Conflict transformation

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Climate-related conflicts are already numerous and likely to increase in frequency, magnitude and severity as the impacts of climate change get worse. They can arise over issues like access to increasingly scarce water sources or reliably productive soil, or over food shortages, and can both provoke and escalate in response to migration. Often they are exacerbated by inequalities, both in exposure to impacts and access to financial resources that can buffer these.[1] The influence on adaptation policies and strategies of security-driven agendas, often reflecting military preoccupations, worsens this still: addressing symptoms rather than causes and treating victims of climate change as threats to the physical and livelihood security of others.

Among the most important social technologies used by many permaculture projects are conflict transformation mechanisms. These can help address disputes arising directly from either climate change itself or from adaptation efforts. They can also heal existing schisms among and within communities, creating a more solid social base for collective efforts at adaptation.

The Chikukwa Project in Zimbabwe has trained around 50 villagers in conflict transformation. It has developed its own system that combines traditional social technologies with established tools from European countercultural movements, setting up groups for Building Constructive Community Relations (BCCR). When people cut trees planted on a wooded ridge to ensure water retention in the landscape, it caused soil erosion on some downstream farms, silting on others. A two-day workshop organised by the local BCCR led to agreement and implementation of an action plan in which all those affected took part amicably: replanting cut areas and extending the planted area overall, and building new dykes and levees in the stream.[2]

Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal is home to the Tamera Peace University, which offers courses on sustainable cultures of peace and follow-up workshops on community-building. Peace pilgrimages to areas like Colombia and Palestine link efforts to build harmonious communities locally with contributions to overcoming conflict and its consequences more widely, supporting reconciliation and forging lasting friendships and collaborations.[3]

Many permaculture projects in areas afflicted by deep cultural and ethnic conflicts build responses to these into their social dimensions. Hava and Adam Eco-educational farm actively works to overcome separation and build understanding and collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians. This has already fed into practical work to support climate change adaptation: Palestinian farmers have drawn on their traditional knowledge to introduce traditional irrigation techniques and planting practices, and provide seeds of drought-tolerant native crops. Use of permaculture techniques to grow more in smaller spaces has helped farmers to respond to scarcity of land.[4] This is one of several permaculture projects in Israel and Palestine who employ permaculture as a common language to support reconciliation and shared action. Such such activities have provoked repression by the Israeli army, which in November 2000 reportedly raided, sacked and prohibited access to a permaculture centre in the West Bank village of Marda.[5]

Beyond Israel and Palestine, Los Angeles Eco-Village in California was founded as part of community rebuilding efforts in Wilshire/Koreatown, a highly ethnically diverse neighbourhood that suffered great loss of life and physical damage during civil unrest sparked by institutional racism in 1992.Elsewhere in the USA, Growing Power in Milwaukee addresses what its founder Will Allen describes as food racism: the status of many African-American and Latino neighbourhoods across the country as 'food deserts'. Its urban farms, distribution hubs and retail outlets are the only sources of fresh, nutritious produce for most residents of an area where nutrition-related health problems are endemic.[6] In addition to their direct benefits, such initiatives raise the prospect that future responses to climate change arise from more cohesive communities, drawing on their full range of human diversity, and less afflicted by existing schisms that climate change impacts might exacerbate.

  1. Buxton, N. & B. Hayes (eds.), 2015. Cashing in on Catastrophe. London: Pluto Press.
  2. Leahy, T., 2013. The Chikukwa Project. http://gifteconomy.org.au/food-security-for-africa/the-chikukwa-project/ Pp. 8-10 in pdf version.
  3. Birnbaum, J. & L. Fox, 2014. Sustainable Revolution. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. P. 219.
  4. Birnbaum, J. & L. Fox, 2014. Sustainable Revolution. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. Pp. 223.
  5. Irving, S., 2006. Permaculture & Peace in the Middle East. Permaculture Magazine 49: 26-29.
  6. Birnbaum, J. & L. Fox, 2014. Sustainable Revolution. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. Pp. 294-298.