Thinking far into the future may seem like an odd thing to do at this moment in history, but there will be a future. Right now, we are being called upon to use good sense and sound judgement as we socially distance ourselves, wash our hands for at least 20 seconds, wipe down doorknobs, etc. This common sense behavior, which helps us protect ourselves and our loved ones, is infused with a sense of the commons, as it also protects thousands of humans we don’t even know. So it is possible that we will emerge from this uncertain and scary time with an expanded awareness of our interconnectedness.
And nine months from now, we will find ourselves at the dawning of what the U.N. General Assembly has officially declared to be the “Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.” Building on regional efforts such as AFR100 and Initiative 20×20, and accelerating global efforts like the Bonn Challenge, the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration initiative aims to remove up to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. While the promise of this global call to action is thrilling, we’d be naïve to think that in a world that seems permeated by polarization, people will unanimously embrace a massive scale up of ecological restoration. According to a global survey by the Pew Research Center, in 2018 more nations saw climate change as a top international threat than ever before, yet a report by Global Witness showed that during that very same year, three environmental activists were murdered every week.
Alas, the Spring Equinox is a time for renewal and if we are to move toward climate resilience now and throughout the coming Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, we’d be wise to start reinstating civil dialogue and learning how we can bring parties together, listen to each other, find common ground, cooperate, and make progress for the planet and people.
That is why we decided to devote this issue of Leaf Litter to the topic of environmental conflict resolution. We wanted to know: What are the nuances of environmental conflict resolution and consensus building? What is the role of the scientist in the process? Where can practitioners go for support in this area? What is the state of the science and practice of conflict resolution, and what aspects of it can apply to our work?
We begin exploring these questions by chatting with three experts. Dr. Larry Susskind is a leading figure in the field of public dispute resolution. A city planner, mediator, founder of the nonprofit Consensus Building Institute, and Professor of Urban an Environmental Planning at MIT, he knows what it’s like be in the eye of many a storm, and he shares decades worth of valuable insight, plus a proven approach to help with conflict management. Francine Madden is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Conservation Peacebuilding. Her work focuses on deep, identity-based issues that often lie beneath environmental conflict. She is applying the pioneering approach of conflict transformation to environmental projects and issues, and her results are promising. Brian Manwaring is the Director of the Udall Foundation’s John S. McCain III National Center for Environmental Conflict Resolution, a body established by Congress to provide impartial collaboration, consensus-building, and conflict resolution services related to environmental, natural resources, and public lands issues involving the Federal Government. He shares advice practitioners should keep in mind when trying to establish a collaborative environment, and he speaks earnestly of the importance of trust in conflict resolution.
To find out what it is really like to try to build multi-stakeholder consensus in a situation fraught with potential conflict, we head to Colorado’s Front Range, where “whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting” and learn about the remarkable consensus-building work of our friends at the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District and the Left Hand Creek Watershed Center.
What if, as we prepare to transition into the Decade of Ecological Restoration, we adopt a mindset of altruism? This was a question on the mind of Biohabitats President and Founder, Keith Bowers, after he participated in a the Pathways to Planetary Health symposium earlier this month. The event was hosted by the Garrison Institute, a non-profit, non-sectarian organization that applies the transformative power of contemplation to today’s pressing social and environmental concerns. Keith shares his thoughts on the relevance of the symposium to the topic of conflict resolution and a message from Jonathan Rose, Garrison Institute Co-founder.
For those seeking more information about conflict resolution, we share a Glossary and a variety of Resources. We also share the latest news about Biohabitats Projects, Places, and People, including a message from our President and Founder, Keith Bowers, about the measures we are taking to continue our work and our connections to you and each other during this period of uncertainty and social distancing.
Before signing off, I’d like to share something Sean Cronin, Executive Director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservation District, said to me when I interviewed him:
“… conflict can actually be a good thing. It creates opportunity for dialogue. It allows people to understand what other people’s issues are. In fact, the fear of conflict or avoiding conflict could actually present greater challenges and problems down the road.”
I tend to agree with Sean. As ripe as the world currently seems for conflict, so too is it ready and well-positioned for positive change.