Environmental Peacebuilding through Degrowth, Demilitarization, and Feminism: Rethinking environmental peacebuilding to stay within planetary boundaries and champion social justice
Environmental peacebuilding (EP) is predominantly concerned with the role of context-specific natural resources or ecologies in peacebuilding. Feminist and degrowth analysis, along with disarmament and demilitarization, can broaden approaches to EP, while also making the interventions more sustainable.[i]
The growth imperative of the capitalist political economy is the leading driver of environmental degradation and the climate crisis. This is increasingly generating insecurity and conflicts, which will be used to justify ever-increasing military expenditure at the expense of investment in environmental protection, regeneration, and social infrastructure.
The capitalist growth imperative, perpetuated by militarization, is intrinsically colonial, requiring new frontiers from which to extract value, sustaining the dominance of the Global North over the Global South. The development and management of natural resources, such as timber, minerals, and oil, has been a focus of traditional EP, with resource revenues promoted to finance post-conflict recovery and the transition to peace. EP thus risks contributing to the unsustainable growth imperative that is driving environmental insecurity, making it incumbent on EP scholars and practitioners to address alternative models to endless growth.
Ideas from the degrowth movement, coupled with feminist and Indigenous thinking and organizing, can help delink EP theory and practice from infinite growth. The degrowth movement focuses on reducing the world’s consumption of energy and material goods in a way that is globally just, while accounting for inequalities created by colonialism and capitalism. Degrowth seeks to create an economy organized around human flourishing and ecological stability, rather than growth. Recognizing inequalities, degrowth calls for a radical decrease of resource and energy use in the Global North. It acknowledges that most countries in the Global South will need to increase their resource use to meet human needs. Within all countries, the degrowth movement argues that some sectors will still need to grow to ensure human well-being, such as public healthcare or regenerative agriculture, while other sectors, such as fossil fuels and the arms industry, should radically shrink.
Degrowth would alter patterns of resource consumption and their flows between the Global South and North. This may require a shift in EP’s focus on “high-value” resources in post-conflict recovery and stabilization efforts; work should begin to explore what degrowth would mean for conflict-affected states with a high economic reliance on natural resources.
Intersectional feminist peace activism is informed by anti-racist and anti-colonial perspectives and complements values of the degrowth movement and the aims of EP. Feminist perspectives to degrowth and EP are essential to preventing women from shouldering the burden of social reproduction in a down-scaling economy. (Social reproduction is the labour that goes into reproducing social life, including biological reproduction and unpaid labour in the home and in communities.[ii]) A more sustainable, fair, and equal relationship between people and the planet must acknowledge and abolish the exploitation of (predominantly) women’s social reproductive labour.
Feminist peace activism also addresses the effects of militarization, linking the political economy of violence with the capitalist growth imperative and global inequalities. Militaries are among the greatest polluters and consumers of resources. Ever-increasing military expenditure also stands in stark contrast to the lack of investment in environmental protection and regeneration, social infrastructure and care, and conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Intersectional feminists call for inclusive and transparent decision-making, including effective participation of the most marginalized groups of society to advance social justice and peace.
What’s been done
While degrowth has yet to be implemented by states, Indigenous communities globally have lived by the understanding of reciprocity, interconnectedness, and care for the web of life for thousands of years. A number of recent initiatives reflect some of the ideas of the degrowth movement and can serve as models for others:
- In its report, Growth without Economic Growth, the EU Environment Agency urges a rethinking of growth as central to our economies and progress;[iii]
- New Zealand, Colombia, and India have given rights of legal personhood to land, water, air, and plants, which means that harms against nature can be prosecuted;
- In Ecuador and Bolivia, the centrality of nature has been enshrined in constitutions;
- In Bhutan, Costa Rica, and New Zealand, national policies have been guided by principles of gross national happiness, or the spiritual, physical, and social health of citizens and environment;
- City planning in Amsterdam and Kokstad has centred human well-being within planetary boundaries;
On a grassroots level, many movements speak to different aspects of degrowth, including:
- Black Lives Matter, working for racial justice;[iv]
- Fridays For Future, a global youth movement working for climate justice;[v]
- “Purple deal,” a vision of an economy placing care at its backbone;[vi]
- The Red Nation’s call for a Red Deal for Indigenous liberation, life, and land, and the affirmation that colonialism and capitalism must be overturned.[vii]
Policymakers and practitioners should incorporate ideas from degrowth and feminist thinking as part of EP.
· EP must remain within safe ecological limits and be guided by human well-being and ecological regeneration, while acknowledging that conflict-affected countries need to increase revenues to meet human needs. Degrowth economic and environmental policies must be designed in an inclusive and transparent way.
· EP scholars and practitioners should examine how degrowth can challenge dominant models of managing natural resources for revenue and recovery, and to explore what a just transition would entail for countries heavily dependent on extractive industries.
· Governments should reduce military expenditure and pursue disarmament and demilitarization to help reduce environmental damage and free up resources for a degrowth economy as part of peacebuilding and conflict prevention.
This article is a contribution to a compendium of 50 entries on the future of environmental peacebuilding, written by 150 authors in a collective effort to chart a future course of action. Environmental peacebuilding, climate security, environmental peace and security — these are all terms to articulate the relationship between natural resources and the lines between violent conflict and peace.
The collective project was collated and launched on 1 February 2022 at the International Conference for Environmental Peacebuilding online. It is meant to be a tool both of collective sensemaking and of influence for decision-makers. Learn more here.
[i] For further reading on the links between feminist theory, degrowth economic policies, and environmental peacebuilding, see: Nicoson, C. (2021) ‘Towards climate resilient peace: an intersectional degrowth approach’, Sustainability Science (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11625-021-00906-1) For further reading on degrowth, see: Hickel, J. Less is more: how degrowth will save the world. Windmill Books: London, and Weiss, M. and Cattaneo, C. (2017) ‘Degrowth–taking stock and reviewing an emerging academic paradigm,’ in Ecological Economics 137.
[ii] For further discussion on the concept, see: Rai, S.M., True, J. and Tanyag, M. (2019), ‘From depletion to regeneration: addressing structural and physical violence in post-conflict economies,’ Social Politics, 26 (4).
[iii]European Environment Agency (2021) Growth without economic growth (https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/growth-without-economic-growth)
[iv] For further reading on Black Lives Matter: https://blacklivesmatter.com
[v] For further reading on Fridays for Future: https://fridaysforfuture.org
[vi] See for example: Interview with Ipek Ilkkaracan, “Care is an economic issue: addressing gender inequalities in care work,” IWRAW Asia Pacific (https://www.iwraw-ap.org/ipek-ilkkaracan-purple-economy/)
[vii] For further reading on the Red Deal: https://www.commonnotions.org/the-red-deal.