Who would have thought that there could be an ecological downside to peace, to the end of conflict and war?
After all, isn’t peace what we are always striving for?
So what could go wrong once peace is established?
An article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal references a paper published last month in the journal Land Use Policy. Researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of Waterloo showed how dramatically rainforest destruction sped up after peace arrived in Peru, Sri Lanka, Ivory Coast and Nepal in the past dozen years. In those four case studies, the average annual forest loss was 68% greater in the five years after conflicts ended than in the five years before. Forest loss also has increased globally but more slowly, at an average annual rise of 7% since 2001.
When conflicts end, developers rush in to take advantage, and rates of deforestation accelerate. Governments tend to be unprepared to enforce preservation of the sensitive, newly accessible territory. “Everyone tries to take advantage of the lack of transparency and accountability,” said Kevin Woods, a senior policy analyst at the environmental group Forest Trends.
By contrast, conflict has continued to deter development in Indonesia’s remote Papua province, where armed separatists recently attacked a major roadway project through the area, killing more than a dozen workers and forcing a temporary halt in construction. The province lost less than 2% of its tree cover from 2001 to 2017, according to Global Forest Watch data, while Indonesia lost 15% overall.
In central Africa, the world’s second-largest rainforest, after the Amazon, actually expanded during the 20th century, partly because of the area’s violent history.
In Colombia, the leftist FARC movement limited rainforest clearance in areas it controlled to protect its fighters from aerial bombardment and to ensure they could slip away from military incursions. But ranchers and coca growers have moved in quickly, often without any formal claim to the territory. In 2017, Colombia’s rainforest tree cover disappeared at three times the rate of 2015, the year before the peace treaty was signed.
So what to do?
Let the conflicts rage on? Or work for peace and watch the rainforests get destroyed?
I don’t think it has to be either.
I think the first priority should be achieving peace.
And once that is in place, then education should be next.
Education about the importance of maintaining the rainforests, and the high environmental cost of destroying it.
Along with education, there is likely a need for strong regulation that protects the rainforest.
Peace, education, and regulation. With all three in place, we can make the world a better place.
So I do not think there is a downside to peace; as John Lennon wrote 50 years ago, just give peace a chance…
*image from unsplash.com