What is peace? In a world at times ravaged by armed conflict, from Africa to Asia, is peace simply an absence of war? Or is there more to it than that?
Today, on the International Day of Peace, it is important to reflect on some of these questions, particularly for an organisation like Greenpeace, whose founding values revolve around the defence of peace and a wide understanding that the issues of ecology and peace are two sides of the same coin.
Greenpeace is joining hands today with members of the global NGO coalition ‘Peace One Day’s Global Truce 2012’, in the simple objective of calling for and working towards a global day of ceasefire and non-violence.
Thousands of people across the world are dying as a result of senseless armed conflict. Many more also are dying in equally senseless ways as a direct consequence of the financial and human resources being squandered in pursuit of military solutions to disputes.
Poverty, for instance, inflicts devastation tantamount to war by taking the lives of around 50,000 people from preventable causes every day, areas in which the vast intellectual and financial resources squandered on war and conflict could be put to far better use.
Rather than spend money preparing for conflict at any cost (to the tune of an astonishing $1.7 trillion, globally, this year alone), governments must focus their efforts on avoiding conflict, at all costs. That means redirecting the millions spent stockpiling the machinery of war and investing those same millions in the machinery of sustainability and equity.
This echoes the wishes of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who on this day of International Peace is calling for ‘Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future’. The destruction of our environment poses one of the greatest threats to peace because many conflicts are sparked by the desire to control dwindling resources.
Make no mistake: war wreaks havoc on the environment as well as on human life, whether it’s the monumental environmental destruction involved in testing nuclear armaments, or the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In fact, the environment is often the first casualty of war – not to mention the ‘hidden’ war on the environment declared through resource drilling, mining and extraction. This war – also waged by governments and corporations – entails the same abuses and mutilations of ‘people’ wars, and is similarly fought in the pursuit of profits.
Take the Arctic, for example. The Arctic sea ice is melting faster than ever before but rather than heeding natures warning that our addiction to fossil fuels is destabilising the global climate, nations are racing to stake a claim on the Arctic so they can drill for the very fossil fuels that are causing the problem.
Our climate is warming, and like war, putting billions of people’s future in jeopardy. Climate change is taking its place as a major driver of conflict, as a major threat to international and national peace and security.
Humanitarian crises will occur with greater frequency and with more devastating effect if governments do not act to bring climate change under control. And yet governments, nationally and multilaterally, repeatedly fail to take decisive action.
There is an old Inuit saying: ‘Only when the ice breaks will you truly know your friends from your enemies’. The ice is breaking; we see its effects in sea ice levels as in record heat waves; as in the drying up of lake Chad, depriving millions of their source of livelihood.
Today, on this International Day of Peace, we reaffirm our belief that in order for the future to be peaceful it must be green.
Kumi Naidoo is the Executive Director at Greenpeace International.