A note on environmental peacebuilding

I often think about why exactly I’ve dedicated my life to the betterment and protection of our shared environment.

My childhood landscape wasn’t particularly plastered with National Parks or road-trips or camping adventures in tents, listening to the call of the wild at night with ghost stories and s’mores. In fact, I wasn’t exposed to any of that.

I didn’t even see the cresting waves of an ocean – any ocean – until I was 13 years old, though my walls at home in Ohio were splattered with cerulean hues and dolphins and sea shells like I’d been there since birth. I didn’t make it to a National Park – in my own backyard, for goodness sakes! – until I was 20 years old. California was merely a world of fantasy until this past summer.

I do recall fondly the warm months in bare feet, spreading mud and dirt and fun-ness throughout the house after a restless night playing outdoors. I remember gazing idly out the window, as my family drove through the low Appalachian mountains, watching trees sway and rocks fall, wondering about the origins of it all. But nothing emerged in those early years that scarred me as particularly rugged or endearing to wilderness.

I’m a home-grown suburban girl now craving outdoor spaces and hiking trails like the blood that runs in my veins.

So, what was it that led me to environmental services?

The first memory I have of WOW THIS WORLD IS BEAUTIFUL was in sixth grade, on the formative first-time-away overnight camp. I don’t remember where we went. I don’t remember much about the particulars, to be honest (Other than that I lost the last of my baby teeth, tripping over a log playing ‘capture the flag’ too aggressively. Typical me.).

What I DO remember is a sensation, an emotion previously untapped, that changed my life forever. And I mean that, because the memory sticks with me to this day.

We set out early, a group of 7 students or so, following a guide through the woods. I believe I had a backpack and a water bottle strapped to my little sixth grade body (can you imagine!). The sun crept up closely, and I remember we were all sweating profusely, probably in our oversized fifth-grade DARE shirts or something cute like that.

We climbed to the top of this hill and out into the wild we emerged from the tree-top canopy. There it was: nothing too grand, nothing spectacular by World Wonder standards. But it was SPACE. Good God, I hadn’t ever seen so much space extending for miles and miles in my entire lifetime.

Undulating fields of grains and grasses bent back and forth in the cooling winds, a soft golden color too perfect to describe. I honestly wish I had a photo now, to remember more vividly 9 years later.

The amount of space was overpowering. I stopped dead in my tracks, like they do in movies, breathing over and over again this WOW in a hush. Fields beyond my imagination. Space beyond every crevasse in the horizon that my little body could see. It was stunningly beautiful. It was the first time nature had made me feel so small yet infinite, overwhelmed yet humbled.

Flash forward through middle school and high school, through hormones and mental illness and trying to figure out exactly what my writing imagination could do to “make a living” in this world, I returned to this idea of WILDERNESS in my junior year. I combined my passion for words with this dormant idea of environment and called it environmental journalism. It was new, it was pretty untraditional, and it was my niche in the classroom.

Flash forward 3 years more, and I’m a junior in undergraduate, researching environmental peacebuilding in the context of national security – and in the face of looming, locked-in climate changes. Again, I find myself on this precipice of new, pretty untraditional, and definitely a niche in terms of environmental sciences studies are concerned.

Perhaps it is here, in this emerging field of research and experiences, of conflict mitigation and peaceful adaptation, that I can thrive. To find my own space. To foster that love and power for the Earth that I have always felt – somewhere in my heart of hearts – and use this power for good. To work for peace in a world dominated by aggression and fear and violence in our news.

“at our core we all want peace” –Shannon Galpin

It’s difficult to explain how I’ve been drawn into peacebuilding and security questions since starting undergraduate as a journalism student 5 semesters ago. On paper it’s because I’ve been assigned to a Scholar position under one of the leading authors in environmental peacebuilding publishing to date.

But another part of me, my intuition, feels like for once I’ve found a place and space worth exploring, at least for a little while. My roving, wanderlust heart has had a difficult time these past 2 years of college hammering down the marble sculpture of WHAT DO I REALLY WANT TO DO at my core. I’ve tried a bunch of different things, believe me, but nothing’s panned out or made me want to stick around.

This concept of peacebuilding is tricky, and rightfully complicated, in a space of international relations that doesn’t frankly always work. Environmental peacebuilding adds an additional layer of complexity and new-ness to this stage of global actors trying to do good and not always succeeding.

But it’s a step, I think, in the space and place of climate change adaptation and mitigation that I believe is worth investing in, at least for the time being.

I’m interested in exploring a concept that I’ve merely thought about from a personal perspective: the idea of environmental peaebuilding, not just in the context of national sovereignty issues, but also issues of conflict within the self. Nature and outdoor exploration and connection as part-and-parcel with self-healing.

I know, personally, how re-discovering the environment – in body, mind, and soul – dramatically transformed my own outlook on life. I feel like, every time I step outside, I am healing my own wounds. I’m wondering if there is validity to introducing the environment as a peacebuilding construct for the self.

In our fractured, broken world – where there’s more than enough food to go around but people dying from malnourishment, where there’s plenty of blue-ness but not enough fresh-ness in our planetary bodies of water – there seems, to me, to be a pervasive attitude of conflict and conquering in our very species. Must there always be something we’re fighting for, over, or against?

If indeed, if conflict is embedded in our prefrontal cortex wirings, perhaps we need to enhance our solutions for peacebuilding, of mitigating that conflict – among selves and self – with an antidote right beneath our fingertips, in the soils below the Earth.

These are just some introductory thoughts scampering around in my head, but I’m eager and curious to see where this journey of discovery leads next.

This post also appears on labellamemoir.tumblr.com