Seeing and Believing It…
by Noah Kass
The prospect of peace seems distant in this modern era of perpetual warfare. As headlines scream of newfound conflict and environmental catastrophe, imaginations of peace are pushed further into our subconscious. But losing hope in the face of violence is just the easy way out when it comes to challenging the structures of violence that plague our planet. Instead of giving in to the negative narratives of apocalypse, we must prepare to wage peace. Averting our eyes and our actions from the destructive modes of living that have decimated life and environment, we must move toward the protection of our planet through the lenses of ourselves, our society, and the ecosystems that surround us.
The common Western mindset geared toward individualism and private opulence has fueled the rise of contemporary capitalism. Capitalism in turn has legitimized the Western consumption and acquisition of the world’s resources through violent coercion or extraction. Although a bit oversimplified, the truth remains that from the personal-entitlement complex of the common American citizen, we have subconsciously stamped our approval of the battles that take place in the name of resource security. In an effort to move toward sustainable survival, we must challenge our conceptions of subsistence and consumption.
What models exist that distribute resources on a collective level? The acequia is one model adopted by peoples of the southwestern U.S. to distribute water in a fair and ecologically sensitive manner. It is an example where a group has overcome the privatized resource narrative to collectivize water with a peaceful and harmonious outcome. As individuals benefiting from the acequia invest time and energy into a project that steps outside of an individualized model, small steps are taken to a communal mentality. Small-scale agricultural projects such as urban farming or community gardens also provide a space and an energy for an individual connection to the resources we consume. The average distance food travels is 1000 miles before it reaches the supermarket. Investing time or capital into local CSAs or farming cooperatives encourages the more sustainable local production of food. Personal steps toward a collective mentality of conscious consumption and resource respect embodies one piece of the peace puzzle.
In an effort to create national and international peace, there must be a critical societal push toward the formation of coalitions, social movements, and education about ecological preservation. Coalitions that unite action groups in society help to create a critical mass toward change. Prison abolitionists and anti-war activists both stand for a reduction of violence and the equal distribution of life chances; these groups can form coalitions. Masses make things happen; they are what drive social movements forward into potential change. Opposition and rallying against the militaristic tendencies of our nation is a prime avenue for peace promotion. In the U.S., the power of society to create peace also rests in policy-making and legal structures. By successfully inserting our hands into government and situations where voices need to be heard, forces that forge the way for war can be quelled or diverted to peaceful practices. If funding and public support recede, the machine of war will follow suit.
Education also plays a major role in societal opposition to war and the promotion of peace. Children can be modeled to understand the world from a peaceful perspective if they are given the tools and skill-sets to interact with their environment in a respectful way. Such teaching can take place in various forms, such as school gardening projects, Earth-Day celebrations, or community clean-up activities. Understanding the connection between peoples and their lands facilitates a healthy relationship between the two. If the positive aspects of a peaceful paradigm are demonstrated and taught, peace will become a tangible goal.
A critical component of the push toward peace is the protection and respect of the environment. Making nature and the environment a commons is one step toward constructive interaction with our biosphere. For example, if people, animals, and organisms were given more equal rights to water, much war and suffering would subside. Through sustainable crop-planting with water conservation in mind, entire regions can be spared from scarcity and drought. Farmers and rural developers need to focus on the planting of appropriate crops as opposed to diverting rivers and promoting non-sustainable practices. Environmentally peaceful places cultivate peaceful interactions and healthy co-existence. Cities, communities, or individual families have the potential to grow their own food and coalesce with their surroundings to create more sustainable living habits.
In Detroit, where the scarcity of fresh food has plagued the city due to closure of the city’s grocery stores in the face of poverty and violence, communities have begun to grow their own food through urban-farming techniques. Such practices have revitalized spaces and communities in a city filled with despair. Local food production boosts the local economy and reduces the carbon footprint of the food we consume. Hopefully Detroit can be used as a model for sustainable possibility before crisis creates the atmosphere for war.
Preservation of public lands also serves to cultivate environmental peace. This can take place in forms ranging from national wildlife preserves to neighborhood peace parks. Creating peaceful places out of previously war-torn or abandoned areas sends a powerful message for change and begs for the inspection of how we have used and abused our lands in the past. The demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, which is now considered an ecological safe haven, is an example of the transformation from a war-zone to a place of peace and ecological prosperity. Within the year, the demilitarized buffer zone will be opened up for nature observation in an effort to educate Korean citizens about the value of their environment within the paradox of a war-torn area. Amid the untouched relics of war, citizens will be able to observe endangered species mingle in the open grasses. Creating and respecting the environment is a critical step in healing the scars on a planet long burdened by the weight of war and its disastrous effects.
Shifting the modern narrative from war to peace requires a devoted discipline of awareness and dedication to principles of peace. As individuals we must move away from selfish tendencies and toward the recognition of collective good as opposed to private opulence. As a society, we must assert ourselves in a nonviolent testament for the redistribution of resources, policy, and education in favor of peacemaking. From an environmental perspective we must become more in touch with the earth that sustains us, through active involvement pushing for its protection and preservation. Through personal awareness, societal collective action, and environmental preservation, the planet we inhabit can be a peaceful place. We must believe it before we can see it.
Noah Kass is a student at Prescott College, in the Arizona highlands. This essay was written for the spring 2012 course, “Ecology of War and Peace.”