Nobel Laureates call for Making Peace with the Earth

By James Michael Wine

Thanks to the Nobel Prize, peace is not simply the absence of war. The work for peace is not simply the prevention of war or the resolution of conflict. Peace has been equated with new strains of grain to help feed the world; with planting trees to stimulate resiliency in the land, in people, in society; with micro-credits for development. Poverty, hunger, disease, indignity, segregation and apartheid, humanitarian help in a world without borders. All the work for peace.

Now the Nobel message is about making peace with the Earth. We are a world at war. The consequences  are now and for generations to come. In the words of another Peace Laureate Kofi Annan, “We are all in the same boat.”

It was no surprise that the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2007 prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

We are all more aware of the intensely systemic problem known as climate change thanks to their combined efforts in science and communication. 2007 will be remembered as the year we got the message. “We all agree. Climate change is real, and we humans are its chief cause. Yet even now, few people fully understand the gravity of the threat, or its immediacy,” wrote UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently in the International Herald Tribune, adding: “I have always considered global warming to be a matter of utmost urgency. Now I believe we are on the verge of a catastrophe if we do not act.”

The IPCC is the largest group of scientists ever to work together for the benefit of the whole planet. Their research findings make it clear that it’s not natural, it’s us. The message is simple: we must stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere before tipping the planet in a dangerous phase that will last for centuries.

Al Gore is not a scientist, but a tireless ex-politician and slide show lecturer turned Oscar winning movie star, who managed to create a profoundly effective form of communication out of an impossibly complex subject. Gore studied and spoke the inconvenient truth. We got the message. More than 75% of the world’s population are now aware and concerned.

Yet it is not surprising that a recent survey showed that concern is higher in the developing world than at the source of the problem, the developed world. Study after study show it will the poorest who will suffer first and most. Witness the fallout from Katrina. When you have little, you can lose the most.

Underscoring the sudden urgency is the fact that both the IPCC and Gore vastly underestimated the
speed of climate change. This year’s dramatic Arctic meltdown came decades ahead of their predictions.

Nature, it seems, has its own time schedule and we must accommodate. Increasingly, the issue of climate is linked to global security. The consequences of forced migration, water and food shortages, storms and droughts, financial and market instabilities all point to conditions that have led to war before. Though now on an altogether different scale. Soon the world gathers in Bali to hammer out the framework for a new deal. Essentially it comes down to climate and equity, but this makes the complexity of the Doha Round seem like simple arithmetic.

Still, climate is just the tip of the ecological iceberg that is melting away. Water, fisheries, land-use, pollution, species extinction – the problems are everywhere. New technologies will play essential roles in the solution. But old “new” technologies also caused many of the problems. They will not solve the deeper crisis.

William James’ essay, “The Moral Equivalent of War,” is given the credit for such US projects as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Peace Corps, enlisting youth in the work for the commonwealth. However, his was an “army enlisted against Nature,” so that these young people could have “done their own part in the immemorial human warfare against nature.”

This human warfare has wittingly and unwittingly been the consistent strategy of civilization. It defined progress. It produced wealth. It carved out sovereign territories on a borderless planet. Now this cumulative warfare has brought us to the brink of Mutually Assured Destruction – and this too is mad. If we are to understand the meaning of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Peace, we will not find it in the historical tomes of statesmen or the metaphorical tombs of unknown soldiers. We must look to ourselves.

Thanks to Rachel Carson, we have a better understanding: “We still talk in terms of conquest. We still haven’t become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. I truly believe that we in this generation must come to terms with nature, and I think we’re challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”

We have less than ten years to change course, to gain maturity and prove this mastery. To mitigate
climate change will demand an end to poverty. Conflicts will play out in a new context. It will alter forever how we live with each other and with the Earth. We have a choice. Do we sustain this immemorial human warfare against nature and against ourselves – or do we choose to bury all of our hatchets, heed the human wisdom which has whispered from the edges of every culture and choose the path of peace?

The work for peace has usually seemed a thankless task at the periphery of Business as Usual. Now the task has never been so challenged, or so critical to the survival of humanity. We live in a world at war. At war with nature and with ourselves. We cannot negotiate a settlement with nature, not even an orderly truce. But we can bring the work for peace into every home, every school, every church, every business, every nation – everyone.

In the United States everyone celebrates Thanksgiving, the great family gathering. Most Americans have some vague idea of the tradition, a picture Indians and Pilgrims sharing a meal. But the real history dates back a thousand years to the beginning of the Iroquois Confederacy when the Peacemaker brought the five warring nations together, buried their hatchets under the Great Tree of Peace, and instructed the people in the rite of Thanksgiving for all of creation, all of nature, of which they were a part, in peace.

So today let’s thank the Iroquois Peacemaker and these Nobel Peace Laureates. Thanks, too, to Pogo who shouted: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  And thanks to Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, whose insight echoes the indigenous wisdom that leads to peace: “We are the earth’s.”

Give thanks for peace.

James Michael Wine, a Tallberg Forum adviser and poet, is one of the founding members of the Peace Appeal Foundation and Peace Tools. His father was one of John F Kennedy’s principle speech writers.


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