World Peace Must Start with Environmental Justice

Kumi Naidoo, Vancouver Sun, September 16, 2011

For the past week, the world has reflected on the tragedy of 9/11 and the consequences of that fateful day. To my mind, we talk more about security than peace now. And we ignore the role that environmental justice can play in achieving world peace
It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that climate change will exacerbate global conflicts. And our reliance on fossil fuels and unconventional oil deposits – like those in the oilsands or the Arctic – will only accelerate climate change.

Just look at Darfur and Somalia where resource wars are already underway as a result of climate change; and sadly those that are suffering first and most brutally are those that have been least responsible for the climate chaos we find ourselves in.

Choosing clean energy alternatives and a green economy offers a multiplicity of solutions for the planet. In turning away from fossil fuels and burning less carbon dioxide, we save the environment, we create jobs, and we save lives.

Forty years after it was founded, Greenpeace is as relevant as ever in drawing the links between peace and environment. In 2007, United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said, “We need you, Greenpeace, to mobilize public opinion and enable politicians to do the right thing.”

In Canada, we are working with industry, government and first nations to create sustainable forestry practices.

The landmark Great Bear Rainforest Agreement in British Columbia is seen as a “greenprint” for successful forest conservation worldwide. It will preserve close to three million hectares of rainforest – an area larger than Prince Edward Island – from logging.

Similarly, the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement signed last year includes an immediate moratorium on logging in 28 million hectares of forest. This isn’t just trees either, but wildlife habitat and the lungs of the planet.

These agreements demonstrate that environment and economy can be highly compatible under the right conditions. We can have economic prosperity and environmental protection at the same time.

In 1990, Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter wrote: “The idea exists that the ecology movement is a late-blooming fad, something to do with hippies; a fad, moreover, that will vanish the moment serious jobs-versus-nature battles come down after the first macro waves of recession.”

And yet, here we are. While political and economic crises ebb and flow, the environmental movement has kept pace with reality. The movement continues to grow, and so does Greenpeace.

From its humble roots in Vancouver, Greenpeace now has offices in more than 40 countries on every continent and three million members worldwide. We started with the hope of ending nuclear testing (green) and proliferation (peace) – a campaign we’re still fighting, primarily in the energy sector – and we’re still promoting practical solutions for the planet.

We’re an organization of big ideas and ideals. We don’t accept government or corporation money. And we’re always ready and willing to stand up for our convictions and tackle big problems with big solutions.

Over the last 40 years, Greenpeace has helped to end nuclear testing, introduce a ban on the dumping of radioactive waste at sea, protect the ozone layer by introducing technology like “Greenfreeze” refrigeration, establish a treaty to protect the Antarctic from mineral exploration and put an end to commercial whale hunting.

We are renown for our famous, high profile demonstrations. But, most of our work is focused on promoting real-life, practical solutions for people and the environment.

And we’re making it a global effort, in every sense of the word. We employ scientists, lawyers, engineers and researchers. We have the most dedicated activists and volunteers on the planet – and they are young, old, and everything in between.

Not bad for an organization that began with a daring mission to end nuclear testing on Amchitka, Alaska. Fittingly, Greenpeace doesn’t celebrate its birthday on the occasion of a meeting, the writing of a charter or the raising of its first funds. We celebrate the day a group of visionaries set sail to make a difference, and as Bill Darnell quipped, to make a “green peace.”

This week, we’ll pause to celebrate our successes and then get back to the meaningful change Greenpeace has always stood for, and which is more urgently needed now more than ever before.

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