Peace and Sustainability: Basis for Education
The following is an essay published by Eiichiro Ochiai in Global Educator, Winter, 2011, p14-17
Humankind is currently in a deep trouble. Whether human civilization will survive long is now really questionable. An immediate issue is the economic crisis; the current capitalistic market economy is now critically wounded. The basic idea behind the current economy is “growth” (of economic activities in terms of quantity), which is contradictory to the “sustainable human civilization”. Our economic activities (consumption) have now surpassed the carrying capacity of the earth, and are on a brink of collapse. Besides, a few individuals, the so-called “economic elites” have cleverly or grossly (depending on the point of view) steered the whole economic system into such a direction in which only they benefit from the economy and the great majority of humankind suffer economically. The impetus for growth economy would make nations to compete for the limited resources on the earth; this threatens to lead to perhaps an ultimate war between big players. In order for the humankind to avoid such dangers and establish a sustainable and peaceful civilization, all mankind, young and children above all, have to learn how to approach it. This short essay tries to show very briefly what needs to be implemented in the education system for the purpose.
Peace and sustainability are intimately intertwined, and cannot be separated. Peace is a precondition for sustainable human civilization, but peace on the earth would not be realized unless the human society attains a sustainable status. These issues are the basics for human survival and hence should be the basis for education. We will first discuss what “peace” and “sustainability” entail, how these states might be attained, and then how the issues should be incorporated in the education.
Let’s focus on “Sustainability” first. The word “sustainability” is not well delineated, and means different things to different people, it seems. It should not be “to sustain a status quo”, though most often it is used to mean just that. That is, it is often meant to sustain one’s condition without regard to how it affects others (other people, other communities, other countries, other living organisms, the environment, the earth as a whole, etc.).
Let us define “sustainability” here to mean that the entire human race, not just the advanced societies, sustains itself and that each and every individual of human race has a right and enjoy to live a best life within this sustainability constraint; this is the basic human right. This does not necessarily imply that all the people on this earth should attain the same material standard. Each region (country) has its unique and limited ecology, and the people in it should live more or less self-sufficiently and happily within the sustainable constraints, with some resources equitably distributed among regions. In other words, renewable material (i.e., plants) can be cultivated and raised in each region to the extent of being capable of sufficiently sustaining (feed, clothe and house) the population. Nonrenewable resources are distributed unequally among regions. In a sustainable civilization, these resources would be regarded to belong to all human race and other living organisms. These resources are distributed among different regions according to the need, and used in sufficiently sustainable manners. This presupposes cooperation rather than individual egotistic competitive activities at every level at human endeavors.
Currently the people in advanced countries are enjoying enormously affluent material lives, at the expense of the people in the developing countries, the majority of whom are living miserably in terms of material. This is far from the condition of the sustained human civilization outlined above. On the average, the humankind is currently using renewable resources in excess of renewable rate by more than 20%, and this is rising.
To attain a sustainable use of resources, the people in the currently affluent nations need to significantly reduce their consumption of energy and material, and measures should be taken to raise the wellbeing (in terms of material) of the people in the developing world, so that all the people on the earth should attain comparable levels of material affluence, though not necessarily the same level. The overall consumption level should be much lower than the current level (i.e., overall by more than 20%). The crucial point is that people in any region should feel they are living happy worthy lives. To attain such a sustainable human civilization, with the majority of people feeling happy, is a very tall order. But that is what we should aim at attaining in future. We will discuss shortly how we may attain such a state.
Now, let us turn our attention to “Peace” or rather “War”. Many ancient civilizations could not sustain themselves and collapsed due to overexploitation of the environment. Their living conditions were usually precarious, particularly in nomadic, pastoral regions. A tribe in such a region might have been living reasonably well, but usually did not have any extra expendable luxury due to lack of proper technology and the territorial limitation. They had to move to another place when their living had become untenable. Or when another tribe tried to come and occupy their territory, they had to fight back to defend themselves by killing the invading tribe or capturing and enslaving them. They needed to do so, because their territory simply could not accommodate another bunch of people. The people created and resorted to a God who would protect them. The God was a supernatural being, omnipotent, and the people were told that their God was “good”, protecting the people who believed in it. But the other God another tribe believed in was “evil”. Hence it was permissible to slaughter those people who believed in a wrong God. Thus, nomadic people have created “monotheism” and they believed that they were “chosen people” by the true God, as, e.g., Zionists and their Christian supporters believe.
In other words, “war”, i.e., to kill others to defend themselves became a normal human behavior, sanctioned by God, and codified by sacred manuscripts. The war of this kind may be designated as “War of 1st kind”, a sort of natural condition for “war”. This might reflects the ancient living condition of nomads, i.e., limited resources that could not be shared with another tribe, so that the invaders should not be allowed to coexist. This spirit (animosity toward other tribes) seems to be still prevalent among many tribes, and also among people who believe literally in the sacred books of monotheism, despite the fact that humankind has attained an enormous improvement in the living condition in general, so that today people should be able to share and live together. The ethnic conflicts still rampant in today’s world are essentially of this kind, though the basic reasons are varied, economic, cultural and political, and, maybe, not the basic survival need as in the ancient time.
An extension of this kind of war has become aggressive expansion of the territory, as seen in the war by Alexander the Great, that of the Roman empire, and the Mongolian invasion of the western half of the Eurasia. War of this kind was fought beyond necessity; this is simply an aggressive kind of war (“war of 2nd kind”). Colonialism prevalent in the 15th through 20th century was carried out by force; essentially it was “war of 2nd kind”.
However, “war” in today’s world is often fought for the sake of financial benefit for some influential elites, though it is usually claimed that it is for the sake of security of people (i.e., protecting people’s lives and livelihood). In reality, people are victimized; soldiers are killed and a large number of civilians are also killed as a collateral. Meanwhile, some elites and corporations gain an enormous amount of money by providing war machines and supplies. The Iraqi and Afghan wars are good examples. They have little to do with the security of American people, though initially they were meant for preventing “Terror” attacks on the American soil. They had a lot to do, instead, with the money making of the military-related corporations and the oil companies. This is “War of 3rd kind”.
“War of 4th kind” may be waged to secure precious resources. This is in a sense an extension of the “war of 2nd and 3rd kind”, but it has a very different connotation. Corporations forces the government to go to “war” in the 3rd kind, but the national government is the cause of war of 2nd kind. Resources on the earth are becoming ever scarcer, and nations are eager to grab resources still available. Take China as an example; of course there are a number of such candidates including India, Brazil and others. The Chinese government, having such a large population, needs a large quantity of resources of all kinds to feed and make them happy. It has been estimated that resources equivalent to those of two and a half earth’s is necessary for all the Chinese people to enjoy the material wealth comparable to that enjoyed by the people of the today’s advanced nations. The Chinese government is trying to expand their sphere of influence so that it gains access to resources all over the world, especially in the resource-rich Africa. The former colonial power and dominant nations, of Europe and the US, are also trying to secure the natural resources as much as they can, and seem to have already started to prepare for an eventual confrontation with China. China is of course rapidly building its military power. The confrontation could become a war (of 4th kind). If this happens, the entire planetary civilization will be destroyed, as the major contenders are all with nuclear arsenals that have not been abandoned. This has to be avoided by all means.
However, even if it (resource grabbing) is resolved peacefully, the consequence of such a pursuit of resource use will be a very rapid depletion of resources on the earth. This will end, though in a different sense, in the demise of the current human civilization; in other words, such a civilization cannot be sustained long.
The humankind is now at a very crucial moment in its history; our civilization as currently taken for granted is facing an imminent death in two directions. One is “War” and another is “Excessive consumption of material (resources of both renewable and non-renewable)”. “War” may be inevitable, i.e., “Peace” may not be attainable, unless human race attains the wisdom of living within the sustainable constraints. On the other hands, “Peace” is a precondition for a sustainable civilization, because “War” simply wastes precious human and material resources. We need to realize that both issues, “peace” and “sustainability”, are two faces of the same coin.
Dr. Vanadana Siva, an eco-philosopher and activist began her acceptance speech at the Sydney Opera House for the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize with these words: “When we think of wars in our times, our minds turn to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the bigger war is the war against the planet. This war has its roots in an economy that fails to respect ecological and ethical limits -- limits to inequality, limits to injustice, limits to greed and economic concentration.” She equates our current growth economy to the war against the earth, and implies that it is not sustainable. But, changes needed to reduce the assault on the earth should include the abolishment of “wars by force on people and nations”.
In order to attain such a sustainable and peaceful civilization, people have to learn to respect each other and other cultures, restrain one’s urge to own/consume more, and consider that non-violent resolution (not war) is the human norm in resolving conflicts, particularly those among nations. And this has to be the basis for education (in its broadest sense) for everybody.
The education starts as soon as one is born. Her (his) brain will be wired through her (his) experience in every sense; interaction with the environment, parents, siblings, grandparents and others. In this early life, the education is done mostly through the upbringing by parents. Therefore it is up to their world view/ethical/value system, which has a strong influence on the child.
When children come to the formal education, they will be subjected to the educational norm imposed by the authority, the majority of which still cling to the unsustainable political/economic view. To change the formal education system requires awareness of people regarding its shortcomings. It is difficult and cannot be accomplished soon. Meanwhile, the people in the educational circle can start changing the fundamental tenets of educating children even within such a constraint as imposed by the authority.
Here are some basic tenets that need to be learned by all the people in order for the humankind to sustain itself for long. At the formal education level, these concepts should be conveyed to children, not necessarily explicitly, but be touched upon on every opportunity in many different ways of phrasing, in conjunction with any subject matter. And some practices should be found to impress these concepts on children.
(1) It needs to be understood by everybody that every human being is equal in every way despite different skin color and other physical characters. No single human race can be regarded to be superior than others, i.e., a “chosen (by God) race”. There is no such distinction in nature.
(2) We, human, are only one of several million living species present on this planet, and are dependent for our livelihood on “Nature”, i.e., other living organisms, the environment (ecosystem, the earth), and the sun. We should live in harmony with “Nature”.
(3) There are limits to the material resources on this planet. We need to use them very judiciously in order for the human civilization to last long.
(4) To satisfy the above conditions (2, 3), people have to learn to restrain their urge to obtain more or consume more. It can be termed “self-restraints” or “to know when enough”. We need to regard “extravagance, excessiveness in possession” not desirable. For example, one should not buy things beyond one’s capability, charging to a credit card. It is a good thing for us to live modestly but happily.
(5) The basis of economy should not be “to make profit” but be “to make happy as many people as feasible”.
(6) We have now enough, though barely, to share with all the people to sustain us, so that there is no need to resort to wars or other violent means to grab resources. Cooperation and peace have to be the norm in human civilization.
(7) For now, the resources on the earth are barely enough to sustain the current large population of human species. But soon the population will likely exceed the carrying capacity of the earth. In an estimate of ecological footprint, it is said that we have already surpassed the carrying capacity of the earth a decade ago and by more than 20% by now. This is not simply the population problem, but we need to look into the population of human race, and have to learn to maintain it at reasonable level.
(8) War is an ultimate evil that is now promoted by people who gains from war, not for the security of people. It is an enormous waste of human lives and resources, and of course causes enormous miseries for people.