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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.
Issue 164: November 2008

INNATE recently ran a residential workshop – see elsewhere this issue for a write up on ‘how to do it’ – on Eco-Nonviolence; that was, in our definition for the workshop, nonviolence in the service of ecological and green issues. This editorial does not seek to explore the same territory but rather to explore similarities between nonviolence and political ecology, and our own approach.

The first point to be made is that the ecological issue is the great issue of our age. Without rapid movement by governments and peoples around the world, but especially in the rich and most polluting countries causing the bulk of the problem, all other efforts for human progress – in world development and justice, peace and human understanding, and so on – will be overwhelmed because they will simply be swamped by the tidal wave of human and animal trauma emanating from global warming. Without stabilisation of world temperatures we are in for an extremely bumpy ride. Food security will become a real luxury. The scale of climate refugees will provoke strife and wars, as will the search for reliable sources of water and resources. Whole countries and regions of countries will simply disappear or become uninhabitable. This is all rather apocalyptic but, unfortunately, based on the best scientific knowledge we have.

The cause of peace is therefore best served by assisting the control of global warming. That is not to say that everyone in peace, nonviolence and human rights groups should immediately drop tools to join the ecological and green movement but that they should play their part by adopting green lifestyles and promulgating green ideas – and working on joint projects with green groups where relevant. Dealing with the ecological issue is essential for humanity but there are a myriad of other issues which also need attention for humanity, globally and locally, to make progress Being green has to move from the margins to the mainstream of all sectors of society – all sectors need to be involved – and part of our role can be to help motivate our sector on the issue. Tokenism was not, and is not, enough. A key point also is that each of us accepts personal responsibility in relation to global warming.

The workshop on Eco-Nonviolence organised by INNATE was one small part of our contribution. The policy of Nonviolent News is to try to cover green issues through both news items and other content (such as Larry Speight’s column on Eco-Awareness). We do not purport to be primarily a ‘green’ group but to emphasise the importance of the green issue for life, for peace, and for human progress. Thus we do not try to cover all ‘green’ issues – there are green and ecological bodies and networks better equipped to do that – but to cover some important issues and above all to continually emphasise that a radical green response is essential from us all. The ‘eco’ part of nonviolence must not be a fad or a passing whim; eco-nonviolence is for life, and for our lives.

There are various scientists who now propose techno fixes, and many who propose nuclear power which would actually be a way of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It may be that we end up needing the help of some techno fixes but these bring their own dangers since they require interventions which have uncertain outcomes in relation to the complex web that is the Earth’s ecology. We need a radical response which is based on renewable energy of all kinds, on massive investment in insulation, and in changed lifestyles (e.g. little or no air travel).

Eco-nonviolence seems to be a term that we have coined in English, judging by a web search for it. It seems strange that it is not a term in wider use, since other combinations of ‘eco’ and life approaches are common. For example, take ‘ecofeminism’ which is, according to Mary Mellor, “a movement that sees a connection between the exploitation and degradation of the natural world and the subordination and oppression of women……[it] brings together elements of the feminist and green movements, while at the same time offering a challenge to both.” [Mary Mellor, in ‘Feminism and Ecology, quoted in - click on “What is ecofeminism?” under ‘About us’ ] On similar lines, eco-nonviolence could be defined as seeing a connection between violence against nature and violence against people. The two are intimately linked. When nature is ill-treated, people are likely to suffer on a local level; this can be through physical, psychological, economic or other effects. On a worldwide scale, global warming may become the greatest source of violence against people, their wellbeing and happiness. Eco-nonviolence must insist that nonviolence includes a radical approach to ecology, but also that ecological campaigning can benefit from the approach that nonviolence takes to issues through a determined and radical stand which still respects the humanity of opponents and refuses to divide people further through the use of violence. Nonviolent campaigns against nuclear power seem to be a perfect example of eco-nonviolence.

‘Ecology’ is of course a very wide concept, both scientific and political, where the term ‘green’ may be slightly more precise or accurate in our general context. “A central principle of ecology is that each living organism has an ongoing and continual relationship with every other element that makes up its environment.” (Wikipedia); this is, of course, in accord with the thinking of nonviolence which sees relationships, and the refusal to ignore relationships, as a key principle.

We are going to have to run very far and very fast to achieve what is needed in relation to global warming. As yet there was been much tinkering at the edges without the radical steps needed to achieve what has to be achieved. In this struggle, and it will be a struggle, eco-nonviolence has an important role to play.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column–

The economic crisis
Very few people in the rich world would be unaware that the international economic order is under threat of collapse because of the inherent weakness in the world of finance.

A financially secure future based on pensions, savings and investments that people spent a life-time working for is melting before their eyes. Many must be disillusioned and now questioning all they have ever believed about how society functions.

Although some governments have guaranteed personal savings, if national treasuries overstretch themselves they simply may not have the cash to meet the demands of a mass withdrawal from the banks. This is possible as an increase in unemployment and decrease in spending, as is happening at the moment, leads to a marked drop in tax revenues.

What can we learn from the threat to the viability of the international economic order in regard to the very basis of our economy, the natural environment?

One obvious thing is that the crisis was predictable. It did not occur out of the blue, but was inherent in the system, in particular after deregulation that was introduced in the 1980’s by President Regan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Britain. As greed knows no bounds, without regulation based on a concept of the common good, economic mayhem was bound to result. One of the leading economists of the 20th century, the late JK Galbraith, never tired of pointing this out.

As an economy based on greed and short-termism is bound to collapse so is the biosphere if it is relentlessly treated in a laissez-faire manner. In 1973, E.F. Schumacher, one of the founders of the modern environmental movement wrote in his classic and very readable book, Small is Beautiful that: “Modern man does not experience himself as part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side.”

The environmental audits scientists regularly produce provide little room to doubt that humankind is undermining the ability of the Earth to support life in its varied richness. See for instance the Living Planet Report 2008 by WWF. When we undermine eco-systems we undermine human wellbeing in the present, and the ability of society to continue into the future. This point was made by George Monbiot in The Guardian, 14 October, when he wrote: “The financial crisis for which we must now pay so heavily prefigures the real collapse, when humanity bumps against its ecological limits.”

Monbiot’s observation is based on a European study led by Pavan Sukhdev which found that the natural capital lost every year through deforestation is worth between $2 trillion and $5 trillion. In comparison the losses incurred by the financial sector over the past year are estimated to be between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion.

Another lesson the financial crisis provides is that we have to act on the evidence that the biosphere, which humans have adapted to over the past 10,000 years, will almost certainly collapse if we don’t immediately reduce our level of consumption and learn to live in a frugal but comfortable way.

We have to awaken and act for the era of business, without an eco-audit, is well and truly over.

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