Hawaii’s reopening provides the opportunity to weave positive peace and climate resilience into the fabric of a new political economy.
Just as the current global health crisis has exposed the cracks in federal and state leadership and infrastructure, so too has it accentuated warnings about environmental challenges ahead.
As author Naomi Klein recently pointed out during a Fridays for Future webinar, our “normal” was grim to begin with. Headlines about the reduction of air pollution and the return of wildlife to Venetian canals — while giving false hope about the climate crisis — demonstrate changes that, according to a recent study, “are likely to be temporary as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport or energy systems.”
What’s needed, therefore, is not a “return” to our old ways, but a recalibration of policy and economic models that will serve the interests of our communities and prioritize the local quality of life and environment over offshore profits in the post-COVID rebuild.
Positive Peace: An Essential Part Of The Recovery Process
The Institute for Climate and Peace, for which I serve as Senior Advisor and Co-Founder with Maya Soetoro and Research Assistant, Naima Moore, advances a peaceful, climate-resilient future by embracing the inherent wisdom, power, ingenuity, and voices of the communities that we serve. ICP is guided by the belief that environmental “shocks” must be met with innovative and transformative solutions that conjoin peacebuilding problem-solving methods with rigorous research of climate change to respond to climate crises, reduce friction, and build social cohesion through locally-based and culturally-appropriate responses. Our theory of change depends on the understanding that climate awareness is needed to build and maintain peace, and peace is needed to be resilient to the powerful storms on the horizon.
So, how do we build peace?
By turning to the positive peace framework, we can understand climate resilience — and resilience to shocks in general — in a new way. Research from the Institute of Economics and Peace identifies positive peace as a framework that shifts “… the focus away from the negative to the positive aspects that create the conditions for a society to flourish.” Their eight indicators include, among other things:
- Equitable distribution of resources such as food and health care;
- Free flow of information, ensuring access and exchange of information free from restrictions or censorship;
- Good relations with neighbors;
- High levels of human capital (e.g. educating citizens and promoting the development of knowledge); and
- Acceptance of the rights of others.
Taken simultaneously, these “pillars” allow us to envision a new future — one in which communities are better equipped to mitigate dangers of emergent threats and protect vulnerable populations.
COVID-19 has laid this fact bare, and it has reminded us that we need to be ever-vigilant if we want to prepare for the other crisis of the moment: climate change.
We can also see this work in our local communities today. From first responders and food banks to local schools and grocery stores, community networks and neighbors are emerging as critical parts of the safety net protecting many from a free fall into conflict or chaos. Volunteer mutual aid groups are reporting record numbers of signups, and more than a quarter of a million people responded in a single day to the UK government’s recent call for volunteers. Governments are leveraging resources to offset lost income, to provide free rent and cover tax payments, and to subsidize basic services to keep communities insulated from the worst outcomes of the crisis.
These are stepping stones on the pathway to peace, yet we must investigate and rework them to protect all rather than just some populations. And we must pay particular attention to those that have been at the bottom of an insidious racial hierarchy.
A ‘New Normal’: Hawaii’s Climate-Smart Recovery From COVID-19
Hawaii’s reopening provides the opportunity to weave positive peace and climate resilience into the fabric of a new political economy. It starts by translating climate resilience and peacebuilding into tangible, culturally-responsive processes, that allow us to not only recover from this crisis but lay the groundwork to mitigate and be resilient in the next.
Examples of this include the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures Declaration, which was sent to Gov. David Ige last month and is the first part of an effort to create a sustainable, pono economy based on centuries of island-based values, and the feminist economic recovery plan for Hawaii, from the Honolulu State Commission on the Status of Women, which recommends shifting away from our lopsided reliance on just two industries (tourism and the U.S. military), and focusing on sustainable economic opportunities, more access for women and Native Hawaiians to capital to promote their financial independence, midwifery, “green jobs” and other initiatives. These projects are critical in serving as a springboard for a more peaceful Hawaii, one that can indeed “bounce forward” after shocks.
Other vital initiatives could include:
- Digitizing all government processes and providing broadband to the public, which would ensure equity and carbon savings and advance positive peace by building social cohesion and aiding the free flow of information;
- Allocating COVID-19 response funds into immediate short-term job programs for energy efficiency, sustainable local agriculture and aquaculture technologies, and future coastline protection strategies;
- Financing to scale up sustainable operations and recognize efficiencies that make local food more competitive with imports so that Hawaii is more self-sufficient and food secure;
- Imposing a visitor green fee to promote local conservation efforts and enhance the visitor experience by, as Hawaii-based environmental economist, Emelia von Saltza states, “protecting the environment that our visitors and our residents rely on” and thereby instilling a more culturally grounded approach to tourism;
- Adopting (or piloting) a four-day work week (as New Zealand and Kauai have done) to not only boost our economy and reduce emissions, but to give time back to people to build relationships with each other and their environments; and
- Requiring hospitality services to purchase local produce and generate enough demand to spur local agriculture and ranching production.
As we work toward a new and more resilient reality, let us consider ways in which we can promote the interests and peace of our local communities and our environment, of which we are a part. Our economic policy cannot afford to revert back to “normal,” but must instead reimagine what equitable and green social prosperity looks like in our islands.
Should we prove unable to use this moment of pause to restructure our current systems, we risk a fragile peace amidst a fragile climate in the immediate years ahead.