Only after the last tree has been cut down.  Only after the last river has been poisoned.  Only after the last fish has been caught.  Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof." - Wingspread Statement of the Precautionary Principle.

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #862, July 6, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: This important document is being published for the first time. The Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship was released July 6 during the 14th Protecting Mother Earth Conference, convened by the Indigenous Environmental Network in Bemidji, Minnesota.]

The Bemidji Statement combines the ancient wisdom of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) -- "The first mandate.... is to ensure that our decision- making is guided by consideration of the welfare and well being of the seventh generation to come." -- with the precautionary principle.

The Statement calls for new guardians and new guardian institutions to protect the future of us all. The Statement evolved from a conversation that began in Alaska in December 2005 between Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), and the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN).

Here is an introduction to the Bemidji Statement provided by the Indigenous Environmental Network:

During the winter months of 2005-2006, several handfuls of people from numerous places throughout North America came together at two different locations to create The Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship (Bemidji Statement). While much has been written in the past about the Seventh Generation Principle, the Bemidji Statement is different in a couple of ways. First, it accommodates some elements from the protection of the Commons and the Precautionary Principle. Second, it goes beyond most other principles by explicitly assigning guardianship and responsibility for protecting the Seventh Generation of humanity that is yet to be born. But equally important, it assigns the same guardianship and responsibility to the current generations to protect and restore the intricate web of life that sustains us all, for the Seventh Generation to come.

The Statement is written with the intent of being able to adopt it at all levels of our society. It is also written to change the way we think about our future. From the family unit, through community, and institutions on community, the Statement can be adopted and applied. It is intended for individuals or small groups of individuals to take guardianship responsibility for one piece of the web of life and protect or restore that one piece for this and future generations. Examples of these web pieces could be as broad as the water or the birds or as specific as a certain pond or a certain type of fish. A family may choose to assume guardianship for the area immediately their home, a community may watch over a much larger area, a government or institution may stand guard over all within their jurisdiction. The important thing is that guardians who assume this responsibility learn everything they can about that which they have chosen, they assess and monitor the chosen piece of the web of life, restore it when necessary, and report the status of their responsibilities to other guardians.

From the smallest unit of society to the largest unit of government, we can protect, enhance, and restore the inheritance of the Seventh Generation to come. Consider becoming a Guardian in your community. [End of introduction.]



"The first mandate.... is to ensure that our decision-making is guided by consideration of the welfare and well being of the seventh generation to come."


Indigenous Peoples have learned over thousands of years to live in harmony with the land and the waters. It is our intent to survive and thrive on this planet for this and many generations to come. This survival depends on a living web of relationships in our communities and lands, among humans, and others. The many Indigenous Peoples and cultures from throughout the world are threatened by the disruption of these relationships.

The exploitation and industrialization of the land and water have altered the relationships that have sustained our Indigenous communities. These changes have accelerated in recent years. We are now experiencing the consequences of these actions with increased cancer and asthma rates, suicides, and reproductive disorders in humans, as well as increased hardships of hunting and of whaling. Places that we hold to be sacred have been repeatedly disturbed and destroyed. In animals and in nature we see changing migratory patterns, diseased fish, climate change, extinction of species, and much more.

Government agencies and others in charge of protecting the relationships between our people, the land, air, and water have repeatedly broken treaties and promises. In doing so, they have failed in their duty to uphold the tribal and the public trust. The many changes in these relationships have been well documented, but science remains inadequate for fully understanding their origins and essence. This scientific uncertainty has been misused to carry out economic, cultural, and political exploitation of the land and resources. Failure to recognize the complexity of these relationships will further impair the future health of our people and function of the environment.

We value our culture, knowledge, and skills. They are valuable and irreplaceable assets to all of humanity, and help to safe guard the world. The health and well being of our grandchildren are worth more than all the wealth that can be taken from these lands.

By returning to the collective empowerment and decision making that is part of our history, we are able to envision a future that will restore and protect the inheritance of this, and future generations. Therefore, we will designate Guardians for the Seventh Generation.


Who guards this web of life that nurtures and sustains us all?

Who watches out for the land, the sky, the fire, and the water?

Who watches out for our relatives that swim, fly, walk, or crawl?

Who watches out for the plants that are rooted in our Mother Earth?

Who watches out for the life-giving spirits that reside in the underworld?

Who tends the languages of the people and the land?

Who tends the children and the families?

Who tends the peacekeepers in our communities?


We tend the relationships.

We work to prevent harm.

We create the conditions for health and wholeness.

We teach the culture and we tell the stories.

We have the sacred right and obligation to protect the common wealth of our lands and the common health of our people and all our relations for this generation and seven generations to come. We are the Guardians for the Seventh Generation.


"As guardians of the wards over which they were appointed, the manitous [spirits] could withhold from hunters permission or opportunity to kill." --Basil Johnston, The Manitous



Shawna Larson, Environmental Justice Coordinator, IEN/Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Anchorage, AK 99503 USA, Tel: 907.222.1714, Email:, Web: and

Bob Shimek, Mining Campaign Organizer, Indigenous Environmental Network, PO Box 485, Bemidji, Minnesota 56619 USA, Tel: 218.751.4867, Email: Web:

Manitoba’s Reckless Agriventure


If you’re interested in getting into big-time corporate hog production, don’t go to North Carolina. Don’t go to Quebec either, or Taiwan or Iowa or the Netherlands. 

In every one of these places, huge industrial hog-breeding facilities — commonly known as mega hog barns, factory farms, CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) or ILOs (intensive livestock operations) — have so fouled the nest that what was once embraced by gung-ho governments has been spat out like a bad piece of bacon. 

But should you come to friendly Manitoba, you’re in luck. 

While the rest of the world bolts its doors, and organizations like the Canadian Medical Association and the National Farmers Union call for nationwide moratoria, Manitoba’s government (and most other provinces, except Quebec) is still shampooing the red carpet.

"It's as if English Canada has a welcome mat that says, ‘Feel Free to use our Rural Communities as a Sewer,’" says Janine Gibson, whose travels certifying Manitoba organic farms have given her a panoramic view of "the sewer." 

For Eva Pip, a celebrated University of Winnipeg biologist and toxicologist who specializes in water safety, the sewer has come dangerously close to home. Since she moved to the Beausejour area ten years ago, Pip’s home has been increasingly surrounded by intensive hog and cattle operations. It might as well be a metaphor for the whole province, as far as she’s concerned. 

"When I came here ten years ago it was wonderful, some of the best water in Manitoba. But now I have to boil my water all the time, because from time to time there has been Cryptosporidium in it, there has been E. coli in it — and you didn’t have that ten years ago."

I ask her about "the toughest environmental standards in the world" that government and industry keep insisting we have.

Pip shakes off the fatigue of a long day of field work on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg. "This is what we always hear — ‘the toughest regulations,’" she shoots back, "and my response to that always is, if we really do have the toughest regulations then this is why all of these operators are flooding here from all these other places — Germany and Belgium and the States — because they want to be under the toughest regulations."

I mention I’ve heard it’s not the regulations that are the problem; it’s enforcement. 

"Oh it’s horrible!" Pip replies. "I myself, I have called so many times to report things . . . and I’ll be darned if you even see anybody come out and take a look most of the time. And then even if they do come and take a look then it’s just warnings." 

Pip suggests I go to the provincial website and look for myself. "You’ll see that in almost every single case where they responded and did find an infraction it was just a warning. And then when they did impose a fine, which would have been usually for a repeat offense, those fines are tiiiiiiiiiiny, tiny. . . .In most cases that fine isn’t even the price of one hog." 

Later I confirm that from 1994 through 2003 the total bill for the billion-dollar industry and all other livestock offenders was $80,048.

"I compare it to Mexican labour law," quips Fred Tait, a cattle farmer near MacGregor and President of Hogwatch Manitoba, the industry’s arch-gadfly. Tait accuses his former party, the NDP, of failing to restore the province’s Conservation and Environment departments — "devastated" by the PCs in the 90s — to where they would have "any possible capacity of doing any good here." 

Janine Gibson, who lives in the Hanover and La Broquerie area, sees the consequences of the alleged government laxity all around her:

"I have personally seen ditches green with algae from likely phosphorus leaching, the Seine full of dead fish from a breached lagoon and poor barn and earthern storage sites completely surrounded by water in the spring," she writes in an email.

"As an agricultural educator, I have experienced many phone calls from barn workers very unhappy with both the treatment of the animals and the manure slurry, but who feel at risk for their positions should they complain. I have been asked to report dumping of slurry directly into ditches to save the cost of field application as well as inhuman treatment of cull animals.

"These reports of improper management to the local conservation office are met with ineffective follow-up. There appears to be no sincere political will for the system to police itself effectively. Fines for improper practices appear to be considered a ‘cost of doing business’ and are not sufficient to be active enforcement of the common good."

The Hogwatchers

As Gibson, Tait, Pip and others tell their stories, a theme emerges: it’s citizens who are having to keep the hog industry and its government benefactors honest. Over and over again, it’s the hogwatchers who have found dangerous flaws in applications already greenlighted by the government’s technical review committees (TRCs) and even caught industry cheaters redhanded. 

There was the video by a farmer named Charles Beer of an earthen manure storage (EMS) lagoon under construction in the RM of Grandview. Despite inspections by Conservation, Beer’s video showed that the earthen lining of the EMS was being built with flagrant disregard for leakproofing regulations out of powder-dry stubble and topsoil, instead of moist, compactible clay. When heavy rainfall came, Tait tells me, "there wasn’t one speck of water in the bottom of that earthen lagoon. Not one cupfull. It had all leaked right through."

There’s the spectacular steel manure storage tank break near MacGregor in July of 2002. Four million litres of pig manure slurry escaped, contaminating nearby wells. "Not only did this thing burst," says Tait, "but the province didn’t even know it was there, because it had been built pre-1998. It was a salvaged tank out of the United States — never should have been put there. It was just a time bomb."

There was a four-million litre spill near Morden in 2000, word of which only leaked out three years later. After a surface mop-up operation, Manitoba Conservation had privately declared the damage fixed without testing the area for contamination. But serious contamination of local waterways could have occurred, Brandon University biologist Bill Paton said when the news broke in 2003, noting that hog slurry is about 100 times more toxic than raw human sewage.

"The problem," says Tait, "is there’s been so much work done in a shoddy manner over so many years." Yet most of it hasn’t been witnessed by Hogwatch or taped by Charles Beer. "These things now are in operation, and if they’re leaking or whatever they’re doing, what do you do at this point?"

Al Beck manages Manitoba’s Environmental Livestock Program, the department within Manitoba Conservation that polices the wastes of the livestock industry by enforcing the Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation (LMMMR). Before the program was created in 1998 to enforce the new regulation, there were just 12 people working part-time on the poop patrol, Beck says. Today there are 17 full-timers, keeping tabs on an industry that generates and disposes of the manure of seven or eight million pigs a year, much of it in older manure storage facilities (like the one in MacGregor) that have yet to be registered with the government.

Do they have what it takes to keep Manitoba clean? I ask Beck. 

"I actually quite firmly believe . . . we're in pretty good control on that," he answers, "not to say there may not be accidents happening or the odd bad actor that'll we'll have to encounter and deal with . . ." When they do, Beck says they can invoke the Environment Act — "and there the fines are substantial: $50,000 for a first offence for an individual, $500,000 for a corporation." Further offenses cost $100,000 and $1 million, respectively, he adds.

But when I check the province’s online enforcement record, which dates back to 1998, the annual tab for all convictions combined has averaged just $30,000 — about $600 an offense. When I look up the Environment Act, I see why: the fines Beck has cited are maximums.

Ruth Pryzner, an animal farmer who was acclaimed to the Council of the RM of Daly on a predominantly hogwatcher platform, doesn’t share Beck’s confidence in the system. Years of tussling with it have convinced her it’s as leaky as the lagoons it’s supposed to be protecting us from. When I present her with a few regulations that look pretty good to me, a naïve observer, she sees a worm in almost every one of them.

Take the synthetic liners that are sometimes required for EMSs in sensitive areas — near an aquifer, for example. They’re actually quite fragile during manure removal, Pryzner points out, and they’re not impermeable either. The Conservation department has told her that the permitted drip level into the earth and groundwater is too slow to worry about. But that seems shortsighted to Pryzner. "We are needing to maintain potable water supplies for future generations don't you think? Not just what's going to be available in the next 25 years."

Value Extracted

The best image I can think of to convey the way mega hog-barn resisters see the industry is a supersized syringe injected into the rural heartland, extracting the greatest value for the least investment, and leaving all wastes behind. 

While a favourite buzzword that the industry and its government boosters use to describe itself is "value-added" (spinoff jobs and services, less rural depopulation), the syringe model connotes a different buzzword: 

Value extracted — strip mining, not sustainable development.

"Corporations . . . are simply not, by their design or motivation, rural development agencies," Brandon University economist Joe Dolecki argued at a conditional use hearing for a mega hog barn in 2002. "They do not exist to ‘help’ the rural communities in which they locate, but rather to ‘help themselves’ to the resources of those rural communities . . ."

"If you want to see how globalization is progressing," the National Farmers Union put it to the Manitoba government this April, "just come out to rural Manitoba."

I ask Fred Tait, who was national vice president of the NFU until last year, to explain why the so-called "corporatization," "vertical integration" and "consolidation" of the hog sector is such a bad thing.

Tait answers that in the good old days, "the value of the hogs came back to the farmer. And sometimes it was positive, and sometimes it was negative, but whatever it was, it came back to the community and became part of that community’s economy."

But in the new hog economy, corporations like Maple Leaf buy up the competition to consolidate a lock on the market that is not only "horizontal" (Maple Leaf now owns most of Manitoba’s meatpacking capacity), but "vertical." In 1999, Maple Leaf acquired the largest feed company in Western Canada and one of the largest hog producers, Elite Swine. Elite’s mega barns house 125,000 sows, enough to bring two and a half million pigs to market every year.

"Whatever profit there is to be taken out of this whole structure, they take it," says Tait of the global fraternity of vertically integrated pork corporations. "The only thing that is left for the local people is the few jobs that are available in the barn." And judging by the turnover Tait sees, they’re slim pickings.

Eva Pip is no fan either of the corporate takeover. In her presentation to the Manitoba government-appointed Livestock Stewardship Panel in 2000, Pip said:

"The small family farm is hurt the most. The small producer had minimized adverse environmental impacts because livestock were reasonably spaced and the amount of waste caused only small localized problems, at worst. This small producer is now squeezed out by the mega-operations, against which he cannot compete."

Pip heaped scorn on the industry’s PR machine. 

"How ironic that a recent television commercial produced by the pork industry drives home this point. We see a pretty picture of contented pigs, unrestrained and outdoors in the sunshine, while a cute little girl is helping to distribute the pigs’ food with her own adorable hands. Yet this is the very producer that the hog industry is destroying. . . .Why does the industry not show its real face — the sows confined in tight barren crates, standing on their own filth, breathing noxious fumes, with the only sunlight they will ever see being the time when they are crammed into the transports to go to slaughter? Would a little girl be helping to feed thousands of pigs in such a place? It would be child abuse to let a child inside such a place."

A Gathering Threat

This January, the world’s largest public health organization joined the growing number of medical bodies — the Canadian Medical Association included — who are calling for a moratorium on mega hog barns. In its 1134-word resolution, the American Public Health Association cited a host of serious social, environmental and medical concerns.

Hailing the resolution, Robert Lawrence, M.D., Director of The Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote: "Factory farms make their workers sick, pollute the environment, and pose serious public health risks to people living nearby." The system "needs [a] major overhaul, if not elimination."

Among the leading medical worries is antibiotic resistance. The routine feeding of antibiotics to confined animals breeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be transmitted to humans in food, water and even airborne barn dust.

In 1999, the intensive hog operations of Malaysia were stricken by a new virus called "Nipah." Encephalitis broke out among hog workers. Over a hundred died, including an abbatoir worker in Singapore.

Antibiotics in animal feed have been banned in Sweden and Denmark and (partially) throughout the European Union. When Denmark prohibited using avoparcin in 1995, bacterial resistance to the drug plummetted from 73 percent to five percent by 2000.

Eva Pip is well acquainted with the research and, through her travels studying water around the province, with the health complaints of people who live near our mega hog barns. In the "numerous, numerous studies" that have been done elsewhere, she says, "the range of symptoms that have been documented ranges all the way from headache and nausea and dizziness, all the way to much more severe and frequent attacks of asthma and bronchitis, much more frequent susceptibility to colds and other kinds of respiratory illnesses."

Pip says that while it’s not possible to prove cause and effect in Manitoba without controlled studies, "you know when it comes down to the bottom line, if you can smell it, then it’s affecting you."

I ask her how the provincial government can encourage the expansion of the mega hog barn industry in the face of such evidence? Because, she says with by now familiar irony, "that’s not science, because that wasn’t done in Manitoba. Somehow Manitobans are unique and different, you see."

But why couldn’t we be exceptional?

"Because all our farm practices are the same as what they have been doing in those other places. And in many cases those are the exact same operators that are no longer able to do that there. In the Netherlands, for example, where now virtually 100 percent of their groundwater is polluted, for years now the Dutch government had been paying them to get out of the business. And so what happens? ‘Come to Manitoba.’"

The Screaming of the Sows

Every day in Manitoba over 10,000 bellowing hogs are shuttled through high-speed "disassembly lines" and electrically stunned, stabbed, bled, scalded and butchered. Nearly as many are trucked to other provinces or states to be slaughtered or fattened there. The vast majority spend their five or six month existence in large, supercrowded pens on strawless, slatted concrete floors, above an open river of their own wastes. Their tails, "needle teeth" and testicles are clipped or cut off (without anaesthetic) to limit the damage they could do to each other under such stressful confinement. Their parents live in solitary confinement in tight, barren sow and boar "crates" for all or most days of their three or four years of reproductive life; then they are culled, if they haven’t died first.

"It’s horrible. Just the smell just about knocks you over, and the noise," says Eva Pip describing her visit to an Interlake mega hog barn about five years ago. "A screaming sow ," she tells me, "can generate more than a hundred decibels — a single sow. . . .When you have all those animals concentrated there in a building like that, it’s terrible." Hundreds of "organic compounds that it’s just not healthy to be breathing" fill the animals lungs and noses. Occupational health experts advise barn workers to wear protective masks (many don’t and suffer a high rate of illness for it), but the pigs just have to put up with it, 24/7.

"You can see that [the sows have] given up pretty well, that they’re just waiting to die," says Pip. "Or they’re just constantly biting the bars or making repetitive, agitated movements. It looks like something out of a horror movie."

When I ask Minister of Agriculture Rosann Wowchuk if her government intends to ban or phase out sow stalls as they have in the European Union, she replies tightly: "Not at this time." It’s up to the market, she says.

The Other, Other White Meat

The cliché in modern farming is "get big, or get out."

On the farm his father built, Ian Smith is still in and (by today’s standards) small, raising pigs the old-fashioned way with fresh air, group housing and straw — lots of straw. His family’s been doing it that way near Argyle, Manitoba since 1969.

This winter Smith passed the inspection of the Winnipeg Humane Society and became one of five farmers in the province producing "WHS Certified" humane pork. The move attracted a few more customers to the home delivery side of Smith’s roughly 400-hog per year business.

A couple years ago, when the Humane Society rolled out its WHS Certified pork with a Pepsi Challenge-style taste test, "even the best chefs in Winnipeg could distinguish, blindfolded, the difference between the two products," Fred Tait recounts. "I had reporters telling me ‘if I could get this product that’s all I would buy.’"

Well, they can get the product (see "Where to buy kinder cuts of pork"). Like certified-organic pork, which is produced under comparably humane standards, WHS Certified pork has found its way into several Manitoba outlets. But market share is only a shadow of what it could be, in the view of Vicki Burns, Executive Director of the Humane Society, and John Youngman, Chair of the WHS’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee.

"Part of the problem," explains Burns, "is that we do not have a meat broker."

Not many stores are interested in buying meat directly from a farmer, especially if it comes in 80-pound halves, like Ian Smith’s does.

"Without the meat being readily available, I think consumers do not remember to ask for it," Burns writes in an email exchange. "And the fact that there are no industry/government programs (incentives, support, etc.) to help farmers like ours adds to the problem," writes Youngman.

Frustrated by his attempts to find a retailer, Smith says "the public has to step up to the plate and say we want this product." And so, he adds, should the government and the Manitoba Pork Council (MPC), which is funded by an 80-cent levy, or "check-off," on all the hogs he and other Manitoba producers sell.

But neither are interested.

"We do not market or promote any specific production style or choice to consumers, retailers or wholesalers," writes Ted Muir, General Manager of MPC, when I ask if MPC would help farmers like Smith grow a niche pork industry.

I ask Wowchuk the same question. "It’s a product that’s out there that’s available," she replies. "I have a poster up in my office of all the products that are available. It’s not labelled one way or the other. . . .We don’t promote a different kind of pork either or a different kind of chicken." And yet, she adds, "we work with the producers when they have an idea of what they want to market."

But not this idea, apparently.

"Several months ago," Burns informs me, "I was contacted by one of our WHS hog farmers who wanted to market his meat to provincial institutions like the U of M, hospitals, etc. I contacted Minister Wowchuk's office requesting a meeting with her and several of our farmers who wanted help to get Manitoba meat on Manitoba shelves. I am still waiting for a response to that request. In my experience, the provincial government has not been helpful at all in trying to encourage the humane labelled meat industry."

Fred Tait had warned me that any industry that might threaten the success of Manitoba’s mega hog barns "would cause the provincial government to get a little nervous, because they have underwritten the loans on these barns." And Maple Leaf Foods, whose hammer lock on the industry was secured by Gary Doer’s promise to Maple Leaf CEO Michael McCain not to reinstate the selling monopoly (single-desk selling) of the province’s hog producers, would not be pleased either. "If Michael McCain felt that his market share was being threatened by some sort of an upstart industry in humane labelling," Tait says, "I think the phones would ring again."

"Why are we promoting this type of industry in Manitoba?" asks Swan River farmer and NFU Regional Coordinator, Ken Sigurdson. "We can raise hogs in a far more environmentally friendly manner. Hooped housing [cosy, tentlike pig shelters] and dry manure systems [straw-composted manure, like Smith produces on his farm] use a fraction of the water and pose less of a threat to the environment."

Which is largely how they do it in Denmark where they still manage to vie with the United States and Canada for the title of world’s leading pork exporter.

On a recent trip there, Cathy Holtslander, organizer of Canada’s Beyond Factory Farming Coalition, visited the Northern European country’s version of a confined hog operation. There were 400 sows, but not a gestation crate or an open manure lagoon in sight. Those are illegal in Denmark. So is antibiotic-laced feed.

But there was straw, lots of straw. And organic pig farms — ten percent of the market. The one Holtslander visited produces 2000 pigs a year. Her photos of it show a pasture speckled with sows, gamboling piglets and the cosy, straw-bedded hoop shelters they call home. And three schoolchildren visiting on a field trip — picture-perfect for an honest commercial.

And when the farmer brings his pigs to the national pork marketting cooperative, he is rewarded with an "organic premium" price. In Denmark, at least, they know how to market a different kind of pork.

Aquarian editor Syd Baumel is the founder of eatkind. net

Worldwatch Perspective: Nobel Committee Is Wise to Broaden the Definition of Peace 

The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s surprising decision last week to award the 2006 Peace Prize to micro-credit pioneer Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded is a courageous step toward broadening the definition of peace. The Committee’s announcement notes that “peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.”

In 1895, Swedish scientist and pacifist Alfred Nobel directed that the annual Peace Prize be given to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Yet over the past century, the nature of conflict has undoubtedly changed, as has recognition of the means and requirements of a just and sustainable peace.

In recent years, the Nobel Committee has cast the spotlight of this coveted prize—worth more than US$1.3 million—outside the traditional realms of peace and security. For example, the 2004 Prize—for which the Committee proclaimed that “peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment”—recognized the work of Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai, dramatically expanding the annual award’s scope.

The 2004 and 2006 awards may be the strongest reflections yet of a new mentality, though they are not the only ones that have been presented to non-traditional peacemakers. A handful of earlier Nobel decisions rewarded the work of humanitarians and human rights activists, including Iran’s Shirin Ebadi (2003), Médecins Sans Frontières (1999), Guatemala’s Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992), and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi (1991).

It was widely predicted that the 2006 Prize would go to the individuals that negotiated the 2005 peace agreement in Indonesia’s Aceh province: facilitator and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, as well as Indonesian and Acehnese rebel leaders. While that decision might have been interpreted as reaffirmation of more traditional criteria for winning the Prize, it would in fact have ventured into new territory as well. After all, it was the devastating tsunami of December 2004 that spurred unprecedented interest in reconciliation and enabled what might be termed “humanitarian peacemaking.” In the aftermath of the disaster, peace was understood as essential for reconstruction, and reconstruction as indispensable for peace.

While disarmament, conflict prevention, and reconciliation remain crucial in a violent and militarized world, the Committee’s decision this year again recognizes that war and peace are about more than guns, generals, and diplomats. Environmental scarcity, inequality, and destitution are undermining human security. And they can be driving forces of instability and conflict as much as the buildup of weapons.

For the more than one billion people worldwide that live off ecologically fragile lands, food security is a constant concern even without war’s predations. Water scarcity may not lead to inter-state wars, as some observers predict, but it is causing increasing disputes and skirmishes among different communities and regions. Livelihoods are increasingly at risk as environmental breakdown spreads. Infectious diseases are resurgent. The example of AIDS in southern Africa highlights their potential for draining societies of their social and economic lifeblood. The destruction of ecosystems leads to more frequent and more devastating natural disasters that turn growing numbers of people into environmental refugees.

The 2006 award may draw criticism from traditional security analysts, in much the same way the 2004 announcement sparked intense debate in some circles. But working towards a conception of peace that is more than the mere absence of war demands a commitment to sustainable development, equity, and participatory democracy. We need to enhance our comprehension of the ways in which a multitude of social, economic, environmental, and demographic pressures interact, and how these dynamics play out in light of ethnic and political fault lines. And we need to honour and support those who, like Muhammad Yunus, are on the frontlines of efforts to counter these pressures.

Michael Renner is a Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute and the author of the recent article on Aceh, “Unexpected Promise: Disaster Creates an Opening for Peace in a Conflict-Riven Land,” in the November/December 2006 issue of World Watch.


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