Just this week, NWEI completed its first-ever online discussion course where 45 people (several from other countries!) journeyed with us for an online exploration of the intersections between peace, justice and sustainability – drawing from NWEI’s Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability course book.
Here are a few key highlights from our sessions:
1. In working to effect change in any arena, ‘dancing with systems’ is essential. Donnella Meadow’s article ‘Dancing With Systems’ (found in Session One) offered reminders of the importance of paying attention to relationships, patterns and dynamics in the systems we are working to change. Systems are indeed unpredictable and not controllable – but, you can ‘dance with them’ nonetheless. A few places to start: Watch how systems behave, focus on facts instead of theories, and don’t define problems by the lack of our favorite solution (such as, “the problem is we need to find more oil”). We can also work to make what is invisible visible by challenging assumptions and asking for feedback.
2. Awareness is the key, and don’t forget about people, justice and equality. Dr. Robert Bullard reminded us in Session Three that, “Awareness is the key. Legal action is important but it has to go hand in hand with education, training, organization and mobilization.” In our work to protect the environment, we need to include the natural world AND where we live, work and play. We should not leave people out. And, as Dr. Bullard and the environmental justice movement remind us, “once we talk about people we have to talk about justice and equality.”
3. Consider the ‘rights of nature.’ If corporations can have the same rights as individuals and be protected by laws, why not rivers and mountains? Session Three explored how a New Zealand landmark agreement made the Whanganui River a legal entity with a legal voice and how Ecuador was the first nation to recognize the legal rights of mountains, rivers and land in 2008. We need new environmental laws which move us beyond focusing on how much we can use or exploit. How can giving rivers and mountains voices change the conversations around environmental justice?
4. Remember, there does not have to be a conflict between raising the standard of living for the poorest people and preserving the environment. According to Oxfam, we can and should be working to create a safe and just space for humanity, and it is possible. In Session Four we learned that meeting the food, energy and income needs of the poorest would require only 3% of the global food supply, a 1% increase in CO2 emissions, and 0.2% of the global income. The problem to address is the excessive resource consumption by the wealthiest 10% and the production patterns of companies producing the goods they buy. And consider this: 50% of global carbon emissions are generated by only 11% of the global population.
5. Bring difficult issues into the light. Then, foster empathy. Session Six reminds us that “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment but as an endless succession of surprises,” as Howard Zinn says in his article ‘The Optimism of Uncertainty.’ How did the British Slave Trade end in only 20 years? It was spurred by the empathy of a small group of people who understood what was behind the sugar in their tea, followed by actively raising awareness, organizing boycotts, raising funds and writing letters. So too can we dig deeper into issues today, remembering empathy for all of the people and places affected by our lifestyles. What of Coltan from Eastern Congo, found in our laptops and cell phones? What of the working conditions of the people making our consumer goods?
6. Don’t rely on someone else to fix all the problems. Be a Host! Margaret Wheatley reminds us that you can lead by “inviting people to come together to explore a good question.” We can create the means for problems to get solved by hosting meaningful conversations. (Just like we do through NWEI’s discussion courses!) Where could you play host in your community and what specific issue would you want to address?
Finally, start with a personal practice. We need to translate our understandings regarding the vast and interconnected issues of peace, justice and sustainability into action through daily practices of humanity, empathy, and sustainability. As Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.” From this ground of awareness, we can act in service of the world.
*Want to dive deeper? You can organize or participate in your own Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability discussion course. Looking for ways to take action? Sign up for our upcoming annual EcoChallenge this Fall and join our community of people and organizations working to make change for good.