Preparing for Peace
The website of the Westmorland General Meeting 'Preparing for Peace' initiative
Peace and Sustainability: Nurturing Complex Systems
wars are attempts to acquire more resources (e.g., oil, land, diamonds),
although the justification for the war may be expressed quite differently.
For the first time in human history, the world’s population has doubled
within a human lifetime—resources have not.
In addition, human expectations for increased per capita consumption have
increased dramatically. Finally,
the range of per capita resource consumption worldwide has increased
tremendously. These and related factors have markedly increased the
likelihood of resource wars, which substantively deplete natural resources.
All these trends are unsustainable.
Living sustainably should reduce the probability of resource wars,
benefit posterity, and provide hope for a quality future for all humankind.
Sustainable living should also reduce the disparity between the
“haves” and the “have nots.” Both
human population size (now 6.3 billion and rising) and distribution
(increasingly urbanized) have increased dependence upon the
technological/economic life support system which, as now managed, threatens the
much older ecological life support system.
The survival of human society now depends on the nurturing of both of
these complex, multivariate systems so that they are mutualistic rather than
antagonistic. Living sustainably
should benefit both systems and reduce the probability of resource wars.
There is a lot wrong with our world. But
it is not as bad as people think. It
is actually worse.
There is a lot wrong with our world. But
it is not as bad as people think. It
is actually worse.
Former Environmental Minister, United Kingdom
1. Foundations of Sand
Wars between humans are devastating, but the human war being waged on the
environment will have a far greater effect on humankind.
Peace for humankind is a superb vision.
However, if humankind does not cease making war on, or in other words
destroying, Earth’s ecological life support system and the species that
comprise it, peace will be built on a foundation of sand.
Paul R. Ehrlich, Professor of population studies at Stanford University,
Stanford, CA, USA, notes: “We’re
waging a war on the environment, a very successful one” (quoted in The
Guardian, Friday, October 24, 2003). If
natural capital is destroyed or impaired, ecosystem services, such as
maintaining atmospheric gas balance, will be lost.
This loss will reduce the planet’s carrying capacity for humans and per
capita resources. The inevitable
result is resource wars. Exponential
population growth reduces per capita resources such as water, forests,
croplands, etc. Another cause for
concern is mass migration from countries that have exceeded their carrying
capacity to countries where resources appear to be more abundant.
Individuals who believe that humankind is immune from natural law need
only become informed about the recent effects when Hurricane Isabel hit the 100+
miles of barrier islands (the “Outer Banks”) on the east coast of North
Carolina, USA. The hurricane washed out much of the main road for the
islands, destroyed motels and million dollar houses, and even divided one island
into several islets. A whole town,
Hatteras Village, was cut off, temporarily at least, from the mainland.
One persistent belief, especially in the United States, is that nature
can be vanquished. At the core of this belief is a conviction that there are no
limits to growth. Proponents of
unlimited growth consider certain ideas subversive: that limits exist, that finite limits exist on a finite
planet, and that humans are subject to a finite carrying capacity (as with any
other species). Peace is more than
the absence of war. The probability
of peace will be dramatically increased if Earth’s life support systems are
nurtured and natural capital is not squandered, thus markedly reducing the
likelihood of resource wars. If
humankind’s war on nature continues, humankind will suffer grievous harm.
2. The Pivotal Role of Peace
Peace is an essential precondition for sustainable use of the planet.
However, to be truly effective, the word peace must include the
30+ million other life forms with which humankind shares the planet.
The war on other life forms is transforming Earth at an exponential rate
(e.g., McNeil 2000). This process
is driven by rapid human population growth (e.g., Nelson 2003), corporate
exploitation of natural resources, climate change, and an unjustified faith in
technological solutions to ethical problems, such as the assertion by some
economists that resources are infinitely substitutable.
Humankind is waging resource war on natural systems by damaging habitat,
which results in biotic impoverishment, including species extinction well beyond
evolutionary replacement of lost species. Old
growth forests, coral reefs, wetlands, and other important ecosystem categories
are at risk worldwide. Waging war
on the planet’s ecological life support system is suicidal. If the 21st century wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
are harbingers of future conflicts, the “shock and awe” attack by a major
military power will be followed by a sabotage and anarchy campaign by a
significant number of indigenous people that may be aided by volunteers from
In Iraq, occupying forces have cut down date trees, burned crops, drained
wetlands, destroyed irrigation systems, and burned grassy knolls in areas
thought to be harboring terrorists (Al-Atraqchi 2003, http://www.islamonline.net/English/In_Depth/Iraq_Aftermatch/2003/10/article_13.shtml).
Given the close association of local people with the land, reprisals
Collateral environmental damage
caused by humankind’s life styles results in global climate warming (e.g.,
Usha Lee McFarling, 24 October, 2003, Los Angeles Times),
desertification, water and air pollution, and changes in basic ecological cycles
(e.g., nitrogen). Except possibly
for a massive nuclear war, no war could be more devastating to natural systems.
Sustainable use is closely linked to the health and integrity
of Earth’s ecological life support system, which consists of natural capital
(living systems) and the ecosystem services it provides.
The condition of the ecological life support system depends, in turn, on
a mutualistic, harmonious, coevolutionary relationship with humankind, its
societies, and organizations. Above
all, a positive coevolutionary relationship between these two complex systems
based on eco-ethics and sustainability ethics (Cairns 2003a) and a
transdisciplinary synthesis merging environmental monitoring information across
large temporal and spatial scales is essential.
Effective use of environmental quality control data requires effective
communication between and among the traditional disciplines and an enormous
array of special interest groups. Coupling
societal (including technological/economic) and natural systems to produce a
sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship will require creativity, empathy,
and the capacity to adapt quickly to the inevitable evolutionary changes in both
of these complex multivariate systems. Humankind
is so enamored with the technological/economic system that it needs neither
explanation nor defense. However,
the ecological life support system needs both an explanation and defense so that
both systems are fully understood and a mutualistic relationship can be
developed between them. Resource
wars will not cease until use without abuse of natural systems is a sine qua
non. Living sustainability does not
ensure peace but living unsustainably will lead to resource wars.
Although synthesis has occurred within the traditional disciplines,
transdisciplinary synthesis is rare. The
term “interdependent web of life” recognizes the many connections in the
environment. Humankind asserts that it respects the web, although human
practices continue to cause grievous, possibly fatal, damage to the web.
Although humans may become extinct long before life on Earth is
extinguished if present unsustainable practices continue, severe damage to
ecological and evolutionary processes is highly probable (e.g., Myers and Knoll
2001). This damage, in turn, will
have deleterious effects on humankind.
Capra (2002) has undertaken to extend the new understanding of
life that has emerged from complexity theory to the social demand, with
particular attention to sustainability. As
Capra (2002) remarks, humankind is surrounded by massively complex systems that
increasingly permeate almost every aspect of human lives.
The fact that these complex industrial systems and their unsustainable
practices are the primary threat to the ecological life support system upon
which sustainable use of the planet depends is alarming.
As Hausman (2003) remarks,
deception and doubletalk are common in advertising, politics, and the news
media. Effective communication
requires trust in the sources of the information (based on a reputation for
accuracy, objectivity, and a systematic, orderly approach to issues important to
sustainable use of the planet), which, in turn, requires a high level of
literacy about nurturing humankind’s life support systems.
Special interest groups that are reaping profits from these unsustainable
practices will regard high levels of literacy about current unsustainable
practices with disfavor. War is also profitable to many special interest groups, so
the path forward will be contentious and controversial. The issue of cigarette smoking in the United States often
focuses on the economy and lost jobs. However,
many of the costs (i.e., health and loss of working time) are predictably
downplayed because of the pressure of special interest groups.
Assuming that it is possible to
diminish deception and doubletalk, which appears utopian at present, how can any
world governance emerge that is capable of eliminating unsustainable practices
that lead to resource wars? Capra
(2002) believes that the present form of global capitalism is both ecologically
and socially unstable in an era of economic instability.
The ecological and social disequilibria are already quite apparent, and
the global economic system is quite fragile.
Badly needed is an organization capable of sustainably managing the
global system so that it is protected from exploitation by nation-states,
special interest groups, and individuals. Exploitation
is an obstacle to both peace and sustainable use of the planet.
United Nations has a broad mandate and transparent decision-making processes
with prospects of giving guidance in implementing sustainable environmental
practices and the social processes that support them.
Enforcement powers, however, are well below the necessary level. There is hope that the information age will produce an
unprecedented political movement. Capra
(2002) postulates that use of the Internet by non-governmental organizations
will foster development of a network capable of mobilizing members with
unprecedented speed. Castells
(1997) proposes that social change in the network will be a result of the
rejection of present dominant values and, thus, will not originate within
traditional institutions. Cairns
(2003a) proposes a set of eco-ethics based on a sense of belonging to the
interdependent web of life and a preliminary declaration of sustainability
ethics based on a wish to leave a habitable planet for future generations of the
human species and those of other life forms.
Environmentalists usually assume that these two sets of ethics are
identical—they are not. Peace
within the human species will not be sustainable unless humankind makes peace
with the interdependent web of life and the species that comprise it.
Even though the two sets of ethics are not identical, they must be
Human aspirations change, but
natural laws do not. Indefinite use
of the planet by one species, Homo sapiens, does not conform to the
paleontological record, which shows that species come and go, although some
persist for considerable periods of time. The
living network endures, but its component parts (i.e., species) do not.
Without the system, the species cannot survive. The system is the
aggregate of all living species, but not any particular one for an indefinite
period of time. At present, humans are both inflicting major damage on the
system and simultaneously expecting to persist as a species indefinitely.
This war on nature will have consequences for humankind.
The glorification of materialphilia
(love of material possessions, see Cairns 2003b) is now carried to the point of
creating severe disequilibrium in the ecological life support system.
An uncharitable person might understandingly conclude that humankind is
suicidal. Ecological ethics is an
attempt to establish a more harmonious relationship with natural systems and is
clearly ecocentric (Cairns 2003c). Sustainability
ethics attempts to be both homocentric and ecocentric (Cairns, 2003c), based on
the assumption that they are compatible.
It is difficult to imagine
protecting the global ecological life support system without a fair, equitable,
effective system of world governance. As
Hoffman (2003) remarks, the very complexity of the international scene makes it
unlikely that such a system can develop. McNeil and McNeil (2003) assert that, to preserve what is
here now, humankind and its successors must change their ways by learning to
live simultaneously in a cosmopolitan web and in various and diverse primary
communities. Reconciling such
opposites is the defining question of the present time, and probably into the
future. McNeil and McNeil (2003)
conclude that humankind is living on the crest of a breaking web; however, with
luck, intelligence, and tolerance, it may be possible to keep the web from
breaking. I am convinced that a
systems level approach, combined with compassion for local and regional issues,
is essential to both peace and sustainability.
Age of Synthesis
Sustainable use of the planet
requires a level of synthesis unprecedented in human history.
Arguably, humankind must accomplish synthesis in the first half of the 21st
century because of both exponential population growth and rapid depletion of
natural capital. Without peace,
this transition will be exceedingly difficult, arguably impossible.
Information about the components of sustainability (such as sustainable
energy, agriculture, water use, and the like) has promise, but the connections
between them at the system level are almost non-existent.
In short, “bottom-up” sustainability strategies are progressing
satisfactorily, but “top-down” (i.e., system level) sustainability
strategies are not. Furthermore,
the connections between these two strategies are largely unexplored (Cairns
2003c). Worse yet, there is strong
opposition to abandoning unsustainable practices.
Sustainable practices are more favorable to maintaining peace because
they diminish but do not eliminate resource wars.
The policy of expecting perpetual
growth on a finite planet is no longer tenable and should have been abandoned in
the 20th century. Although
Ruth Patrick advocated “use without abuse” of natural systems in 1948, the
concept of sustainability originated with Brown (1981).
He defined a sustainable society as one that is able to satisfy its needs
without diminishing the options of future generations.
Years later the definition (somewhat modified) was used by the World
Commission on Environment and Development (WCED 1987) in a report that received
much international attention.
It is abundantly clear, however,
that most individuals and their leaders the world over have little or no
literacy in sustainability. Most
people would probably endorse Brown’s (1981) definition of sustainability.
Many more, including corporations, would endorse the WCED (1987) definition,
since the word sustainable is used as an adjective to define the noun development
and this noun is strongly associated with growth, which is the world’s
dominant paradigm at present.
In the United States, a major
belief is that present practices need only be modified to be sustainable—hence
the term “smart growth.” This
conviction is usually accompanied by the concomitant belief that technology will
provide the solution to even the most intractable problems, i.e., biotechnology
will solve the food shortage and even the water shortages (e.g., treating
unpotable water). As a consequence,
few (if any) nation-states have in place and are implementing a broad,
“top-down” sustainability strategy. Furthermore,
effective implementation will require more knowledge of component parts (e.g.,
sustainable transportation) than is now available.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps toward sustainability that could
be implemented at once while a global, “top-down” sustainability policy is
Peace Via Sustainable Use of the Planet
●Diminish the probability of resource wars by moving toward a more
fair and equitable allocation of resources.
●Preserve Earth’s ecological life support system by allocating
more than 12% of the total resource to this purpose.
●Cease immediately all
environmentally perverse government subsidies (Myers and Kent 2001), but expect
a fierce fight from the special interest groups that benefit from subsidy
●Stay within carrying
capacity. The carrying capacity of
ecoregions, nation-states, and the planet should be more precisely defined in
terms of sustainable use, focusing on maximum capacity (low quality of life) and
optimal capacity (high quality of life).
●Stabilize human population
size and even reduce it if it exceeds carrying capacity. With regard to exponential growth of the human population
size, one is reminded of the tale of an elephant in a small room—everyone sees
it, but no one wants to talk about it.
●Achieve zero net
immigration. Zero net immigration
should be enforced by all nation-states (e.g., Browne 2002).
Mass immigration, both legal and illegal, makes a mockery of attempts at
population stabilization. Arguably,
even more serious is that immigration encourages nation-states to export people
to avoid solving their population and sustainability problems internally.
●Control ecological footprint
size. Careful analyses of
ecological footprint size (Wackernagel and Rees 1996) should be made at all
levels of social organization. (Useful
websites on ecological footprint size are www.envionment.govt.nz/footprint/input.html
Important issues to consider are: (1)
global disparity in ecological footprint size; (2) impact of the total human
population on the ecological life support system is more important than related
subissues of poverty, racism, and individual rights; (3) Biosphere II (Earth is
Biosphere I), a 3.1-acre airtight mesocosm in Arizona, USA), illustrated quite
well that an ecological life support system cannot be created and kept
functional for a long period of time. Humankind
should not think that an ecological life support system could be created with
present knowledge. The lesson from
Biosphere II is that the ecological life support system now functioning must be
protected because a replacement is not possible at present; (4) ecological
footprint size is not a robust measure of quality of life; (5) unsustainable
practices damage the ecological life support system, which results in a per
capita reduction in ecological footprint size; (6) incentives to overuse
resources (large ecological footprint size) must be markedly diminished; (7) a
sustainable quality life does not depend on material goods consumption.
The United Nations Development Programme asserts that a sustainable
quality of life is achieved by “creating an environment in which people can
develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with
their needs and interests.”
the Technological/Industrial System
Nurturing is exceedingly difficult without peace among humans and the
other life forms with which they share the planet.
The war on (destruction of) the world’s ecosystems is, arguably, more
important than wars between nation-states.
Lasting peace requires inclusion of all life forms.
If humankind aspires to both lead the “good life” and leave a
habitable planet for posterity, it is essential to preserve both the ecological
life support system and the more recently developed technological/economic life
support system. Present population
size, demographic distribution, and level of affluence do not permit any other
alternative. Cooperation of all
humankind in this effort will only be possible if there is a vastly improved
social equity and peace.
The definition of the “good life” is critical.
If it is based primarily on acquisition of material goods, the ecological
life support system will continue to be degraded.
If based on a sense of community with both members of one’s own and
other species, the good life may be possible.
Prugh and Assadourian (2003) believe that the survival of Homo sapiens
is not in much danger from anything humankind might do to the global ecological
life support system. This belief is
dangerous because paleontological records show that the typical fate of a
species is to become extinct. The
assumption of indefinite survival for humans is probably untenable if there is
both massive global climate change and a significant change in the evolution of
new species more suited to new environmental conditions.
It is not prudent to gamble with extinction while the alternative of
living in a mutualistic relationship with the present ecological life support
system appears possible.
Precautionary measures are always
preferable to assumptions of invulnerability, as the passengers and crew of the
Titanic discovered too late. On the
other hand, as Prugh and Assadourian (2003) remark, most people would not choose
a society in which a few people control resources.
Mutiny is the likely outcome if the resources are disproportionately
distributed, unless a totalitarian state maintains the maldistribution by force.
This situation is certainly not the scenario that most people would
describe as the good life. Nurturing
both the ecological life support system and the technological/economic life
support system appears to offer the best prospect for living sustainably and
and Religious Conflicts, Resource Wars and Terrorism
It seems probable that
nation-states will endure for at least the 21st century.
As a consequence, conflicts between them will occur and almost certainly
increase as the global population increases and natural capital diminishes.
The world’s only superpower can defeat militarily countries such as
Afghanistan and Iraq but cannot easily control terrorists and saboteurs, as the
situations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 illustrate.
In Iraq, the oil pipeline to Turkey
was badly damaged, as were electrical and water supplies.
In September 2003, there was no effective civil government in Iraq, nor
is it likely that one will appear soon. Cultural
and religious conflicts suppressed by Saddam Hussein are emerging as a major
problem, and civil disorder is rampant. These
situations are not satisfactory conditions for nurturing Earth’s life support
systems or achieving peace.
at the Core
The most basic ethical question is:
Should humankind ignore the future of its descendants?
Cultural evolution has expanded the ethical treatment of other species,
first to domesticated species and then to other species of commercial or
recreational value. However,
extending ethical responsibility to the ecological life support system and
posterity is not yet a major commitment for humankind.
Meeting these responsibilities requires ensuring that the integrity of
the ecological life support system is not impaired and that the condition of the
technological/economic life support be maintained and preserved to the maximum
degree possible without endangering the ecological life support system.
There is robust justification for this position because natural capital
is the ultimate source of all other capital.
In addition, the ecosystem services provided by natural capital are
essential to the ecological life support system.
Without adequate resources per capita, peace is unlikely.
At present, nurturing the
technological/economic life support system, even at the cost of severe damage to
the ecological life support system, is called progress and economic growth.
However, anything that compromises the ecological life support system is
not sustainable. There is no
justification for the statement “you can’t stop progress” since, as
defined at present, it damages the ecological life support system.
Natural capitalism provides an economic alternative that nurtures the
ecological life support system (i.e., natural capitalism consists of sustainable
economic/technological practices), and unsustainable practices are poor
management and unethical.
Although much can be done to
prevent anthropogenic short-term catastrophes, the long-term prospects are less
encouraging. As Leakey and Lewin
(1999, as quoted in Kosmicki 2001) note: “Since
the Cambrian period the life on Earth has had its booms and catastrophes, the
species developed and changed and then were all killed in global
annihilation.” Humankind has
little likelihood of addressing these long-term issues until unsustainable
practices are replaced with sustainable ones.
Stacewicz (2001) believes the “turning point” in the creation of new
cultural patterns of Western civilization has been evident for some time.
Great deeds require resolve,
persistence, literacy, reason, and a strong commitment to ethics.
Arguably, sustainable use of the planet is the ultimate great deed
because it involves peace among humans and other life forms.
Sustainability is probably the greatest experiment ever undertaken by
humankind. It cannot succeed in an atmosphere of war, anarchy, or petty
bickering between unilateralists and internationalists (and one might add
between the academic disciplines). It
cannot succeed if fear and force are the primary motivators.
Sustainability cannot be achieved by force, even by a superpower whose
leaders feel obligated to uphold world order.
A consensual global set of values expressed through new international
institutions is essential. Such a set of values will require the support of all of the
powerful nation-states and the financial support of the wealthy, who cannot
escape to another comparable planet if this one is damaged.
The worst-case scenario is that
humankind will fail to respond adequately to the inevitable catastrophes that
will result from continuing unsustainable practices (including war) on a large
scale. One or more major
catastrophes may be necessary to cause a global paradigm shift from
unsustainable practices to sustainable practices.
One hopes that the catastrophe will not exceed the resilience of the
global life support system. Even
then, an effective response will require world governance beyond what now
This world governance, in turn, must be guided by
shared ecological and sustainability ethics based on a much higher level of
environmental literacy than now exists. Emerging
world leaders must be well informed about how Earth’s life support systems
work and be able to communicate new paradigms to all humankind.
As Paterson et al. (2003) note, governance has become one of the key
themes in global environmental politics. They
further state that much of the strength of this concept derives from its
capacity to convey a sense of an overarching set of arrangements beyond the
specificities of individual issue areas or thematic concerns that encompass a
broad range of political foci.
Feedback Loops for the Ecological Life Support System
The suggestion that a nation-state,
such as the United States, manage its economy without feedback loops providing
information (e.g., inflation rates, consumer confidence, housing starts, and
unemployment) would be ridiculed. The continual feedback of information enables economists to
determine the health of the economy and nurture the system when its health is
impaired. The level of detail
required is impressive. However, no
comparable feedback loops provide detailed, continuous information about the
health of the ecological life support system, which is at least as important as
the economy and, arguably, more important, since natural capital is the basis
for all other forms of capital. The
purpose of monitoring each system, either economic or ecological, is to confirm
that pre-established quality control conditions are being met.
If not, remedial measures should be taken quickly.
The methods and procedures are available for monitoring the condition of
the ecological life support system, but the motivation to do so at the level of
detail provided for the economy is lacking.
Nurturing the ecological life support system requires that a monitoring
system be established. Without
adequate feedback loops, the destruction of other species will continue.
the Ecological Life Support System while Nurturing Old People
Achieving sustainability in an
unsustainable world will not be possible if all unsustainable practices are not
replaced with sustainable practices. Population
stability in all nation-states and eco-regions is essential to the quest
for sustainable use of the planet. Humankind
in developed countries faces two major problems:
(1) an increased population of old people and (2) excessive consumption
of material goods. These seemingly
unrelated problems could be addressed concomitantly.
If the consumption of material
goods were diminished, the ecological footprint of developed countries would be
closer to the world average. The
many workers who have two jobs to maintain a materialistic life style could
reduce working hours and spend more time with their families (including caring
for the elderly), on recreation, and volunteer social work. No nation-state or ecoregion should solve labor problems by
encouraging immigration from nation-states and eco-regions that have exceeded
their carrying capacity because these immigrants will age.
If this practice continues, population problems will become even more
acute globally since it permits nation-states and ecoregions to avoid facing the
fact that they have exceeded their carrying capacity.
Exporting humans to solve national and local problems is an unsustainable
practice. The Middle East and North
Africa have 6.3% of the world population and only 1.4% of the water and one of
the world’s highest birthrates. The
region cannot export people indefinitely to avoid addressing carrying capacity
problems since this will accelerate problems in the host countries.
In contrast, the United States has
4.6% of the world’s population, but is responsible for nearly 25% of the
world’s anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Both overdeveloped and third-world countries must address
carrying capacity issues in a different way.
Neither exporting nor importing people is a sustainable practice for
either group. On a global scale,
both overpopulation and over consumption of resources are severely damaging
other life forms and driving some to extinction.
Iran’s family planning
initiatives, including contraceptive use, have reduced fertility rates from a
high of 5.6 in 1985 to 2.0 in 2000. Regrettably,
the United States, which should be a world leader in working toward population
stabilization, has withheld US$34 million from the United Nations Population
Fund and cut off aid to international family planning organizations whose
services include (but do not use US funds for) informing women of legal abortion
options. In an overcrowded world, a
point has been reached where each population increase means less resources per
capita, which will push more impoverished persons into starvation and even
death. Earth can only support a
finite number of people, beyond this point the primary issue is how people will
die and at what age. These are not
circumstances that favor peace.
Population stabilization will not
be fully effective until urban sprawl is eliminated. Then, more space will be available for natural systems (i.e.,
natural capital and the services it provides).
The policies espoused by “smart growth” proponents does reduce per
capita land consumption but, unless coupled with population stabilization,
merely saves land for the present generation that will be lost in succeeding
generations (i.e., it is an unsustainable practice unless the reduction in per
capita land consumption is coupled to population stabilization).
Sapiens: An Endangered Species?
Initially, a question about Homo sapiens being an endangered
species appears preposterous, but the statement does have merit. Humans inherited a storehouse of natural capital that took 3
billion years to accumulate; they have greatly depleted it in just a few
centuries. For most of their
existence, humans were a small-group species spread thinly over Earth.
However, recently in evolutionary time, they have become a large-group
species living in high densities over a substantial part of the planet’s land
and exhausting the fisheries of the world’s oceans, which cover a larger part
of the surface. The planet has been
turned into a common ground from which any individual or corporation with
sufficient money can extract resources, all too often in an unsustainable way.
These activities have resulted in a biotic crisis that is likely, if
these practices continue, to precipitate a sixth mass extinction of species.
Extinction terminates lineages and removes genetic material valuable to
the ecological life support system. Biodisparity
(the biota’s morphological and physiological variety) would be in serious
decline (e.g., Russell et al. 1995).
The fossil record provides substantial evidence about extinction events
that have covered various spatial scales and degrees of biotic impoverishment.
It is quite clear that there is recovery from even major biotic
impoverishment over geologic and evolutionary time.
These are not time scales that human society has had experience planning
for. Furthermore, disequilibrium
conditions do not favor sustainable use of the planet by one species.
Sustainability is more probable if human society had a peaceful,
mutualistic relationship with natural systems upon which it is dependent.
Lessons from the past show that, when large numbers of individuals are
weakened by famine, disease, emotional stress, and social disorder, the larger
population of which they are a part is likely to experience severe
disequilibrium. If this adversely
affected the technological/economic life support system, recovery would be
problematic since humankind has utilized much of the huge inventory of natural
capital from which the present social system was built.
The most dramatic evolutionary effects of mass extinctions are that they
remove successful incumbents (Jablonski 2001).
Surely, Homo sapiens fits this description very well indeed for
large species. Biotic consequences
are not likely to be of major concern to species that have gone extinct.
Prospects for Peace
Resource wars will continue until humankind learns to live sustainably,
which, in turn, requires peace with both the human species and with other life
forms. Since resource wars are
primarily caused by unsustainable resource consumption, much attention must be
given to the ecological footprint size of both individuals and nations.
Excessive resource consumption generates enormous profits for
corporations and a few individuals on a short-term, unsustainable basis.
These profits divert attention from protection of the resource to
short-term benefits to the exploiters of the resource.
The result is the extraction of resources as rapidly as possible and then
shifting monetary capital to other resources.
The power elite uses this procedure as a dominant paradigm; however,
there are alternatives. Hawken
(1993) has shown that corporate profits are possible even in the present global
economy and are compatible with long-term benefits. Weston (1995) has produced an excellent overview of the
situation that focuses on both environmental and corporate concerns.
The US National Academy of Engineering (1996) addresses the pivotal issue
of how to maximize the benefits of technological innovation with an emphasis on
preventing environmental damage.
Prospects for peace with natural
systems will be enhanced by: (1)
not discharging or producing wastes that cannot be beneficially assimilated by
natural systems, (2) taking nothing from Earth that is not renewable in
quantities that can be extracted indefinitely (i.e., efficient use of
resources), (3) anything that benefits neither consumers nor natural systems is
unacceptable waste, (4) embracing natural capitalism (Hawken et al., 1999),
which espouses an economic system that does not plunder Earth, (5) restoring
damaged ecosystems at a higher rate than they are being damaged until there is
sufficient natural capital for sustainable use of the planet, then, a balance
between damage and repair should be adequate, (6) monitoring natural systems to
confirm that previously established quality control conditions are being met.
Present unsustainable practices can be replaced now with practices
available now! Thus, there is no excuse for not making peace with natural
systems and the 30+ million species that inhabit them, including Homo sapiens.
Adams (2003) comments about the failure of the Natural Resources Defense
Council (NRDC) to convince the US Congress not to approve the most far-reaching
rollback of marine mammal protection in the last 30 years.
The rollback exempts the US military from obeying core provisions of the
Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
This change permits injuring and killing whales, dolphins, and other
marine mammals with high intensity sonar and underwater explosives.
It also permits the military to exempt itself entirely from all
environmental review under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
In addition, the military can destroy the habitat of endangered birds and
mammals that live on the 25 million acres of land under the military’s
These drastic steps were considered necessary because environmental laws
were compromising combat readiness for the war on terror. Adams (2003) notes that even the administration in charge of
the military cannot name a single training session anywhere in the country that
had to be delayed or cancelled because of environmental restrictions.
These actions will clearly endanger Earth’s ecological life support
system, which is essential to sustainable use of the planet.
This major threat to both national and global security will impair
security far more than any act of terrorism.
These unsustainable practices cannot continue indefinitely.
Nurturing complex systems for
sustainable use of the planet requires a different perspective of humankind’s
identity, both as individuals and as nation-states. Since humans are dependent on Earth’s ecological life
support system, it is essential to ensure that the technological/economic life
support system does not impair the health and integrity of the ecological life
support system. Furthermore, the
cumulative impact of individual decisions must also not damage natural systems.
Unsustainable practices will be stopped either by changes in human
behavior or, more brutally, by nature. Harsh
penalties will be exacted by nature for disregarding nature’s laws, such as
exceeding the global or regional carrying capacity for humans.
Some older cultures regarded
natural systems, such as water, as sacred, including the manner of use and the
waste of water. In the 13th
century, Sinran, a Buddhist priest, wrote, “Nature was not made by any outer
forces but was made of its own accord. Buddha
or all religious absolutes are means of understanding the state of nature.
After real understanding is reached of nature and Buddha, it should not
be open to discussion. If it
becomes, then nature would not be made naturally and by its own accord.
This understanding is the miracle of Buddhism” (as quoted by Kawanabe
The view of nature at present is
nearly a polar opposite of the 13th century one.
Nature is sacrificed to keep the economy growing or as a means of
disposing of anthropogenic wastes. Respectful
observation of nature still appears to be desired by many humans, but political
leaders, both elected and appointed, fail to design projects in harmony with
natural systems. Under the guise of
progress and economic growth, humans destroy, bit by bit, the biospheric life
support system for short-term benefits. The
technological/economic life support, which supposedly benefits from unrestrained
economic growth, is indeed a complex system, but it is merely a subsystem
primarily designed for only one species—Homo sapiens.
However, Homo sapiens and its complex technological/economic
subsystem are embedded in a much more complex system of millions of species upon
which, in the long term, its survival depends.
As a consequence, it should be abundantly clear that the subsystem and
the species that created it cannot flourish unless the larger, more complex
system is nurtured. Doing so will
enhance the prospects for peace.
I am indebted to Karen Cairns for
transcribing the handwritten first draft and to Darla Donald for editorial
assistance. Paul R. Ehrlich called
The Guardian article to my attention. Colleagues
suggested that a companion piece to “War and Sustainability” should be
written about peace and sustainability.
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