By Abdul Khan and David Nostbakken
By Abdul Khan and David Nostbakken
Toronto – We accept the importance of biodiversity in nature as an aspect of ecological and environmental conservation and protection. Our future depends on it.
We may at times be guilty of not acknowledging that humans are part of that nature, and that we humans are also diverse, socially and culturally. Our conservation and protective impulse should logically apply also to us homo sapiens as it relates to our diversity, commonalities and differences.
Cultural awareness is part of our protection as it undermines tendencies to fear, prejudices and hostilities, born out of ignorance. Cultural self expression is key to this awareness and understanding. History has shown that our distinct social and ethnic groupings need recognized identity. They need to express themselves. They do so either in healthy and dynamic, or in aberrant ways. It is important to find ways of ensuring cultural self-expression that enhances understanding. This is the stuff of peace and conflict. Never before have we had the means of today to support cultural self-expression and mutual understanding. Our effectiveness in this regard is a central pillar in the global edifices of peace.
Wikipedia, a multicultural global collaboration if ever there was one, describes world peace as “an ideal of freedom, peace and happiness among and within nations and people” (1).
The global community has been striving to build peace by promoting cooperation to develop a system of governance that prevents conflicts.
The International Day of Peace aims at creating awareness of threats to world peace and how to meet the challenges.
In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco, California at the United Nations Conference on International Organizations to draw up a Charter. The United Nations, as we know it today, came into existence on 24 October 1945. Created in the devastating aftermath of two world wars, its main purpose was to engender conditions and governance mechanisms for peaceful coexistence of nations.
The United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is one of the UN’s specialty organizations. UNESCO’s founders, who established the organization in 1946, inscribed a key sentence for international peace–building in its constitution:
…since the wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed(2).
This ecology.com posting comments on the import of cultural diversity, mutual understanding, inequality and environmental degradation as they relate to peace and conflict.
First, what are some of the threats to peace, and what have they to do with the environment?
Threats to Peace
The risks the world is facing are many. In addition to conflicts between and within states, poverty, infectious diseases and environmental degradation, nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons; terrorism and transnational crimes; all these have been identified by a UN High-level Panel in a report on new and evolving security threats (3).
We may not normally think of environment in terms of security threats or war. However, our natural resources are entwined in all aspects of our lives, not the least of which is the way we treat each other.
The International Institute of Sustainable Development (IDRC) states:
The connection between environmental issues and conflict are many and complex. Environmental factors themselves are rarely, if ever, the sole cause of violence. But natural resources and other environmental factors are linked to violent conflict in a variety of ways often obscured by more visible issues, such as ethnic tension and power politics…A better understanding of the links between environmental change and human security is vital for effective conflict prevention, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.(4)
IISD and other international agencies concerned with the centrality of the environment for our secure future point out that practical experience and research have demonstrated that the management of natural resources and environmental change frequently affect the likelihood, longevity and impacts of violent conflict:
In the absence of effective governance, attempts to control valuable natural resources, grievances related to inequitable wealth sharing or environmental degradation, and dependence on a narrow set of primary commodities can often contribute to the outbreak of violent conflict. In addition, violent conflict often leaves all parties to a conflict with a shared legacy of pollution and environmental degradation.(5)
International Alert (IA) in its Climate of Conflict report identifies climate change as exacerbating political instability, economic weakness, food insecurity, and large-scale migration as risk factors which could lead to violence in under-developed countries. According to the report:
46 countries, totalling a population of 2.7 billion, are at high risk for near-term violence because theimpacts of climate change are compounding existing economic, social, and political tensions. IA states thatgovernments and citizens of those 46countries will face the immediate and dual challenge of climate change and violent conflict. A further 56 countries, according to the report, are vulnerable to political instability.(6)
If disputes can arise over political, social, tribal control over scare resources, a “have and have not” balance, it stands to reason that prevention, mediation or control of disputes and conflict might include direct sharing of knowledge, and the negotiation or arbitration of environmental realities.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reflects on the problems and benefits of shared resources:
There is a growing understanding that environmental degradation, inequitable access to critical natural resources and the transboundary movement of hazardous materials all represent potential flashpoints for conflict. However, history has repeatedly shown that they are also catalysts for cooperation. Problems of shared resources regularly produce shared solutions.(7)
The Peace University provides examples through a range of researchers and scholars of regionally specific efforts to divert environmental related disputes to peaceful resolution. A particularly significant line of inquiry for example has been to address the implications of inequality in the distribution of water and other resources on patterns of social interaction:
“Current Trends in Water Management in Central Asia” by Guli Yuldasheva & Umida Hashimova, shows that the realities of resource distribution may lead to negotiation and cooperation among political groups just as readily as it may lead to competition and the threat of organized violence. …As environmental considerations have become intertwined with varying ideologies, including those of economic growth and development, another area of research has opened in order to investigate new tensions that have arisen between competing environmental policy agendas.(8)
Asaf Zohar, Stuart Schoenfeld, and Ilan Alleson quoted by the Peace University write of a case study undertaken by the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies testifying to the potential of environmental education to transcend ethnic and political divides, and to contribute to peacebuilding in Israel and Palestine, one of the worlds most conflicted region, while seeking solutions to common environmental challenges faced by the wider region.(9)
Our cultural search for identity, control and survival may be at the root of conflict, as we share fewer and fewer resources with more and more and increasingly urbanized peoples. Ecological and biological issues are in essence human issues. If all humans were to vanish, it is arguable that the rest of nature, the environment, would flourish. We are the problem. We are the environment. A recent bumper sticker read, “The war on the environment is doing very well”. As we degrade the environment around us, we also go to war to own and to control it.
Knowledge of who we are in our cultural diversity, and the sharing of our best practices and solutions are in principle on the positive side or resolutions to conflicted interests often fuelled by cultural ignorance.
Cultural Diversity and Peace
The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2005 states that the,
…respect for diversity of cultures, tolerance, dialogues and cooperation in a climate of mutual trust and understanding are among the guarantees of international peace and security.(10)
The Convention, a result of a long process of maturation and intense negotiations, reaffirms the links between cultures, development and dialogue, and creates an innovative platform for international cultural cooperation. The Convention reaffirms that
…freedom of thought, expression and information as well as the diversity of media enable cultural expression to flourish within societies.(11).
Traditional media and new communication and information technologies, with their capacity to disseminate information reaching a large public on a short time scale are among the most important tools to foster better understanding of each other’s way of life. In fact, participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge are the most efficient means to combat stereotypes, often portrayed as dangerous simplifications, exaggerations or distortions, generalizations and the presentation of cultural attributes of being “natural”.
The consequences of the lack of opportunity for cultural self-expression can be serious, as outlined in a statement of the Symposium on Media, Freedom and Poverty that was held in 2003 in Belagio, Italy:
When people do not have a voice in the public arena or access to information on issues that affect their lives and when concerns are not reasonably reflected in the media, development trends can be undermined. Lack of access to communication undermines the capacity of the poor to participate in a democratic process. Frustration and alienation over lack of means of expression lead to disaffection with the political process resulting in apathy and violence (12).
Clearly differing cultures will continue to exist around the world whether we want them to or not. If they are ignored, undermined or persecuted, the likelihood of striking out or striking back increases. They will “punch you in the nose,” so to speak, then you will know, or will pay attention to who they are. Much better that they express themselves in a positive and constructive climate of mutual understanding and support.
Inequalities and Peace
It is now widely recognized that growing inequality poses a serious threat to world peace. Discussion on post 2015 global agenda includes specific focus on reducing inequalities. Some observers are of the view that reducing inequalities should be a stand-alone goal. Others, believe that reducing inequalities should be integrated into all goals for post 2015 agenda. Policy makers and development planners recognize that inequalities are determined by structural factors as well as policies.
Many observers believe that inequality is such a serious threat that incremental measures will not be sufficient, it requires transformative policies and actions. Mere rhetoric of inclusive development is not likely to make any difference to the existing discrimination against those who lack access to basic services – food, housing, water, sanitation, health and education. One of the root causes is unequal control over resources, such as land, water, minerals and other natural resources. Exclusion operates along many variables, geographical location (rural/urban), gender, social groups and ethnicity. There are many conflicts in the world today that spring directly from exclusion of large segments of the population.
Inequality between countries can also jeopardize world peace. Today’s globalized world, characterized by economic interdependence and greater mobility of goods and people, requires progressive measure for fair trade, investment agreements, intellectual property regimes and financial regulations. There is also need to have an effective mechanism for monitoring the activities of larger corporations.
Media, Mutual Understanding and Peace
Media landscape has changed dramatically in the last two decades. Technological innovations have dramatically influenced development in many areas but has also exacerbated inequalities and deepened divides. The media has both reflected and shaped the dramatic changes that we have witnessed in the past decades. This is particularly true with the creation of the internet and the development of the World Wide Web, which together with continuous development of technology and the constant changes in user behavior has resulted in an entirely new media concept. ICTs have facilitated the generation, dissemination, exchange and use of information and knowledge at an enormous rate, through social media platforms such as Twitter, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and more.
In this context, the power of media seems to be constantly increasing. In theory, it provides a forum and a place for deliberation for everybody to express and construct visions on matters of public interest in a free, independent and pluralistic setting. As such, media is essential for fostering mutual understanding and the exchange of opinions and ultimately establishing a peaceful environment.
Indeed, the media in all its forms has the potential to serve as a bridge between cultures and societies. Yet, political control and market forces, very often, hamper the production of both quality news and entertainment programs that present a balanced portrayal of foreign cultures. There are many disturbing examples of media misuse. Curbing of freedom of expression, media bias, inaccuracy and sensationalism, generating xenophobia leading to violent conflicts, are a common occurrence.
But how can we harness the positive power of both traditional and new media? Traditional media – newspapers, radio and television channels – remain the most powerful tools of communication. Marginalized and vulnerable groups should be ensured access to the large choice of media outlets to enable cultural expression to flourish within society and to voice their concerns regarding important matters. For example, through radio stations where literary levels and access to other media are limited.
In many parts of the world, access to mobile phone and internet is increasing rapidly, despite prevailing high costs, lack of infrastructure, lack of literacy and information literacy, poor regulatory frameworks that are still frequently almost unsurmountable barriers to accessing the web. The new web environment opens a huge range of possibilities to create and disseminate information on a wide variety of local issues in local language, with its cultural specificities to which communities can relate.
Like all web-based initiatives, ecology.com is global in its reach. Its purpose is the sharing of knowledge relating to our sustainable future. Its approach is to seek insight, expertise, example, best practice and opportunity from the diversity cultures of the world. It does not do so alone, but in connection with networks of likeminded and progressive people, organizations, agencies, educators, artist, writers, scholars, scientists and story tellers.
Christos Kyrou of American University uses the expression “peace ecology” to describe a theoretical framework that is intended to provide,
…a better understanding, of the inherent capacities of the environment to inform and sustain peace.(13)
An expression of intertwined biological and cultural diversity leading to knowledge and mutual understanding is now more possible than ever through our open digital realties.
Ecology.com is one modern digital approach to better knowing our natural world and who we are in it. Mutual understanding through self-expression with a focus on perhaps the most important factor in our sustainable future, our diverse environment.
Abdul Khan PhD, COO, EDTRIN; former Assistant Director General UNESCO Information and Communication
David Nostbakken PhD, Chair, Executive VP International Development, Ecology Global Network http://www.ecology.com/
(1) Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_peace
(2) Constitution of UNESCO Preamble http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=15244&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.ht
(3) A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility. Report of the High-level panel on Threats, Challenges and Change – Executive Summary – New York: United Nations, 2004
(10) UNESCO: Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13179&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
(11) UNESCO: Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13179&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
(12) Statement of the Symposium on Media, Freedom and Poverty, Bellagio, Italy, Article 4 http://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-s/md/03/wsispc3/c/S03-WSISPC3-C-0180!!PDF-E.pdf
(13) Kyrou, Christos. “Peace Ecology: An Emerging Paradigm in Peace Studies” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Town & Country Resort and Convention Center, San Diego, California, USA, Mar 22, 2006