Jean-Michel Cousteau Reflects on Working Toward Peace
an architecture student, I learned that good design is usually
derived from shapes found in nature. Pure geometry is interesting
enough, but it is cold. There is a logic and proportion
in living organisms that has the capacity to fill us with
joy. My favorite shape was the coil of the chambered nautilus.
Not only is it the essence of streamlined functionality-even
from the point of view of physics-but it also exists in
harmony with light, depth, temperature, and other environmental
factors that are essential for its survival.
Human societies too are only as good as their design.
They must also be geared to survival. But in order to survive,
they must exist in tune with their natural environment.
From the Sumerians to the Mayans to the people of Easter
Island, the lesson of history is that a society out of balance
with its environment cannot stand. Environmental pressures-whether
through over-exploitation of resources, overpopulation,
or a combination of the two-inevitably lead to social tension,
injustice, insecurity, and war.
So much for the past. How are we doing in the present?
Not very well. Instead of enjoying an equitable balance
of resources, the human family has become polarized into
the haves and have-nots. Ethnicity, religion, gender, and
political belief are used as justifications for some to
benefit at the expense of others. At the top of the heap,
there is the rule of law, while at the bottom, the imperatives
of survival play themselves out with brutal simplicity.
In 1998, forty-eight of forty-nine wars reported were taking
place in the developing world, as the growing population
of poor battled over increasingly meager spoils.
What does the future hold? Will we continue to fight over
resources or ascend to a more enlightened distribution of
nature's bounty? If we continue to treat nature as a treasure
chest to be plundered, we will always be at odds with one
Already the seeds of future conflict have been sown. In
the future, we will not fight over oil or gold or land,
but over water. Water, the lifeblood of the planet, is scarce
to begin with, and we make it more scarce yet by polluting
what little we have. As a result, one-third of the human
family is without access to clean drinking water. Such inequality
cannot stand. It will be addressed either peacefully or
militarily, but it will be addressed.
Is it too late to prevent us from self-destructing? No,
for we have the capacity to design our own future, to take
a lesson from living things around us and bring our values
and actions in line with ecological necessity. But we must
first realize that ecological and social and economic issues
are all deeply intertwined. There can be no solution to
one without a solution to the others.
Like cold geometric shapes, political and economic systems
are abstractions that look good on paper, but they cannot
nourish our need for living beauty or provide a model for
the survival of our species.
Only nature can do that.
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