Movement for Sustainable Development: Model for Culture of Peace?

From the beginning, sustainable development has been considered to be an essential component of the culture of peace, one of the eight action areas of the Programme of Action for a Culture of Peace, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1999.

In our analysis of the National Culture of Peace Programme in El Salvador, published in 1996, Francisco Lacayo Parajon considered that the global ecological movement provided the best model for the development of a global movement for the culture of peace. He described seven stages of its development, beginning with the adoption of a new paradigm, open to the participation to various sectors, so long as they share the same basic principles and culminating in its internalization in the daily life of people, until it becomes a benchmark of a great majority of societies.

Is the global movement for sustainable development still a good model for the culture of peace? I think the answer is yes, but in a way we did not envisage in 1996.

To some extent, it is true as we predicted that the new paradigm of sustainable development has become accepted and integrated into the thinking of a large proportion of humanity. But there is a new and different stage emerging now, as described in this month’s bulletin of CPNN, based on simple economic forces. This can be seen in the changing nature of fossil fuel divestment: Originally, it “was entirely driven by moral concerns—institutions pulled their money out of oil, gas, and coal companies because they didn’t want to be contributing to the destruction of a stable climate. Now, divestment is increasingly seen as a smart financial move for investors.” An example of this comes from India where “new renewable energy is less expensive to build than it costs to run most of the existing coal fired power in the nation—let alone construct new plants.”

Should we be surprised that economic forces turn out to be the most powerful factor in social change? Not if we were Karl Marx 150 years ago who analyzed historical change as follows: the era of social revolution is preceded by a transformation of the material productive forces of society, i.e. its economy, due to their conflict with the previous material productive forces which have become fetters. Put in terms of example of India, the reliance on coal-fired power is becoming more expensive than the new technologies of wind and solar power.

But is this relevant for the movement for a culture of peace? Yes, if we take seriously the analysis made several decades ago by the economist Lloyd Dumas in his book The Overburdened Economy. He shows that in the long run military production is a burden to the economy, draining its talent and material resources away from production which is useful for people. This was, in fact, the reason for the collapse of the Soviet economy (and Soviet empire) at the end of the 1980’s and it seems likely to produce the collapse of the American economy (and American empire) in the next few years. Recalling how the collapse of the Soviet empire produced a collapse of the linked economies of Eastern Europe, we should understand that the collapse of the American empire will have a similar effect throughout the world due to the interdependence of economies which has increased over time.

Already we see that the paradigm of a culture of peace, as opposed to a culture of war, is becoming internalized in the consciousness of a large proportion of humanity.

Can we not expect that the closer we come to a collapse of the present system, the more it will become evident that wise financial investment should seek out productive sectors instead of militarized sectors of the economy? If and when this occurs, then the time will be ripe for a social revolution from the culture of war to a culture of peace.

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