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Editorials: The green imperative
When older men, such as Donald Trump, poke fun at Greta Thunberg and her ideas they are giving a textbook illustration of patriarchy and patriarchal behaviour. They happen to be wrong and she happens to be right on global warming and climate chaos, as so, so much evidence indicates. It is further despicable, on a number of grounds, to try to be witty or demeaning about her autism, not least since that is part of her strength of clear-sightedness when they are myopic. Greta Thunberg may be a mid-teenager, a girl, but she certainly deserves the title of ‘woman’; some of her critics are men who are acting like obnoxious little boys.
We used to think that the climate crisis, if not averted, would arrive in the time of our children and grandchildren. We now find we should have acted yesterday and in the last century. The children and school students are right to protest when their future is being taken from them, and the future of the world.
We cannot have peace in the world with the economic injustice that exists, either internationally or nationally. But peace also has other ramifications: community empowerment, human rights, attention to gender issues and women’s rights. Ecology and a green approach are an essential. INNATE’s ‘Nonviolent manifesto’ states “To be nonviolent we have to be green, which is nonviolence towards the earth.”
So how do the two relate? The most glaringly obvious answer today is that what peace is enjoyed in the world today is at risk through global heating. We will have increased drought, floods, wind damage, lack of water through no rain or melting of glaciers, and of course sea level rises.
People will have to move en masse and/or receive incredibly high levels of support to survive – which poorer countries cannot possibly afford. Do we have room for a few million Bangladeshis in Ireland? Their land is literally being taken from under them, by the sea, and their arable land laden with salt. And yet extremely little of global heating is due to them.
And with mass forced migration will come violence, repression, militarised barriers, lack of human rights, and terrible misery. This is clear. We have already seen a huge backlash in Europe which only takes a tiny fraction of refugees in the world.
But there is another and deeper sense in which peace and ecology relate to each other. If we are talking about human rights, do we go on to extend that to rights for non-human nature as well? There is a question about how can this be meaningful when it is we, humans, do the conferring of any ‘rights’? But we have made a massive mess in considering only the welfare of us humans on our globe.
And the wellbeing of all non-human nature, flora and fauna, down to the level of microbes, is intimately caught up with the wellbeing of humanity. The more we exterminate other living things, the more we emperil our own living. If we kill the living nature of our soil, we kill the possibility of feeding the world. If we kill the plants or animals that we need, or need to learn from, in dealing with disease, or establishing an ecological balance and human wellbeing, then where do we go?
We do need to extend the concept of rights to non-human nature. It is not possible to protect all aspects of non-human nature everywhere but the wellbeing of the biosphere, and the continued existence of organisms, plants and animals, should be protected legally. Some countries have already led the way on this.
It is a topic often addressed by Larry Speight in his column in Nonviolent News in the June issue for example and also in this issue.
Involvement with, and contemplation of, nature is obviously excellent for achieving inner peace too, and inner and outer peace are related.
There was a peace camp at Bishopscourt in Co Down in the 1980s, at an RAF station which was part of the UK early warning system and therefore nuclear-weapons related. In this there was an organic garden in the shape of a CND symbol which Peter Emerson had dug. It had a water barrel on which was painted the slogan “Lettuce work for peas”. Peace and peas be unto you.
The earth is bountiful and can provide enough for everyone’s need – but for western or other greed, certainly not.
Hopefully in Northern Ireland people are learning that there are more than two kinds of people, and the interdependence of Protestants and Catholics. But wherever we are, in Ireland or around the globe, we need to become much more aware of the interdependence of human and nonhuman nature.
There is a cartoon where God was busy creating the world and an angel looked for a progress report towards the end of the process, God said “I have created alternating periods of light and darkness on the earth”. The angel then enquired; “What next?” And God said, “I’ll call it a day.”
Whether we are atheist, agnostic, religious, whatever, we exist in the miracle of life. We humans have been turning the miracle of life into the monstrosity of death. Celebrating life requires us to think for the totality of life; we are creative beings so we can do it and the struggle is on.
This editorial is based on a talk given by the editor to a seminar on ‘The Natural Environment, Community and the Practice of Peace’, organised by Community Dialogue and St Columb’s Park House in Derry on 19th September 2019.
Beyond lobbying of politicians – which is likely to be relatively ineffective in this case even in Britain - there is nothing much that most people can do about the Brexit debacle except sit and watch the tale unfold – and pick up possible pieces afterwards. The whole issue has been atrociously handled, whatever side you are on, and what was projected as the easiest deal in the world for the UK after the 2016 referendum has turned into the nightmare of a last minute deal or – rather more likely at this stage - rejection of a deal with severe consequences for Ireland, North and South.
No one might expect a British government to pay much attention to the interests of Ireland, as in the Republic/26 counties. You might expect them to pay some attention to Northern Ireland as part of the UK however; but the only attention paid has been to the parliamentary arithmetic of the DUP whose narrow stance – but parliamentary balance power - has denied the North the possibility of ‘the best of both worlds’ which had been almost universally supported by the business community.
The leak about the erstwhile UK proposal having customs posts back some miles from the border, broadcast by RTÉ’s perceptive EU reporter Tony Connelly, revealed a policy so ludicrous as to have garnered the thought that British proposals were designed to fail, i.e. that they could present themselves as having tried when the aim was really ‘no deal’. Having customs posts a few miles from the border is still a ‘hard border’ and a potential target; Boris Johnson may have described this as an out of date proposal, and come up with further proposals, but if it was ever an in-date proposal it shows the British government does not have the first clue about Ireland or border issues. His newest proposals would likely give a unionist veto (via the necessity for cross-community acceptance at Stormont) over temporary derogations for Northern Ireland when a clear arithmetic majority voted to stay ‘in’....and with a smaller arithmetic majority for Brexit in the whole of the UK in the referendum of 2016. The return of significant violence on the border is a considered a possibility as many, including the PSNI, have attested.
If the DUP cannot be persuaded to move significantly, and this would seem unlikely given Arlene Foster’s stance at the Conservative Party conference and ‘time-limited’ proposals since, then it is difficult to see how a deal can come about – though Westminster parliamentary arithmetic has been changing significantly it has not seen movement in any clear direction for any sort of deal. The DUP’s acceptance of an all-Ireland regime for agricultural production is not much more than an acceptance of the status quo (and without which a lot of agricultural production will be wiped out); but without an overall deal this and the rest is rather burnt toast.
We have previously looked at some of the lessons of the British debacle that has been the Brexit process. There was no clear definition of the authority of the 2016 referendum or its power in relation to parliament. The discussion before the referendum was woefully poor. The situation of the different parts of the UK was not seriously considered. The binary, yes/no, question in the referendum was unsuited to the issue. Article 50 was triggered without any clear British policies having been decided. Feet were dragged. There were unrealistic expectations in relation to the EU’s room to manoeuvre and these continue. Meanwhile division and violent language have increased exponentially, and on occasions real violence and racism. Some commentators have spoken about how tribalism akin to that of Northern Ireland has taken hold of Britain.
You can of course, if you want to, blame David Cameron for setting the whole sorry mess in train. The buck may be judged to stop with him and his government, however, for choosing a simplistic yes/no referendum when the issues were complex and there were a number of options in the spectrum from ‘Remain as is’ through to ‘Leave with WTO rules’. If there had been such a preferendum to establish the option with the maximum support (possibly an amalgamation of different options) there would likely still have been a lot of work to be done afterwards but the answer would never have been projected as simple, there would have been as much consensus as was possible, and there could not have been the same, simple and brutal division which now exists in the UK body politic.
And whether it is only the Republic remains in the EU on the island of Ireland, there is a need for considerable reform of EU policies and its developing militarism. That is another day’s work. Meanwhile we await developments, or, just as or more likely, the lack of them. One sorry thing is that a ‘no deal’ exit for the UK settles nothing in UK-EU relations for the future – and ‘WTO rules’ for your nearest neighbours when there has been free trade for some decades is a nonsense.
ECO AWARENESS ECO-AWARENESS
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
“History shows not only that social change is possible, even when the interests ranged against it are formidable, but peaceful protest is among the most effective ways to bring it about.”
Editorial, The Guardian, 19.09.2019
Forest fires are burning across the world, even rainforests are ablaze which due to their high moisture content are not disposed to burn. Rivers and lakes are polluted and large areas of the sea are dead. In much of the world soil is on a chemical life-support system and because of the warming of the planet glaciers are melting, coral reefs dying and the sea-level rising. Due to a combination of loss of habitat, pollution, hunting, invasive species and climate breakdown we are living through what is called the ‘sixth extinction’. Extreme weather conditions, such as Hurricane Dorian, which recently caused “total destruction” in the Bahamas are thought to be due to climate breakdown.
There is no part of the Earth that has not been negatively affected by human behaviour. Even human foetuses are affected. Damian Carrington in The Guardian, 17 September 2019, draws our attention to research carried out by Professor Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University, Belgium, which shows that foetuses absorb black carbon produced by motor traffic and the burning of fuel. Carrington writes:
“A comprehensive global review concluded that air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body. Nanoparticles have also been found to cross the blood-brain barrier and billions have been found in the hearts of young city dwellers.”
In spite of knowing the destructive consequences of our way of life, either through direct personal experience or through reports and research brought to us by media outlets, we effectively do nothing about it. We do nothing about it in spite of much of humanity’s adherence to religious beliefs which hold that life is sacred.
Why is this? How on the one hand can people such as President Donald Trump say that the human foetus is sacred while, as Carol Davenport reports in The New York Times, 17 September 2019, he effectively harms the human foetus through such acts as revoking California’s authority to set vehicle emission rules that are stricter than federal standards? He has not only done this but has revoked 80 rules that protect nonhuman nature or refused to provide sufficient funds to enforce them. (New York Times, 12 Sept 2019)
Likewise with so many world leaders, most prominent among them is President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil who has given the green light to agri-business to burn the Amazon Rainforest. Burning the forest, with the rich diversity of life it contains is ecocide. It also might be genocide because the forest is the home of indigenous communities who in remote areas might have been incinerated, others will have been displaced causing them to live in dire poverty and suffer an early death. In spite of this British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he will do nothing that would undermine the UK’s trade with Brazil.
It is easy to identify the moral failures of political leaders but as consumers we all have a level of responsibility for the collective assault of our kind on nonhuman nature and the harm caused to people who live outside the parameters of modernity. If you eat beef, sheep or chicken then the animal feed will almost certainly have been gown in Brazil on land that until relatively recently was rainforest and home to indigenous people. If you use products or eat food in which palm oil is an ingredient then you are directly connected with deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. Of course many will be ignorant of this and a great many more indifferent.
The role we all play in the demise of the biosphere highlights the case that we are trapped in an exploitative, death inflicting system of international trade and finance we did not create, know little of its intricacies, and are powerless to do anything about. We can live ecologically sustainable lives by becoming vegan and reducing our carbon footprint to the minimum but as Naomi Klein points out in her new book On Fire, The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, we are not as individuals going to halt the demise of the biosphere. However, we can through acting as part of a collective make a positive difference.
What is needed is for governments, unilaterally and in cooperation with each other, to change the structural framework within which we live. This includes legislation, taxes, policies, incentives and penalties orientated towards creating an equitable and eco-sustainable society. An ethic that has primacy in all public and private ventures is health and safety. This ethic of care should be extended to nonhuman nature. Much has been written about this. The US conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote an influential book on the subject in 1949 called The Sand County Almanac. Before structural change can happen we need a cultural change towards nonhuman nature. A change that prevents the likes of Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Boris Johnson from ever being elected.
In the manner that each cell of our body is part of the whole and affects it we are part of the human herd and can thus help change the dominant manner in how we interact with nonhuman nature. The realisation that we are part of the body politic and have a meaningful role to play in improving and enriching it is empowering. The most visible and vibrant way is through nonviolent street protest. We can also petition our political representatives, write to government ministers, the newspapers, and the purchasing departments of supermarkets. We could join a campaigning group like Friends of the Earth, Green Peace or Extinction Rebellion, make a monthly donation to an environmental campaigning group or charity. In terms of how we live we can insulate our homes, fly less and travel more by bus, train and bicycle, write thought provoking plays, poetry, novels and nonfiction, put on exhibitions, write lyrics and sing songs that promote positive eco-change.Social and political change occurs, it is how things are, but like the transition of the seasons we might not notice that there has been a change until after the event.
- - - - -
Ciaran McKeown died, aged 76, on 1st September, at home, in the part of Belfast he had lived most of his life. He was one of a new generation in Northern Ireland who came to adulthood in the early 1960s and refused to accept old ‘realities’, especially sectarian ones. While best known locally and internationally for his role in the Peace People, which began in 1976, he had a number of other important roles and ‘firsts’ in his life.
He was the first Catholic to become President of the Student Representative Council at Queen’s University. He was the first Northerner to become President of USI, the Union of Students in Ireland. And later on he was the first Catholic to become political correspondent for the News Letter. He was strongly antisectarian and none of these roles would likely have been reached if he had been otherwise. He was the first person from Northern Ireland to address the UN General Assembly (1978 Special Session on Disarmament, on behalf of IFOR, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation). He also played a central role for quite a period with the Lyric Theatre.
He honed his debating skills, and ideas of democratic decision making, through his student activism. He was undoubtedly an intellectual who enjoyed discussing issues – philosophy was one of his subjects at university - but some of his own ideas were not always easily grasped by others. He was sometimes known as ‘CJ’ (for Ciaran Joseph) in his days of student politics. He once caused consternation among some others by describing Marx as a ‘minor philosopher’. His sense of humour came through in the days when “The Irish News” was priced at 3d (three old pence) as saying it consisted of “deaths, dogs and dogma”.
Ciaran McKeown was a Belfast-based journalist, aged 33, when the Peace People began in August 1976; it was a spontaneous upsurge by many ordinary and extraordinary people against the sectarian and political violence of Northern Ireland. It began immediately after the killing of the Maguire children in West Belfast. Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan (Maguire) were the first figureheads identified with this movement – and it was a movement - but it was Ciaran McKeown who provided the strategy to mobilise the maximum number of people, through the ‘rally phase’ (which went on some months from the start to Christmas that year), and simultaneously to turn the movement into an organisation. These three people became the leaders of the Peace People in the early days and remained those most identified with it. However only Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace the following year.
Most organisations start small and hope to grow. The experience of the Peace People was the opposite of this, which also created a particular dynamic, and it had begun as a popular movement with quite disparate membership. Since some saw it primarily as a movement to get at the IRA (which was somewhat bizarre given the involvement of the British Army as well as the IRA in the incident which killed the Maguire children), there was bound to be challenging times in decision making; despite a democratic structure the methods chosen were the normal ones of the time which were not necessarily up to the task. Ciaran McKeown, committed to nonviolence and human rights, and the other leaders were outspoken on issues and this led to tensions as to what was Peace People policy, apart from other decision making and personality issues.
The period around the start of the Peace People did see a substantial decrease in the level of violence in Northern Ireland. It is difficult to attribute cause and effect. It is probable that the desire for peace by ordinary people in Northern Ireland at the time led to the upsurge that was the initial days of the Peace People – and that the Peace People rallies and its early work in turn reinforced that trend. It is clear that military republicans were scared by the Peace People phenomenon but Ciaran McKeown’s vision was much wider than just the violence of the IRA. Unfortunately violence did continue in Northern Ireland, from all sides, at the lower level post-1976, for a couple of decades afterwards.
While the Peace People gradually shrank in terms of numbers, a wide variety of projects and groups came out of it including the Peace and Reconciliation Group in Derry, Kilcranny House in Coleraine, and a women’s refuge in east Belfast; these projects continued for several decades. Others people too, were conscientised by the Peace People upsurge and became involved in many different community and social endeavours. At the maximum there was upwards of a hundred Peace People local groups but this number quickly dwindled.
Active involvement in the Peace People was actually a relatively short period in Ciaran McKeown’s life. He founded and initally edited ‘Peace by Peace’, the Peace People magazine which ran for 18 years (and subsequently ‘The Citizen’, which replaced ‘Peace by Peace’, for three years from 1994). He came back in to the Peace People in the early 1990s with a more extended and defined vision of community politics than what he had previously enunciated (partly in his 1979 pamphlet “The Path of Peace”), based on the small scale democracy of the demilitarised Åland Islands in the Baltic. It was an alternative system of government for Northern Ireland but whether it would have worked, and been the breakthrough to overcome sectarian politics, is an intriguing question. While it made it through to being Peace People policy in 1994, despite significant opposition, it was lost in the shuffle within a few years.
Committed to nonviolence, Ciaran McKeown also proposed to a variety of people, including the Peace People (at a time he was not actively involved) a nonviolent thinktank which would analyse situations and look when and where was the right time and place to jump in to action. The group, however, was not to be an action group. Despite some discussions this plan did not materialise.
Involvement with the Peace People had considerable financial costs for himself and family and by the beginning of the 1980s Ciaran McKeown had found himself needing to find paid employment again - though his withdrawal from active involvement with the Peace People also had principled reasons. After initial adulatory praise in worldwide media for the Peace People there followed some very negative publicity and he considered himself, probably correctly, unemployable as a journalist at that time. He worked for some years as a typesetter.
He subsequently was able to restart his journalistic career which had begun with being a reporter for The Irish Press based in Belfast in the worst years of the Troubles, a baptism of fire - sometimes literally as when his home was firebombed in the early 1970s. He was certainly a man of courage and conviction. His subsequent work as a journalist included being political correspondent for the News Letter, a columnist, and sub-editor.
His 1984/1985 book “The Passion of Peace” (Blackstaff Press) is well worth reading for trying to understand him and his times; it covers his earlier years as well as the involvement with the Peace People. Ciaran McKeown also wrote the Peace People declaration and short pamphlets outlining more thoughts on peace. Peter McLachlan, formerly a unionist politician, who was no longer involved with the Peace People from the time of the 1979 split, credited Ciaran’s writing with being the reason he became involved.
Ciaran McKeown was very happily married to Marianne (McVeigh) who died some years before him. They had 7 children and 17 grandchildren. He worked as a sub-editor until a couple of years before his death and, sadly, was diagnosed with cancer not long after his retirement. He was reading voraciously and involved with family and friends to the end.
From the eulogy given at his funeral by his daughter Rachel:
“He was extraordinary, one of a kind, and he leaves behind him a profound legacy, both for his family and friends, and for the wider community. He maintained his clarity of vision and alertness to the very last breath, and died with a serene dignity.”
From a statement by Mairead (Corrigan) Maguire after his death:
“...When the Peace People started in August 1976 at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, it was Ciaran (a Political Journalist) who courageously took the Peace Leadership (giving up his job and becoming a volunteer in spite of the fact his fifth child was soon due) and he joined myself and Betty Williams in co-founding the Peace People. Ciaran, a Pacifist and dedicated to nonviolence as a way of life and alternative to violence, was well prepared for the hard rocky sailing from violence to nonviolence, and he steered the Peace People boat through the turbulent waters of Northern Irish ‘troubles’ and politics. Whilst Betty and I were recognized with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize (1976) for our contribution to Peacemaking, I deeply regret that Ciaran, who wrote the Peace People Declaration, planned Rallies, and directed the Movement, was not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which he so richly deserved.
... I feel deeply privileged to have known Ciaran (and his late wife Marianne) and will be forever grateful they became part of my life since 1976. Ciaran was above all a man of truth, a great writer and journalist, who together with his wife and family, paid a high price for peace and truth telling and he willingly made sacrifices and took risks for peace.....”
[ Full statement]