Making peace with the planet: sustainability, action, and peace

The environment has long been the casualty of war, destruction, and ignorance. The violence of armed conflict not only annihilates humanity, shattering ways of life, it also devastates the environment as it becomes either collateral damage, or suffers from the deliberate destruction to accumulate power, leading to the “plunder[ing] of natural resources and the collapse of management systems” (Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general).

Conflicts benefit those in power
Bluntly put: war and armed conflicts destroy people, the environment, and the relationship between them, and that shattering reverberates through our society for generations—especially as the cause of many violent conflicts is over resources. In other words, who controls the environment uses that power to control those who are also dependent on that particular resource. It becomes an unbalanced relationship, one that capitalises inequality, and where conflict benefits those in power.

Peace is not just an ideal but is about relationships: with each other and our society, and with our environment. By nurturing a sustainable lifestyle, which includes local and global social and cultural support, we begin to preserve and share resources and promote peace.

Nepali communities, for example, brought electricity to their villages through small-scaled hydropower projects, which in turn gave greater access to education, and political and economic stability to the region.

The Green Belt Movement, spearheaded by the leaders of the African Union, focused on environmental sustainability as means of conflict resolution through preventing soil erosion, water conservation, and engendering women. By uniting communities through ingenious ways of preserving and sharing resources, we see a decrease in violent conflicts, peace, social equality, economic security, and political stability.

Time of global crises
Peace and sustainability are particularly relevant during this time of global crises of climate change, political and social extremism, and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is increasingly important that we take drastic steps to change the systematic structures that are built on violence.

We have proven to ourselves that collectively, we are capable of changing, of insisting for better care, of being governed by empathy. The problem is not humanity, but rather systems that value greed and extreme power over sustainability and communal compassion.

Prioritising well-being of others
When we prioritise the well-being of others through the sharing and preserving of resources, when we prioritise the relationship between ourselves, our societies, and the environment, we begin to dismantle the structures of colonialism and consumerism that promote violence and environmental destruction. By being fully aware of how integrated we are with each other, and how integrated peace and the environment really is, we begin on a path of peace and sustainability.

Peace and sustainability do not exist in isolated vacuums. Peace without environmental sustainability is impossible. Sustainability without peace is un-doable. Protecting our resources cannot be done without consideration of peace; peace cannot happen without consideration of our environment.

Start living sustainable peace
By nurturing the relationship between ourselves, our societies, and the planet, by conscientiously and actively changing the systems built upon human and environmental destruction, we start living a sustainable peace governed by respect and compassion.

Ildikó Glaser-Hille
Interim Programming Coordinator
Peace Centre

Last Modified: April 21, 2020