Paxeducare’s Blog

Peace and Global Climate Change-Remarks for the November 17th People’s Action for Clean Energy Forum
November 7, 2012, 4:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

PACE Talk November 17, 2012-Peace and Global Climate Change

My task this evening, as I understand it, is to contribute toward a discussion around the query what does global climate change have to do with peace?  A couple of corollary questions might be-Who is the peace community?  How can  education inform what we know about and can do about the deep environmental devastation humans have created? If human nature is fueling global warming, then how might we as humans  reverse this trend? How might education play a part?

It seems to me quite evident that for too long the policies,  and educational initiatives and our activism around the issues with the environment have not fully been integrated with  ideas of  peace and justice. The problem of this disconnect has been echoed in recent publications, one of my favorite being Gus Speth’s newest book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (2012). Gus Speth, an esteemed environmental educator and policy analyst, lawyer and former dean of the Yale Forestry School,  having been arrested  for civil disobedience around the Tar Sands, and founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, speaks to this with regret and then sets about in the book to lay out some solutions for this problem. And thanks to Professor Thorson for promoting Speth’s book in his recent column in the Hartford Courant.

Who is the peace community? Before we talk about the peace community, it is important to define peace. Peace is more than the absence of war or conflict. Scholars talk about negative peace and positive peace. Negative does not mean that peace is negative-it means that  the concept focuses on the absence of conflict, whereas positive peace implies the holistic concept of living within standards of justice and human rights, within a balance of nature, providing meaningful citizen participation within government and communities.  The National Peace Academy uses peace as it is defined in the Earth Charter-that peace is “the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, with others, with other cultures, other life, the Earth and the larger whole of which we are a part”. This  kind of peace is inherently dialogic and relationship based.  It invites us into conversation with each other. It recognizes the  humanity in each of us,  as we encounter those with whom we may disagree.  This kind of peace rests on the moral assumption of the inherent dignity of every human being.

Peace in this context  cannot be separate from the notion of justice. Justice and human dignity are intertwined and rooted in notions of equity. Violence of any sort is an affront to human dignity. And violence does not have to be overt. It can be structural, including those conditions that give rise to violence such as lack of access to food, clean water, education. Here we can begin to see  issues of peace and justice as they relate to the earth’s devastation and climate change.

So who is the peace community?  According to the Google search I found, the word “community” has old roots, going back to the Indo-European base mei, meaning “change” or  “exchange.” Apparently this joined with another root, kom, meaning “with,” to produce an Indo-European word kommein: “exchange with”.

So community means sharing, exchanging so that change can happen. And, sharing and exchanging cannot happen without there, of course, being people in relationship to one another. So we cannot separate out the notion of personal connections when we talk about community.

So the peace community is us. We who are in relationship to each other or who strive to be in relationship, even with those whom we disagree. We are all called to be peacemakers. None of us can speak in a unified voice for the “peace community”.  We can only speak from our own experiences, be that of activist, researcher , educator or concerned citizen.

And what about the environment? How does this figure in with peace? I think it important that we move beyond a rather narrow definition of our problems with the environment and embrace some new terminology. A sustainable future is one way of defining the issues. This term sometimes can be problematic. I prefer the terminology used by some Permaculture folks: the interrelationship of Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share. This way of defining integrates our understanding of the issues of the environment as they affect people and the earth.  Justice and therefore peace are an integral part.

And where does education fit in? I postulate that everyone of us is an educator. Just as everyone is a learner  all of us are educators in whatever settings we find ourselves. Maria Montessori has reminded us that education is the primary mover of making peace, all politics can do is to keep us out of war, and, it seems it has not worked very well of late.

How can education help us get out of the mess in which we find ourselves? if we are all called to be educators, then we are all called to take responsibility in whatever way we can to first educate ourselves and then in dialogue and community educate others. Informing ourselves is task number one. Get facts, check sources, seek full understanding of these complex issues. We must learn to live with uncertainty. Martin Luther King quoted the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who said “we live in a day when civilization is shifting its basic outlook, a turning point in which the presuppositions in which society is structured are being profoundly changed”. This was 1967! How apt for today. King noted that we must remain awake through profound periods of change. As Gus Speth reminds us, given the right combination of knowledge, will and action, we just might make it as a human species through this time of peril. We might just learn to enjoy some of these new adaptations, living simpler and more fulfilling lives.

We can begin to understand that real national and international security is really linked to human security. We know who is most affected by the effects of global climate change, structural global economic dysfunction and depletion of fossil fuels. It is those who, for the most part, have not contributed to the problem. The island nations in the Pacific, Bangladesh, the poor in Louisiana, the residents of low income housing along the shores of Staten Island. We can begin to understand the increasing societal costs of our continued war on terror, the U.S. government being the 4th largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world with the military accounting for 80% of our domestic energy consumption. Reliance on our military presence around the world exacerbates global warming, setting up a vicious cycle in which we have to defend our oil interests at the same time using enormous energy to maintain our military presence and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions in the process. According to the UN Environment Program, at least 18 conflicts since 1990 have been fueled by the exploitation of natural resources.

We know that global warming is contributing to desertification around the world and water scarcity will likely be a characteristic of future conflicts. And this will hit the poor and vulnerable hardest.  So this is a justice and therefore a peace issue.  Some believe the Darfur crisis was first and foremost a conflict over water, as desertification of the region created conflict over the ability to nourish crops and grasslands between the farmers and nomads. The Sudanese government exploited the issues.  Heightened issues of food security caused by global warming are predicted to be an issue for potential conflict. Again those with the least means will be most affected.  And currently over half of the energy we consume is required for the processes of economic growth. Is this kind of growth really sustainable?  We know that continued economic growth, along with  continued greenhouse gas emissions,  could commit the planet to at least an increase of 5 degrees C.

We understand that we as humans have the capabilities to reverse the effects of climate change. Humans are immensely adaptable, creative and inventive.  For one thing, we can come to a new realization of what wealth is. Bill McKibben notes in his books that more wealth does not create more happiness. Wealth as happiness means wealth in human relationships and in community. Let us value our tasks as learners and as educators by spending time with those we love, with our families, with nature. We will have to learn to live with risks and the safest way to do this is within communities. We know that the problems that we have created have no solutions within our present framework.  Vandana Shiva reminds us that “the uncertainty of our time is no reason to be certain about hopelessness”.  Thank you.



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