup on transgenic crops
dropped off during the first few years, but is now growing at a rate of
four percent annually.

Studies reveal a 70 percent decline in the toad population in areas
where transgenic soybeans are grown. One hypothesis is that Roundup
herbicide is altering the animals’ hormonal systems and thus interfering
with their reproduction, said Vandelac.

Nevertheless, there are "new hopes" emerging as people are becoming more
aware of the threats posed by transgenics and pushing for clear
regulations that enforce limits on the ambitions of private enterprise,
with social movements joining with environmentalists, trade unionists,
feminists and other activists in defence of biological security, she

Argentine lawmaker Marta Maffei called for efforts to combat "cultural
domination," the mother of all dominations, in her view.

Maffei maintained that politicians adopt decisions "without knowing
anything about environmental issues," and depend on the advice of
specialists who work for private companies that have no interest
whatsoever in preserving biodiversity.

Social mobilisation is the only way to break this "vicious cycle of
environmental domination," she declared.