Editor's Note: Mennonite Mission Network invited Ben Tapper, a freelancer from Indianapolis, Indiana, to write a reflection on the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, observed Nov. 6.
The 21st International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict was marked around the globe on Nov. 6. For more than two decades, the United Nations has drawn attention to the connection between armed conflict and environmental conditions, as well as the environmental degradation that ensues as a result of war. Increased geopolitical tensions are causing additional environmental crises that further threaten peace and stability.
Armed conflict poses a significant threat to the environment, and environmental conditions, in turn, can exacerbate armed conflict. It only makes sense, then, for the United Nations to continue to raise awareness about this link and the importance of environmental care for preventing violence and maintaining peace.
While it is crucial to be mindful of the ways that conflicts, like those taking place in Ethiopia, Palestine and Sudan, are impacting the environment, it's far too easy to look past what is happening in North America.
Readers living in Canada or the United States don't need to look far to find serious threats to environmental well-being and peace. David Lapp Jost, who, along with his wife, Sophia, serve as Mission Network workers in Germany, works with DMFK — the German Mennonite Peace Committee — and fundraises for environmental advocacy. He noted that North American fossil fuel projects pose a serious risk of armed conflict, now and in the future.
Lapp Jost cited the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project as a prime example. Police have arrested more than 900 demonstrators and placed others under surveillance. Some of the arrests have been violent, and the Canadian company, Enbridge, reimbursed Minnesota police $2.4 million dollars USD for their work. A private company subsidized the U.S. government to harass, arrest and surveil protestors. We saw similar state-sanctioned brutality as other pipelines, like the Keystone XL pipeline, were being constructed. Indigenous water protectors and activists oppose these pipeline projects because of the environmental damage they invoke, including pollution of water supplies.
Though oil spills are less common than they were decades ago, each spill can still disrupt entire ecosystems, poison water supplies, and have lasting consequences on wildlife and livestock. This is just the latest chapter in the ongoing genocide of Indigenous people. And it's playing out in fights over oil pipelines in Canada and the United State, as well as rainforests in central and South America and Southeast Asia.
Land continues to be violently stolen from Indigenous people, and many are paying for their resistance with their lives. In 2019, more than 200 land and environmental activists were murdered.
To honor this international day and to take seriously the link between armed conflict and environmental care, Mennonites need to add our voices, resources and bodies to the fights that our Indigenous kin are waging. We can't ignore the grave threats that logging and the fossil fuel industry pose to Native people. By standing with them, we're also standing for the environment.
Another reason this advocacy is pertinent today is because November is also Native American Heritage Month. Is it coincidental that Native American Heritage Month and the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict fall within the same calendar month? As we move through the remaining weeks of November, take a moment to commemorate Native American Heritage month by learning how to offer support to those water and land protectors being targeted for their refusal to be ignored or erased.
International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict may have passed, but the work it represents is far from finished. We will continue to hear about the impact of climate change on armed conflict. And as we do, we'd be remiss to ignore the struggle that Native peoples and their allies have been engaged in for years. It's a struggle that world governments are largely ignoring or actively participating in, and if something doesn't change soon, we'll all lose.
Become an advocate! To learn how to add your voice, resources and body to seek change, watch the "Stir Up Peace" video series, in which we provide practical examples on how to engage in nonviolent direct action.