Sustainability is about everyone living well, as far into the future as possible. War is about the most brutish form of conflict resolution we know.
It’s not hard to see how these two things are at odds. War kills people, injures people, rips apart families, communities and whole societies. It destroys critical infrastructure and homes. It also damages land, causes pollution and wastes resources and insane sums of money. Basically, while sustainability aims for a shared, ecologically-feasible and lasting prosperity, war fucks everything up.
You can’t have a sustainable society that is at war. The two cancel each other out.
So, my question is, do we need to first achieve world peace before we can fully get down to sustainability?
Wars are, understandably, pretty high on our priority list. It seems we can’t focus on the future when the present is so perpetually full of barbaric emergency. Right now, in the UK, the news is constantly updating us on the horrific war in Gaza, plus Ukraine and Syria to a lesser extent. There are many other wars and civil conflicts around the world that the UK mainstream press doesn’t focus on. Is it any wonder, given the context, that I’ve read absolutely nothing on sustainable development in the country’s main four newspapers over the last couple of weeks?
It’s understandable that we give our attention to violence and injustice happening right now, over environmental trouble later on.
But the thing is, if we need world peace before we can address climate change, the mass extinction, resource depletion and the rest, then we’ll be waiting quite a while. My guess is we’d be waiting until the world’s in such bad shape that new wars would be started over things like fresh water and fertile land. And then we’d have millions of homeless climate refugees and a lot less to fight over.
And anyway, is world peace even possible?
There’s not much argument over the fact it would be desirable. As I’ve said, war is not only a tragic waste of life and resources, it’s also inherently unsustainable. I define world peace to mean a situation where no nation is at war with another nation. Some people subscribe to an even more idealistic version, where conflict itself is abolished. I’ll come right out and say I think that’s impossible. Getting rid of international war would be hard enough.
But can we do it?
I don’t know, is the simple answer. I hope so. I like to think we’ll one day stop legalising mass-murder and come up with a more civilised way to deal with disagreement. We like to think we’re a civilised species, no?
In answer to my main question for this post: No, I don’t think we need world peace before we can tackle sustainability properly. At least I hope not, because that would likely mean we achieve neither. But I think at state level, a country would find it hard to commit wholeheartedly to sustainability when they’re at war. So it follows that maybe we at least need the major world powers to put down their missiles. Ouch. Do you want to call up the US and Russia and ask them to do this? Only I’m not sure they’ll listen to me…
Just as war and sustainability are at irreconcilable odds, peace and sustainability reinforce each other. Maybe we don’t need to tick one off before we can do the other, maybe they need to be tackled together. Political action comes in here. If your country is at war, make sure you email your MP and tell them exactly how you feel about it. If you support the sustainability cause (read: if you’re a rational human being) why not find out how much of the national budget is being spent on the conflict and demand it be spent on something like renewable energy or education instead. Go on peace marches. If you live in the UK, demand we stop selling weapons to Israel. Of course, you can always argue “but they won’t listen”. Which is a reasonable concern. They usually don’t. But as democratic citizens, we have the responsibility to at least tell them what we want.
So what do you think?
Do we need world peace before we can properly tackle sustainability?
Or will they only truly be tackled together?