The foreword of our previous issue, a regular one, began as follows: ‘All of the articles appearing in this issue are on the wavelength of our journal’s name and ACCORD’s name. They come with case studies about the attainment of conflict resolution or the orientation towards conflict resolution.’ This issue is a special one, on the theme of environment and conflict, but its thrust is interrelated with that of our regular issues. This one is mainly focused on our spatial environment, but each article actually deals with some aspect of the interaction between the spatial and the social environment. The contents of our regular issues are mostly focused on the social environment, but quite often there are specific references to consequences for the spatial environment.
The topics in this issue remind one of what Sicilian philosopher Empedocles, 25 centuries ago, regarded as the four root ‘elements’ in nature: fire, air, earth and water. We read about climate change due to global warming, air pollution, land issues and coastal issues, and then also about land inhabitants – animals, and humans of both genders. We get a sense of the urgency of conservation. It may be thought-provoking to note that long before the time when the global human population began increasing by logarithmic leaps and bounds, Empedocles already emphasised that the existing physical matter could not be increased or reduced, but could only be ‘combined or separated’. At the same time, however, he also tried to probe the invisible forces behind physical processes, and his thoughts turned towards the cosmic might of love and of hate. He seemed to have sensed something of our human interrelatedness with our physical environment.
As we read about environmental problems and conflicts of our day, it may therefore be a good exercise to think back over at least 25 centuries and think forward at least 25 centuries – although such ‘long’ periods are only split seconds in cosmic terms. But if we are reluctant to undertake mind-boggling thought experiments, we may at least pause to think briefly about a few generations of our ancestors and a few generations of our descendants. Then, especially bearing in mind a scenario of the environmental situation our children’s children and their children’s children will have to cope with, we may turn our thoughts to our current situation.
A fairly small proportion of our global human population seems to have, to some extent, taken note of the worrying fact that our physical and biological environment is under threat. The public media are disseminating news items about global warming: changing statistics, conclusions of seminars, statements of conferences, and reactions of political leaders and business bosses. But it seems as if most of the warning signals and wake-up calls are received with little more than a temporary raising of eyebrows and shrugging of shoulders. Fortunately, however, some impact has already been made by environmentally concerned movements and more and more people seem to be acquiring a green, or at least a greenish, mindset.
With this special issue then, we wish to contribute something from our side. We trust that this set of articles will communicate and spread a very relevant and much needed message. The implied background of this message is obviously that our spatial environment has remained remarkably sustainable over millions of years, but that in the fairly recent past some human ‘developments’ have begun to threaten the natural sustainability. At first, the harmful impact on our environment was regarded as negligible – if it was noticed at all. The attention and pride were focused on the achievements of inquisitive and creative human beings – such as the discovery of fuel reserves and the designing of the internal combustion engine. Ad hoc threats to themselves, for instance the carbon monoxide danger, were taken seriously, but were not allowed to dampen the general enthusiasm about machinery, mobility and luxury. By now, however, the threats we short-sighted humans are imposing on nature have become absolutely non-ignorable.
The environment-related problems and conflicts discussed in this issue arose in local situations, where few people, if any, were concerned about the future of our global environment. But in one way or another, each of them may serve as an eye opener – in two ways. First, a local conflict may highlight an urgent need for balancing short-term gains and long-term resource management. Second, such a conflict may and should make us very much aware of our interrelatedness – with air, water, earth and fire, and with fellow-humans. So, as we read about environmental conflict and conflict resolution, we may feel the urge to revisit and modify our behaviour with regard to our spatial environment and our social environment. After all, each one of us is interconnected with nature, from its micro to its macro levels. And so is everyone else around us. We cannot opt out of our inevitable accountability. We are privileged to live on the living organism-friendly surface of planet Earth, and we are obliged to let other living organisms – of both genders – live.
We sincerely thank the authors of these articles for sharing their accounts, findings and recommendations with us and we appreciate our opportunity of passing such existential and co-existential material on to our readers.