IJWP, 38:1, March 2021

IJWP, 38:1, March 2021



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The Environment and Peace

All human activity has environmental consequences. Some types of activity are highly destructive, while other activities can be sustainable. On the one extreme hunting animals to extinction, leveling forests, and disregard for the proliferation of toxic materials and industrial wastes is activity that makes the world inhabitable for human beings. At the other extreme is the call to depopulate the earth through forms of genocide so the environment is undisturbed by humans. Living in peace with the environment, and with each other, lies somewhere in the middle. A sustainable world requires both conscientiousness toward nature and other human beings, and continuous learning and adaptation with the help of science. Each of the articles in this issue touch upon some aspect of the environment and peace.

The first article, “Connecting Peaces: TBCAs and the Integration of International, Social, and Ecological Peace,” looks at the idea of transboundary conservation areas (TBCAs), which often serve as buffers between hostile nations. This is a concept that has been promoted in recent years, particularly after observing how natural life rebounded in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. However the authors argue that TBCAs have been vulnerable to social, international, and environmental conflict, and there is little evidence they have contributed to international peace.

Drawing on Johan Galtung’s ideas of negative and positive peace, and seeing ecological peace, social peace, and international peace interrelated and interdependent, the “peaces” need to be connected when considering conservation projects such as TBCAs. Connecting peaces extends beyond TBCAs. It involves a consciousness of ecological, social,  and international peace in our cultures and our policies. Currently, international, social, and ecological peace are not coherently addressed in existing laws and policies. And next, all three categories of peace need to transfer from policy to practice. In their conclusion, the authors state that “a basic foundation in codified international and regional laws exists to promote and uphold all three categories of peace.” These codes and laws need to be connected for the environment and peace.

Our second article, “The Siachen Dispute through the Copenhagen Lens of Securitization,” looks at an international conflict in an environmentally fragile area. Siachen is not a habitable territory but a 75 km long glacier located at the Karakoram Range in the Western Himalayas marking a contested border between India and Pakistan. Parts of this area are up to 20,000 feet high, with temperatures dropping to -50° Celsius. The continued militarization of the region for more than three decades is expensive for both sides and destructive of the environment, yet the “honor” of both states requires maintaining this militarized border.

This dispute does not fit any analysis of “national interest,” because it has been a financial and military drain on both parties and does not readily appear a significant resource. However, it can be analyzed through the Copenhagen lens of securitization, which looks at the discourse surrounding the conflict. In this case, the “need for securitization” can be traced to state calls for national honor and glory propagated through the media. Stories of soldiers of national glory defending Siachen are even found in comic books. In an election year, Rajiv Gandhi refused to “vacate an area where Indian troops have shed blood.” This narrative gained international for Pakistan when a BBC Correspondent in Islamabad wrote about General Musharaff boosting the military morale of soldiers at Siachen.

In 2005, PM Manmohan Singh, while at the base camp, announced that the world’s highest battlefield needs to be turned into a “peace mountain.” Seven years later, after 139 Pakistani soldiers were killed from an avalanche,  General Kayani of Pakistan gave a call for demilitarizing the Siachen zone. In 2016, another avalanche killed 10 Indian soldiers. But, after public calls to make the area into a peace park, the Indian PM ruled out the idea for “security” reasons.  

The author argues that demilitarization of this area, and perhaps the adoption of “open skies” monitoring by both sides, or a peace park that served as a demilitarized zone, would need to be preceded by replacing state narratives of securitization with narratives of de-securitization or normal governance.  

Our third article, “Mahatma Gandhi and His Ashram Experiments: Non-violence in Intentional Communities,”  is a retrospective look at the legacy of Gandhi’s idea of thousands of intentional communities, rather than a few large cities, becoming the building blocks of peace. Clustered around Gandhi’s ideas of intentional community were inter-related topics such as vegetarianism, the search for truth, material restraint, craft production, village renewal, and meaningful education.

Gandhi was impacted by Thoreau, Ruskin, Tolstoy and other advocates of peace through simple community life in harmony with the environment. He would agree with fellow Indian Rabindranath Tagore’s words:

We have to reconstruct our national life with the village as the centre. To bring completeness of life to the villages has been a dream of mine of longstanding.

The building of a school was an important part of Gandhi’s venture at Tolstoy Farm, where satyagrahas would be trained. It catered to different languages as well as religions: Hindu, Islam and Christian. Regardless of their own religion, the children were taught about the other ones too, and they were encouraged to show mutual respect. Long hours of manual labor, the virtues of faith and courage, and high standards of hygiene were emphasized.

The ashrams would be training grounds for life in villages themselves. Gandhi’s way of doing things was to work from the bottom-up, in contrast with the socialists at the time who advocated a top-down approach. In his own words, “independence must begin at the bottom.” Gandhi believed in raising consciousness, enabling people to change themselves first, before trying to change the rest of society.
Gandhi’s ideas of non-violence and self-discipline made a substantial  impact on the larger world. He was admired by people as diverse as his South African opponent General Smuts and the American civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was called upon for advice to guide the transition of India from British colonialism to independence. Today Gandhi’s ashrams, however, are a by-line in history, with an occasional plaque to mark where they were. They were more an extension of himself while he was alive, than an enduring society. But that does not mean their cultural contribution failed.

Finally, in our book review section is a book on responsibly tackling climate change by doing the best to address it while improving the quality of human life at the same time. In False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor and Fails to Fix the Planet, Bjorn Lomborg applies an economic approach to reducing global warming and carbon emissions. Lomborg discusses how fear and panic over climate change leads people to act on bad, or incomplete information. Then he discusses how politicians ask the wrong questions of scientists, leading to not getting the information they need. He then proposes five scenarios graded from lowest temperature change to highest economic growth and  discusses how these scenarios relate to the Paris Climate agreements.

Gordon L. Anderson

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