Liberation Ecology: The Theological Roots of Waste Transformation

In nature soil transforms organic matter, sustaining ecological systems by converting one organism’s wastes into another’s resources. It is from the soil that our organization has borrowed both our name and our philosophy. We too, believe that the path to sustainability is through transformation, of both marginalized people and discarded materials, turning disempowerment and pollution into participatory production.

The social element of our philosophy has also been deeply influenced by the liberation theology movement. Liberation theology is a school of thought, developed among Latin American Catholics, according to which the Gospel demands the church to liberate the people from poverty and oppression.

Liberation theology in practice is based on a sincere faith in humanity and a willingness to stand with the poor in their struggle for justice. Justice implies more than a short term fulfillment of needs based on dependency. It implies a commitment to social change whereby the poor are liberated from their suffering in this lifetime through active participation in, and transformation of, their reality.

The concept of waste presents an important parallel between ecology and liberation theology, and it is at this intersection that SOIL’s philosophy of liberation ecology is based. The dictionary defines waste as leftover or superfluous, rejected as useless or worthless. Both ecological theory and liberation philosophies challenge this traditional concept of waste, through the idea that all that exists is transformable. In ecological systems one organism’s waste may nourish and sustain an entire food chain through a series of molecular transformations.

Liberation theology shares this conceptualization of waste at the social, rather than biological level. It is a school of thought which recognizes the humanity and worth of every person, affirming the capacity of those who have been marginalized and oppressed.