by Bruce Dunlavy (My blog home page and index of other posts may be found here.)
Regular readers of my blog are familiar with my continuing series on the work of environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (he now has his own special pull-down menu at the top of this page). Young Mr. Martinez has been a force of nature – both literally and figuratively – since he was old enough to go to school. He is an accomplished musical artist and has, in the tradition of so many historically significant activists in history, made music and musical performance an integral part of his work.
Now fifteen, Xiuhtezcatl has lately been so busy and so highly acclaimed that he is truly loaded with honors. In 2012, he spoke at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit in Brazil, and in 2013, he received a United States Community Service Award from President Barack Obama. Last summer he addressed the United Nations General Assembly with actor/director/environmentalist Robert Redford
Just in the past two weeks, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has been honored three more times.
First, he was featured on the Yale Climate Connections website of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Climate Connections celebrated
the selection of Xiuhtezcatl’s “Speak for the Trees” (watch and listen here )
as theme song of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11 of this year.
Then, last week, Xiuhtezcatl was named last week as one of five winners of the 2015 Peace First Prize . The prize is awarded to Americans from the ages of 8 to 22 who have taken responsibility for projects demonstrating compassion, courage, and collaborative change. The other recipients are difference-makers in issues regarding families of incarcerated individuals, LBGTQ inclusion, anti-bullying efforts, and community service.
November 2, Xiuhtezcatl gave a commentary to the Economic, Social and Environmental Council in Paris in support of the Declaration of Human Kind Rights.
Image credit: earthguardians.org
To be recognized for contributions to peace is a great honor, and the breadth of activities represented by the award-winners demonstrates that many aspects of peace promotion are local and focused. The unforgettable dictum of A. J. Muste is “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” It is common for us to think of those who work for peace as the opponents of war, the proponents of international cooperation, and the voices for intercultural understanding. While those goals are admirable, they are just that – goals. Goals are not attained solely by envisioning them. There is nothing more universal than the wish for the entire world to live together in a spirit of equality, harmony, and justice. Such nebulous visions have become the butt of jokes, held up as examples of platitudinous and unrealistic sentimentality.
What achieves peace and fosters understanding and cooperation is much more than ideals. Ideals may be to us as stars to sailors – a guide to the course we must take to reach our destiny. But what is needed to accomplish the journey is planning and hard work. Hard work is something everybody understands. Planning, on the other hand, is something most people only think they understand.
Planning requires integrity of purpose. The word integrity comes to us from the Latin verb “tangere,” meaning “to touch.” With the prefix “in,” it signifies something that is untouched, undiminished, whole, and entire. It’s where we get the mathematical word “integer” – a number that is whole and undivided.
Peace is an integral concept. It is whole and undivided; it affects all things and is affected by all things. That’s what Muste meant by “Peace is the way.” Peace is not derived from nor produced by politics. It is brought about by equilibrium and consensus. If that is the case, what causes war? Why is peace so hard to attain?
Abraham Maslow is known for devising the Hierarchy of Needs. In 1943 he published “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. It was the basis for his concept, a concept fully explicated in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality. Maslow’s overarching theme is that the most basic needs of human beings are physiological – food, water, air, and the other aspects of biology. If one cannot obtain these, or cannot feel reasonably well-assured of satisfying them continually, then everything else becomes subordinated to taking care of these physiological needs.
Political and philosophical theories are disregarded when there is no food on the table. We can all understand the concept at its simplest from our own experiences in the classroom or the business meeting. If your bladder is telling you that you need to urinate very soon, it is hard to pay attention to what your teacher or your boss is talking about. Biological demands overpower intellectual demands.
Likewise, on a worldwide scale, the physiological needs of a people override their political, philosophical, and intellectual interests. As we have noted before in this series of posts, Will Durant was on target when he observed, “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”
What does this have to do with Peace? There is a school of thought among some historians that “all wars are about food.” Both World Wars involved the desire of central European nations to acquire the agricultural areas of Eastern Europe, and they were certainly not the first wars over that territory. History is replete with acts of conquest motivated by the desire to meet the physiological needs of competing groups of people.
What about today? In many of the strategic battlegrounds of the world, such as the Middle East and southern Asia, the need for physiological security centers as much as anything on access to water – for personal use and for agriculture. There is no question that human activity exacerbates desertification.
The conflict in Syria started with a three-year drought that has been linked to climate change from global warming. The conflict in South Sudan began with a drought. If people cannot get enough water, cannot get enough food, cannot satisfy their basic needs for life, there is no limit to the things they are willing to do to obtain those things.
That is why the issue of climate change is an issue of war and peace, and why the interconnection of the physical world and the political world is indissoluble. Climate change is not a reason for one political group to fight with another merely so that one side can say, “We beat you!” It is an issue about Peace and the stability of civilization.
The issue of climate change is too important to be left to special interests, particularly the interests of money. People must take charge of this matter. We’ve done it before – the struggles for establishing Civil Rights, ending the Vietnam War, and securing universal Human Rights all began with committed groups of people, not in the places of political and economic power.
Fighting for environmental justice is an act of peace. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez’s work places him at the forefront of the effort to secure the not just the future, but today. He is as much a peacemaker as any diplomat negotiating a treaty.
“Real change,” Xiuhtezcatl has said, “must come from us right now. We need you now.” Right now. It is often said young people are the force of the future. I say young people are the force of today.