A Pathway To Peace: Ideas For A New And More Resilient Reality

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:

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.

Kaaawa Road damage Kamehameha Hwy ocean level rise. global warming

Climate change is on the mind of many people, including in Hawaii, where rising seas regularly flood coastal roads. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The current moment serves as a foreboding preview of catastrophic climate events to come, and its far-reaching devastation is precisely the kind of crisis that climate experts have warned us about for years. In their model, the emergence of this sort of sudden yet predictable crisis combined with a rapid and silent acceleration is soon to become commonplace.

Research shows that climate change, often coined as a “threat multiplier,” can exacerbate inequalities in a region and disproportionately affect poorer countries or individuals, women, and marginalized communities of color. In Hawaii, it could mean greater food insecurityenvironmental degradation, and health disparities among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander groups.

Understandably, many are looking to shift this moment into a “portal,” as Arudhati Roy called it, through which we might find a better way of being. Positive peacebuilding within our communities is the method that stands the best chance of getting us — all of us — there.

In the midst of this crisis and despite the tragedies that surround us, the communities around the world with high levels of positive peace — including social cohesion, investments in physical infrastructure, and transparent, accountable leadership — have also shown us what a successful response can look like. In this way, the necessity of positive peacebuilding work is being proven.

Makaha Mauna Lahilahi Botanical Garden Cleanup Kuʻuleilani Samson Fault Lines

Kuʻuleilani Samson cleans up an encampment on the rocky edges of Mauna Lahilahi Botanical Garden. Neighbors took it upon themselves to restore the garden which had been taken over by transients. Kuʻu Kauanoe/Civil Beat

It is the countries that often rank highest for levels of positive peace, such as New Zealand, Iceland, Canada, and Japan, that are proving to be the most prepared for this crisis. And interestingly, when the framework for peace is already in place, not only can countries respond more effectively, but a community’s unity can even be accelerated. This was seen in Aceh, Indonesia, where a 30-year civil conflict was interrupted by the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2004. That crisis triggered a return to negotiations and a peaceful settlement that has lasted.

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.


Maxine Burkett is a Professor of Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii, and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She is a Co-Founder and Senior Advisor of the nonprofit Institute for Climate and Peace.

Naima Moore is a research Intern at the Institute for Climate and Peace. With family residing in New Zealand, Hawaii, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu, she is committed to helping coastal communities in the South Pacific combat the effects of climate change with peace and resilience. Naima is currently a prospective law student and a graduate of Amherst College and Punahou School, and calls Honolulu, Hawaii home.

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