Peace Ecology

By Hrynkow, Christopher | Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Peace Ecology


Hrynkow, Christopher, Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict


Peace Ecology, by Randall J. Amster. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers. 2015. x + 227 pages, $24.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-61205-297-7.

In the present volume, Randall Amster constructs a compound understanding of peace ecology. As part of this process, he demonstrates an urgent need for action to foster positive outcomes at the junction of sustainability and peace in order to ensure the inhabitability of the planet for future generations of people. Amster, formerly program chair of Peace Studies at Prescott College in Arizona, is presently the director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University and executive director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. These positions relate not only to his academic qualifications as a lawyer (JD, Brooklyn Law School) and a researcher in Justice Studies (PhD, Arizona State) but also to his deep concern for just peace as expressed in activist projects. This concern permeates Peace Ecology.

Amster presents several points of entry for understanding his titular term throughout the monograph. At its heart, his vision of peace ecology represents a coupling of the concepts of positive peace with ecological health. This coupling is necessary, Amster argues, because the problems represented by war and violence can no longer be separated legitimately from the problems represented by environmental degradation. He further indicates that this insight is not true on a planetary level because the Earth will survive without humans if we extinguish ourselves. However, it is true if the planet as it will exist in the near future is to be habitable for people. Hence, Amster's vision of peace ecology becomes one of self-help on social and species scales. In simple terms, he argues we do not need to save the planet, we need to save ourselves. Therefore, what is needed is a collective effort to ensure that the planet can remain the home to creatively-functioning human communities.

Working against the realization of such sustainable outcomes are the segmented interests of war, violence and extractive industries. The military-industrial project and its tendency to destroy, divide and exploit the essential commons of human life are laid bare in Peace Ecology. The logic supporting this pathological orientation is called into question by Amster for the way it gives justification to exploitative, domineering, and unjust power relations managed by governments and corporations. These hierarchical actors then take control of resources and characterize others as being too selfish or ignorant to foster the health of commons. In contradiction to justifications for environmental elitism, Peace Ecology argues that the present social and ecological crises, scarcity of resources among them, represent opportunities that can be taken up by communities to craft collaborative solutions. As a poignant example in this regard, Amster cites the acequias water systems in the Southwestern USA, which manage irrigation infrastructure and deal creatively with the conflicts arising from water allocation to the benefit of the social and political health of local communities.

On the meta-level, Peace Ecology effectively counters two notions prevalent in debates about ecological issues today. Both the market-driven cornucopian position, which supports exploitation to grow human consumption levels, and the neo-Malthusian stance, which seeks to reduce human population through sometimes violent measures. In terms reminiscent of the work of the cultural historian, Thomas Berry, Amster argues for a more nourishing "new story" to drive our action and necessary work for a truly sustainable future marked by peace and a deep realization of human connectivity with the ecological world. This is a story that assigns intrinsic value to nature through its reenchantment. …

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