Why an Education for the Environment is an Education for Peace

We are shaped by the places we inhabit. Our childhood memories are so often attached to places of belonging - of family homes and holidays, backyards and parks. Some of my strongest memories are of the old mango tree out the back, ladybeetles on furry pumpkin leaves, playing with cars in the patches of dirt among the grass and rocks, discovering with delight that I could eat mulberries and mint leaves straight out of the garden, and playing in my grandma’s damp and earthy-smelling greenhouses. We grow older and (most of us) no longer play in the dirt. We disconnect from simple earthly childhood pleasures to grow up, get a job, join the rat race and live in the ‘real’ world. Yet we never cease to be creatures of the earth, this earth, our home, and this is what we all have in common. I still have within me the child walking barefoot on the soft grass and delighting in the beauty and simplicity of sunlight dancing on leaves, and when I let that child out is when I feel most at peace. The adult within me knows that we cannot have peace without food, water, and resource security. We cannot have a peaceful existence in a polluted environment. Aldo Leopold wrote in his A Sand Country Almanac, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Leopold was ahead of his time, writing those words in 1949, as it is only in recent times that academia has acknowledged that how we relate to the land, how we perceive of our existence and our relationship to the earth, is directly related to how we treat it. We all have different expressions of belonging to place, to earth, and sometimes they conflict with one another, yet we still share the connection. It takes the form of a farmer working the same land as their great grandparents did, with an innate understanding of the land, the soils and the climate; a family from the city venturing out into the bush and sharing the experience of camping under the stars; or an environmental activist in a tree-sit vowing to protect a forest that holds so much more personal meaning and value beyond its economic resource worth.

Waging peace for the earth on common ground works. Maybe it is naïve of me to expect us all to embrace our inner earth-loving child and simply get along, but I think not, because during my relatively short life I have already seen a great deal of change. I am a county kid, and when I was younger I could never understand the conflict between farmers and environmentalists. We all love the land and we all belong to it, our livelihoods depend on it. I was so encouraged when I read a few years back that academics now acknowledge the profound connection that those who work with the earth - farmers, even loggers - often feel to the land that sustains their existence. Since then I have seen farmers locked on to gates in the Liverpool Plains, others spending their days at a protest camp in the Leard State Forest, in opposition to the idea that coal is more important than food. I have seen the amazingly strong and inspiring alliance between famers, city dwellers and environmentalists in the fight against coal seam gas, I have seen several people give up their lives to dedicate their time to environmental activism and education, and I have heard staunch Nationals voters vow to vote Green if no one else will stand up to the coal and CSG industries. During the time that I have been conducting research for my PhD I have spoken to farmers, loggers, and environmental activists, and I am yet to find anyone who does not express a strong sense of belonging to earth. During one interview I noticed on the wall a hanging that said, ‘We are the ones we have been waiting for’. I have found so much energy and inspiration in those words. It is time to put the old entrenched ideological paradigms aside, and together wage peace for the places we love.

- Vanessa Bible PhD Candidate Peace Studies & History

I spent my childhood, like many Aussie kids of the 60s and 70s, playing in the bush out the back of our suburban block – building cubbies, catching tadpoles and climbing trees. I was also lucky to spend a few years in England where I was encouraged to explore the local woods and parklands. I discovered numerous flora and fauna I had never seen before and delighted in being able to run through piles of autumn leaves, gather chestnuts and pick wild berries. When I was a teenager back in Oz, family holidays consisted of Mum, Dad and us three kids piling into the Kingswood, dinghy on the roof, and hitting the road for a few weeks ‘out back’. I loved the ruggedness and colour of the bush and marvelled at the beauty of flooded gums and the stars in an endless night sky. I am, still today, happiest out bushwalking, on the beach or in my garden. Nature soothes and entertains me and reminds me how free I can be.

I believe that it is these experiences of my youth which have shaped my political, social and environmental values, beliefs and attitudes. They have informed my political and environmental activism and a strong desire to fight injustices and inequities especially for those who do not have my freedoms or privilege. They have also found me here in the Peace Studies faculty at UNE researching environmental activism and informal sites for a more critical education for the environment.

I am sometimes asked where environmental issues fit into peace studies. My response is that any human activity that impacts negatively on the environment is violent. Therefore economic, political and social policies predicated on economic growth which requires extraction and exploitation of natural resources and, ultimately, degradation and/or destruction of local environments are violent. In this respect the processes and practices of global capitalism are structurally violent - unrestrained economic growth which is based on competition and individualisation ultimately results in conflict of some sort and conflict is environmentally destructive. Increasingly, through my studies, I have become aware of the link between environmental issues and human rights issues – environmental security and environmental injustices. An education for the environment that addresses the root causes of environmental problems and results in environmentally aware social and behavioural change is, therefore, an education for peace.

- Johanna Garnett PhD Candidate Peace Studies & Education

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