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[greenyes] A Green Peace Prize

Dear GreenYessers:

The essay below was circulated to us here in PA by our Secretary of the
Department of Environmental Protection, Katie McGinty. I¹m sending it in
light of the discussion a few weeks back about Wangari Maathai¹s Nobel Peace
Prize. It is well worth reading.

In the words of David Byrne (in another context), I think it¹s important for
all of us to remember as we work on whatever environmental issues that
matter to us, ³...this ain¹t no foolin¹ around.²

Dear Readers--

I wanted to share the following beautifully and compellingly written piece
by David Sandalow for three reasons: first, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai
is a friend of mine and I know firsthand that she literally has put her own
life on the line many times in order to defend the life and dignity of
others; second, because the piece helps us see the importance of smart
resource stewardship and environmental protection; and third, because David
worked for me in the White House and I am enormously moved by and proud of
his continued exemplary leadership. Share with me your thoughts.

                                      Katie McGinty


A Green Peace Prize
By David B. Sandalow

Her musical name hides a fierce spirit. For more than three decades she's
faced down dictators and detractors, building a Green Belt Movement in her
native Kenya and helping plant millions of trees around Africa. Now Wangari
Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, is suddenly a global symbol
of the often overlooked connection between protecting the environment and
preventing conflict.

Like so much in her career, the award has sparked controversy.

Why, critics ask, should the Nobel Peace Prize go to an environmental
activist? Under Alfred Nobel's will, the prize belongs to "the person who
shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations,
for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and
promotion of peace congresses." For more than 50 years after the
industrialist's death in 1896, the Nobel Committee (appointed by the
Norwegian parliament) awarded the Peace Prize to politicians, diplomats and
international bureaucrats.

But after World War II, the Nobel Committee began taking a more expansive
view of its charter. In 1952 the committee awarded the Peace Prize to Albert
Schweitzer, a physician and missionary whose legendary contributions to
humanity did not include -- except perhaps indirectly -- conflict avoidance
of the type narrowly described by Nobel's testament. Since then winners have
included Norman Borlaug, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel --
extraordinary individuals whose selection reflects growing interest by the
committee both in inspirational leaders and the forces behind strife.

In this tradition, selecting an environmental activist for the Nobel Peace
Prize is not only proper but inspired. Doing so when much of the world's
attention is focused on daily casualties in a controversial war is
especially farsighted. By shining a spotlight on a topic that would
otherwise receive little attention -- the role of the natural environment in
human conflict -- the Nobel Committee may help prevent tragedies.

But what does protecting the environment have to do with preventing
conflict? First, environmental degradation is often a precursor of violence.

Nowhere is this demonstrated more vividly than in Darfur. The immediate
cause of the tragedy in Sudan is the ruthless behavior of government forces
and militias toward unarmed civilians. But lying behind today's disaster is
the desertification of northern Darfur during the past two decades. Extended
drought and poor land management have pushed the desert southward year after
year, forcing Arab nomads from the north deeper into southern farmlands
while breeding resentment and conflict.

Could the tragedy in Darfur have been averted if a charismatic leader such
as Wangari Maathai had helped the people of Sudan protect their soils and
prevent desertification? Perhaps. Similar questions could be asked in many
places around the globe.

In the Philippines, a long-standing insurgency finds a ready source of
recruits from those trapped in poverty by reckless deforestation. In Mexico,
soil erosion and deforestation fueled a rebellion in Chiapas in the
mid-1990s that shook the national government and contributed to a peso
crisis that rattled financial markets around the world.

In Pakistan, where the world community has a vital interest in preventing
deterioration of the social order, degraded croplands are forcing many poor
farmers to migrate to Karachi and other urban centers, where shortages of
clean water and electric power have sparked violence.

Scholarly studies suggest that ecological stress is often a cause of
conflict within nations (and even, occasionally, between nation-states).

Ecological stress frequently exacerbates more obvious social problems, such
as ethnic rivalries, that are more likely to be identified as the immediate
causes of strife.

There are other connections between the environment and conflict. A common
affinity for the natural world can help bring rivals together and overcome
bitterness. It's no accident that in the 1970s, as doors between China and
the United States opened for the first time in decades, the Chinese
government sent a panda to the United States as a symbol of rapprochement.

In addition, environmental activism has played an important role in the
struggle for democracy. In Central and Eastern Europe, environmental groups
such as the Danube Circle provided vehicles for popular dissatisfaction with
communist regimes in the late 1980s. In China, protests over the Three
Gorges Dam helped spark the democracy movement at Tiananmen Square.

The compelling immediacy of car bombs, kidnappings and beheadings will
always capture headlines. Wise leaders will pay attention not just to
today's battles but also to the forces that can help reduce conflict in
years to come.

The Nobel Committee spoke wisely last week in recognizing that "[p]eace on
earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment." Wangari
Maathai's example can help peace take root in many places around the world.

The writer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, was senior director for
environmental affairs on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton


David Biddle, Executive Director

P.O. Box 4037
Philadelphia, PA 19118
215-432-8225 (mobile)


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option for articles by ³David Biddle²

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