Today (21 September), around the globe, we mark Peace Day knowing that for many, peace is nowhere to be found. Not today. And unless things change dramatically, not any time soon.
On New Years Day 2016, a Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF)-Greenpeace team on the Greek island of Lesbos were joined by groups such as Sea-Watch, the Dutch Refugee Boat Foundation and local communities, to create a peace sign formed from over 3,000 discarded refugee life jackets. The groups are calling for safe passage to those fleeing war, poverty and oppression.
2015 saw the number of refugees and displaced people reach record numbers – surpassing even post-World War II. It is with heavy hearts that we follow the news from around the world. The images are heartbreaking: a terrified child, a ruined hospital, a capsized boat, a city bombed to the ground, a community struggling for survival. For every image that catches the media’s attention, many others go unnoticed. Suffering and grief beyond comprehension, and beyond the limits of what people should have to endure, are the daily reality for many.
And while we cannot pretend to comprehend, we must ask ourselves – what should we do?
For Greenpeace, this is a question we grapple with and hold ourselves accountable to: how can all of us make our world more green and peaceful? Collaborating with and supporting other non-governmental organisations, partners and communities opposing violence is one step in the right direction. Using our skills to help those impacted by conflict is another. These are necessary and important, but are also after the fact.
We are passionate about speaking up against the narratives that we are being sold: that the only way to achieve security is through military might and that borders and weapons hold the key to a peaceful existence. Instead, we all must work to address the root causes leading to conflicts, to try and prevent them from occurring or escalating in the first place. We must all work alongside communities to identify non-violent solutions to problems.
Peace cannot be solely defined by the absence of war or conflict.
This underpins the approaches we take to achieve peace. Governments spend a fortune on ‘defense’, be it guns, bombs, war planes or the ultimate weapon – nuclear armaments. By comparison there is currently very little focus on and very little time and money spent on proactively preventing conflict.
The twentieth-century model of security, based on military might, is no longer applicable. The notion that weapons are the way to safety, that military dominance is a mark of superiority, and “what happens over there stays over there” are powerful myths that will only lead to more violence and suffering. Violence begets more violence and rarely resolves conflicts. Peace in the 21st century means more than the absence of war.
We need to replace a way of thinking which allows a national security approach based on military might and a fear of those different from ourselves, with one that reflects a broader understanding of true security – human security. Human security focuses on protecting and promoting dignity, empowerment and fulfillment for all people. It means not only protecting people from threat, but creating the kind of environmental, social, political and economic systems that support and enhance people flourishing alongside each other and their environment.
A large scale visual message made by hundreds of people promoting a 100% renewable energy and peace during the COP21 climate summit.
A healthy environment is key to human security. Caring for the environment is a necessity not a luxury. Our fates and that of the natural world are intimately connected. We humans cannot survive, nor live peacefully, without a healthy, functioning environment.
Nobel Peace Laureate Willy Brandt once said: “Peace is not everything, but without peace everything is nothing.” This logic applies even more-so to the natural world that provides us with the basis of our very existence.
Much of the damage we are inflicting on our planet is irreversible. We are now at a critical juncture, a tipping point, where overstepping our planetary boundaries is leading us down a path to growing instability, resource scarcity, fear, crisis and potential conflict. Some of the adverse impacts of climate change are already unavoidable. Crises will continue to occur. It is how we choose to respond that matters.
Resource scarcity (water, arable land, energy) does not have to lead to conflict. In fact, research shows that often, it can create the conditions for rival parties to cooperate.
Sharing our scarce resources fairly and protecting the Global Commons for us all are two essential ways to achieve a green and more peaceful world.
We can address the issues of growing resource scarcity and the local and global impacts of climate change by promoting sustainable options to resource scarcity.
Take energy, for example. Conflicts are always complex, but around the world, the quest for resources and conflict often go hand-in-hand. Current conflicts in Iraq, Ukraine, Sudan, the South China Sea and Nigeria are all, to an extent, linked to the ownership, access and transport of fossil fuels.
“Resource wars” are not new. But today we can overcome them. Energy is a key example for how transitioning to sustainable, clean renewable sources, could not only reduce conflict, but make life easier and more bountiful for billions. Worldwide 1.3 billion people – equivalent to 18% of global population – continue to live without access to electricity. 2.6 billion people are without clean cooking facilities. This is a problem especially for displaced people and refugees. Renewable energies are already helping to transform lives around the world, and Greenpeace, with your help, is playing a part in contributing to this by both mapping the road to 100% renewable energy for all and working on the ground to connect people (for example in India, Italy and Lebanon).
Dolphins swim alongside the Rainbow Warrior in the Cook Strait, New Zealand; very close to where Texan oil company Anadarko intended to begin prospecting in 2013.
Our vision is for a world where the intimate, symbiotic relationships between peace and the environment are cherished and acted upon. We stand for a world where people coexist peacefully with one another and with nature. We stand for a world where the limits of our resources are respected, celebrated and shared. But to get there we must choose cooperation over conflict. We must choose equity and sustainability over greed, human dignity and courage over exploitation.
We stand for peace.
Jennifer Morgan and Bunny McDiarmid are Executive Directors of Greenpeace International.
This story first appeared on The Huffington Post.