Give Peace A Chance

Only a campaign that aims to conserve "wants" with the support of age-old "religious beliefs" can lead to a less strifed and more "peaceful world"

Published: Sunday 15 November 1998

-- (Credit: Akhilesh and Rajat Baran)KARL WAGNER, former head of communications at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF>-International and in charge of their proposed "Living Planet" campaign, was in India recently to discuss the campaign with WWF trustees. Later, during an informal chat, I asked him if there were any political statements that the campaign was trying to make to enhance its efficacy. Finding him unprepared for the question, I asked "if the campaign should not be aiming at working towards reducing strife in the world".

Lessening strife and a conservation campaign. The relationship appeared rather far-fetched to him. However, he did agree that a peaceful world, which actually meant a global populace at peace with itself and with its surrounding, is what all campaigns should actually be aiming at.

His guarded reaction is typical of the campaigners on the conservation scene, which, I believe, is at crossroads. Environmental conservation as a movement has to move beyond the sermonising phrase as the people, by and large, are now weary of the "holier than thou" attitude of professional conservationists and environmentalists. At the drop of a hat, these conservationists lay all the blame for the ills of the environment at the doors of the consumers who think nothing of overdoing or wasting it, without caring for the requirements or rights of the future generations.

People are and will always be concerned or bothered about the issues of today: what actually affects them and their children in the time-frame of a generation and no more. This is especially true of all the breed of powerful politicians, for whom a meaningful vote is that of today. Hence, the "conservation movement", if it has to make any tangible difference, must address issues in current perspective, with a futuristic vision of course. It must not shy away or ignore political compulsions of today. Rather, it should come out with strong political statements to make an impact on political actions.

Strifed. This succinctly describes the state of the world in the 1980s and 1990s. Terrorism has come to be accepted as a way of life in many parts of the world. There are countries with declared or undeclared civil wars. Ensuring security of the political bigwigs, as of the people at public places like the market, or a congregation like the Olympics is the overriding concern of the police force. And the latter's function is changing by the day, turning them more and more into a paramilitary force from a civil force.

Children who can barely talk and walk are glued to the television avidly watching and revelling in the acts of gory violence. Pollution of the environment, and of the human mind, is forever rising. Corruption in every nook and corner of the society is the order of the day. Millions of Indians and Pakistanis go into a patriotic delirium over their respective countries, proclaiming themselves nuclear "haves", which actually means "MAD (mutually assured destruction)-ness" for both. On could go on and on and the list would not end.

Now, where is the relationship between conservation, religion and a peaceful world?

The origin of all strife is "want". The want may be of riches, of power, of retribution, of reversing the tide of history.... It is want that leads to over-consumption of resources. Fortunately, it is these "wants" that ail religions of the world have advocated its adherents to "limit".

So any movement that aims to moderate "wants" of people (conservation) with the support of an age-old belief (religion) will ultimate lead to a less strifed and more peaceful world.

Accordingly, attaining a peaceful world should be the ultimate aim of all conservation campaigns, which would also make immediate sense to politicians, and the common man, thereby ensuring their crucial support. Aristotle said, "It is more difficult to organise peace than to win a war." Should we not commit ourselves to the task of organising peace?

How does one define a peaceful world? It is a world where values are important and people know why and what they really want. Where satisfaction is not a mirage; where nature is respected; where attitudes are positive; where corruption is again a "dirty" word; where a good day's work is a worthwhile goal; where equity is the overriding principle of all political decisions; and merit is not a victim at the alter of political expediency.

Such a "peaceful world" is becoming increasingly difficult by the day. Human population is slated to become 8.5 billion by 2005 from the present six billion. Urbanisation becomes irreversible. Fresh water demand is doubling every 21 years, while supply is finite the world over. Chemistry of the atmosphere is changing with fearful ramifications. Biodiversity is threatened as never before. In this gloomy scenario, it is only the great religions sans their dogmatism that can show the way out whereby man can lead a life which ensures providence for all, and coexistence with all.

Many conservationists, more so in the West, tend to avoid anything to do with religion or traditional ways of life due to the risk of getting blamed for undue meddling. It is a result of the complex that the West suffers on account of excesses of the past when a misplaced sense of superiority made them override, mutilate and even annihilate traditional societies all over the world using superior fire-power. But why should caution result in deliberate avoidance? Religion is an ally of conservation and both must come together to bring about a truly "peaceful world", aided actively by the politicians. It will serve the interests of all, including the future generations.

Manoj Kumar Mishra is the director of'Traffic India, New Delhi

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