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'Peace wont cost the earth' but it might save the environment

By John Tomlinson - posted Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Essentially human beings cannot afford war. Nor can we continue to breed like rabbits. The imprint of humans on this planet is getting close to a tipping point which, once reached, will result in massive disruption, destruction, significant loss of life and, inevitably, in vast civil unrest.

Currently, environmental jargon wavers between “climate change” and “global warming”: neither expression is inherently frightening. It is possible to imagine a George W. Bush, Mark Latham, Pauline Hansen or Sarah Palin saying something like “Well, in principle, I think global warming in winter would be a good idea but I don’t think we could afford to do it for everybody in the world”.

Whether people choose to speak about global warming or climate change they are using a metaphor to highlight or deny the impending environmental catastrophe that awaits us if we continue to mine, pollute, pillage and exploit the natural environment.

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I don’t pretend to know what the tipping point of the coming environmental crisis is. It may happen when there are ten billion people struggling to survive on this planet. It could be when we have released so much carbon dioxide into the oceans that plant and animal plankton, which ultimately sustain all forms of life in the sea, can no longer survive because of increased acidity. It could be in five years, 25 years, 100 years or more: or when we’ve heated the earth by another degree, two degrees or five degrees. It could be from something else that we are doing which scientists have yet to identify as the cause of major environmental damage. What I do know is that most of us won’t know we’ve reached it until well after we’ve passed the point of no return.

Human beings may, however, be able to change their patterns of behaviour enough to avert this impending disaster. Some of the things which need to change are, in the first instance to:

  • eliminate hunger and malnutrition from all parts of the world;
  • share income more equitably between countries and between people;
  • condemn racism in all its forms;
  • stop population growth and then work to decrease the world’s population;
  • attempt to resolve disputes between countries and promote peace;
  • aim for a fair settlement of intra-country disputations;
  • promote antiviolence strategies in cities, towns and villages everywhere;
  • work to enhance just solutions between groups and individuals;
  • actively pursue sustainable environmental practices; and
  • place justice and honour at the centre of all our dealings.

By eliminating hunger and malnutrition and promoting greater income equality we make it easier to curb population expansion, civil disputation and war.

Racism festers where there is great inequality particularly between indigenous people and colonisers. Both economic and social justice, are more easily obtained in more egalitarian societies. When sections of a society have to be aggressive merely to survive, violence between minority and dominant populations is likely to develop.

Egalitarian and sharing societies extinguish such potential flare-ups. If all are obtaining some benefit from the sharing of resources it is easier to implement sustainable environmental practices because the benefits of over-exploitation are no longer going to a handful of greedy people. The majority know that, in the long term, they are protecting the interests of all by ensuring sustainable use of natural resources.

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Each of us has the capacity to start working towards building a more equal, inclusive and sharing society. We can start today, by word and deed, to help build a more egalitarian society. We can work with our friends, our work mates, our unions, sporting clubs, professional associations, social agencies, church groups and our neighbours to build a better world. As we engage in this civic project we benefit personally from being surrounded by a safer and stronger community which acts justly and promotes individual autonomy.

But in the short term military forces will be seen by many of our friends and neighbours as necessary for their protection. So we will need to explain why we can no longer afford to maintain military forces at anything beyond a sufficient force to repel an aggressor from our shores.

During the Cold War, Russia and the US amassed sufficient nuclear weapons to eliminate life as we know it many times over. The Americans used Agent Orange to defoliate large environmentally important parts of Indo China. Considerable numbers of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian children continue to be born with extreme deformities, as a legacy of these chemical weapons. Similar herbicides are being supplied by the US to defoliate poppy crops in Afghanistan and coca crops in Columbia. Land mines and cluster bombs are blowing up poor people in many parts of the world for decades after conflicts have finished. Depleted uranium is causing the deaths of babies and children in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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About the Author

Dr John Tomlison is a visiting scholar at QUT.

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