by ISABEL RIBEIRO, EMMA RATZMAN, edited by EMMA RATZMAN, produced by ISABEL RIBEIRO, CAITLYN LECHENE
Is conflict inherent in human nature? History would suggest yes, but the pursuit of peace is something we at ARTICLE22 strive for daily. Sometimes a new normal and a new and better peace requires protest and revolt in their various forms. Often the scars of conflict last for generations - on humanity and on the environment. Time is continuous - history does not begin or end with a date in a book. Exploring the relationship between conflict and the environment we realized how many different types of conflict there are and how hidden some of these battles are around some of our favorite things (like avocados!) as Mother Earth and humans co-exist, cooperate, and conflict.
ARMED CONFLICT DIRECTLY HARMS THE ENVIRONMENT
BY ISABEL FREY RIBEIRO
We often think of resolving armed conflict and preserving the environment as two separate but equally important issues. In reality, they are more closely linked than you might expect. As warfare and weaponry modernized, the impact of armed conflict on the environment increased. This is especially true over the last 100 years or so, during which we - the various groups and nations of the world - have been warring almost constantly.
That armed conflict and environmental degradation have deeply influenced each other is not a wholly modern phenomenon. In order to understand the full impact each has had on the other, we have to go back centuries - perhaps even millennia. Join us as we journey back in time to trace the history of armed conflict and the environment.
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SALTING THE EARTH
In ancient times, there existed a ritual of sowing salt into the land of your enemies after their defeat - a kind of curse on their potential for prosperity in the future that made it impossible for crops to grow. Legends describing the origins of this practice can be found amongst the writings of Assyrians, the Old Testament of the Bible, and - perhaps the most famous - tales of the Roman sacking of Carthage in the Third Punic War. Even if only a symbolic plowing, this method of revenge affected one of the most essential natural resources, displaying dominance by destroying the land that nourished its inhabitants physically, emotionally, and socially. Although this practice is ancient, it is crucial to understanding the deeply human flaws present in later devastating destructions - both intentional and unintentional - of the environment in our own times, especially as a result of modern warfare in the 20th and 21st centuries.
WORLD WAR I: 1914-1918
Modern warfare only began to evolve centuries later, and humans started to discover new ways to destroy the Earth and each other. Many of these were tested during World War I, a conflict with over 40 million civilian and military casualties. Aside from the damage and literal upheaval of land incurred through the use of trench warfare, immense amounts of logging also led to deforestation and erosion. More advanced artillery and transportation required ever-increasing amounts of metals and petroleum to be extracted from the Earth. Finally, the use of chemical warfare had horrific human and environmental consequences. The development of chlorine and mustard gas chemicals, along with the constant firing of mortars and bullets, allowed innumerable harmful substances to settle to the ground and seep into soil, groundwater, and runoff - in essence, ‘salting’ it for years to come.
WORLD WAR II: 1939-1945
Although already a practice in WWI, the use of artillery shelling and landmines was even more prevalent in World War II. Their production and subsequent disposal lead to more environmental disasters - some chemicals were even dumped directly into the ocean. But WWII was not like the wars before it, which were fought only on land and sea. This war was also fought in the sky. Cargo aircraft, air-force fighter pilots, and bomber planes destroyed lives and vast swaths of land and city space, requiring large amounts of jet fuel - one of the most environmentally unfriendly agents.
But, of course, the most destructive explosive of WWII was the nuclear bomb. Developed in New Mexico (where some residents are still dealing with the health effects of nuclear testing), the first nuclear weapon was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, instantly killing 70,000 people. It vaporized parts of the city and contaminated the landscape for miles around with radiotoxicity. That day, temperatures within the fireball that devastated Hiroshima reached 7500 degrees Fahrenheit, or 75% as hot as the surface of the sun.
THE VIETNAM WAR AND THE SECRET WAR: 1955-1975
The Vietnam War is remembered for its use of slash-and-burn tactics: specifically, the US military’s use of the carcinogenic dioxin Agent Orange - an herbicide created to kill the dense underbrush that grew in the lush, green country. The military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange throughout the war, which in turn affected millions of people (and continues to affect, for some), causing health problems, even fatalities, and economic hardship associated with medical expenses, along with the emotional stress which accompanies all of these.
In addition, landmines and bombs - such as those which ARTICLE22 and the Mines Advisory Group work to excavate - caused lasting human and environmental damage in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In Laos alone, 250 million bombs were dropped - making it the most bombed country ever per capita. 80 million of these bombs failed to detonate and are now considered unexploded ordnance (UXO). UXO continues to kill and injure thousands of Laotians and release hazardous chemicals, some of which render the soil infertile and the water undrinkable.
THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE - 1994
The conflict between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority of Rwanda lasted only three months, during which time 800,000 people were murdered. This conflict didn’t spring out of nowhere. Ethnic tensions had been stoked for decades, during colonial rule, and the UN's withdrawal from the initial conflict for fear of the impact it might have on European soldiers on the ground did not help matters, inflaming the existing power vacuum. Millions of refugees were forced to flee the conflict — a type of trouble we are sadly not unaccustomed to hearing about in our world today.
A majority of these refugees settled in the Congo. This mass displacement not only had enormous social, political, personal, and emotional effects on the millions of uprooted Rwandans; it also placed stress on ecosystems and required clearing of Congolese forests in order to create space and provide fuel for the massive refugee camps.
This, once more, rings in the echoes of the same colonialism which is at the root of the conflict. A century before, Belgian colonial rule had begun its massively destructive exploitation of Congolese locals and land in order to extract as much as possible from the forests of rubber trees and feed the growing rubber industry - at the cost of countless human lives.
Icrc.org Environment and Warfare
Jstor.org Armed Conflict and the Environment: A Critique of the Literature
Newsecuritybeat.org The Environment Has Become a Hostage of Armed Conflict
Un.org International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict
Unep.org Curbing Negative Environmental Impacts of War and Armed Conflict
Unep.org Protecting the Environment During Armed Conflict: An Inventory and Analysis of International Law
MAKE POPPIES INTO PEACE
BY ISABEL FREY RIBEIRO
The poem "In Flanders Fields," which is written from the point of view of a soldier who has been killed in combat, references the red poppies which grew over what had once been gruesome battlefields and the graves of soldiers in WWI. This flower is now widely used as a symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers everywhere. But perhaps when we see poppies, they should also serve as a reminder that there are so many unexpected, sometimes unintended, and often long-lasting casualties in any war.
These red flowers do not just have to be symbolic of the bloodshed of war; they can also represent the Earth's ability to rejuvenate if it is left alone - or helped along - long enough to do so. They are a warning of just what war can be and the power we wield over the environment and our world - and, thus, by extension, the duty we have to protect and heal it.
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One line of the poem begs the reader: “Take up our quarrel with the foe:/ To you from failing hands we throw/ The torch.” But, in this, it may be wrong. Perhaps it is not the time to take up quarrels, but the time to make amends. To somehow transform the painful into the beautiful. To take the political, ethnic, economic, or ecological strife and create something that all of humanity can learn and benefit from. To make bombs into spoons and poppies into peace.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
BY JOHN MCCRAE
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Image by Eva Elijas from Pexels
Poetryfoundation.org In Flanders Fields
HIDDEN SUPPLY CHAINS & THE ENVIRONMENT
BY EMMA RATZMAN
As people who seek out sustainably and ethically produced goods (I’m looking at you!), we try our best to buy according to our values. But what do we do when that isn’t possible? Let’s take a look at the hidden supply chains behind two products that American society is obsessed with: avocados and gold.
You might know it by its many names: aguacate, palta, alligator pear, and avocado are just a few. Once a novelty, the bumpy green fruit has quickly become a huge part of American eating culture. We put avocado on toast, salad, burgers, tacos — everything! As much as we all love them...
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not many of us know where our avocados come from, nor how they reach our supermarkets. The majority of the avocados that we buy in the US and Canada come from the Michoacán region of Mexico (if you’re in Europe, your avocados come from Spain or areas in the Middle East and South America). Local cultivators in Michoacán have grown avocados with sustainable farming practices for generations to feed their families and sell locally.
Rising demand for avocados outside of Mexico caused avocado growing practices to shift away from these sustainable practices and towards harmful farming techniques that use pesticides, artificial fertilizers, huge amounts of water, and more recently, deforested lands, to produce more of the fruit we love. These environmentally destructive farming techniques have made avocados extremely profitable, which benefits local growers. However, this enormous profit has led to a growing number of cartels in the industry, who use (often deadly) intimidation tactics to collect “tax” from local farmers. These cartels also accelerate environmental degradation because they require avocado growers to keep producing at high rates, not giving the soil enough time to recover after each harvest.
Since the first gold rush in California in 1848, America has been enamored with gold. It connotes status, prosperity, and class. And besides, it looks pretty on our ears, wrists, and necks. But however glittery gold is, it has a dark side. In the mines of South and Central America, gold cartels are flouting environmental regulations and engaging in human rights abuses in their quest for more profit. A New York Times exposé on cartel-sourced gold in our phones found that Apple and other tech companies were not being completely honest about their claims to use ethical gold. It isn’t necessarily their fault -- one of the most insidious things about cartel gold is that it is just too widespread for even the best-intentioned companies to completely avoid it.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: you can’t think of gold without thinking of jewelry. As a jewelry company, ARTICLE22 tries our best to buy gold that has been ethically sourced. We buy from dealers that recycle gold to try to decrease the amount of new metal in circulation (and decrease the potential for environmental and humanitarian violations). But the point is that no one, not even big companies, can ensure that their gold is ethical -- including us. To be honest, we continue to reckon with our role, ever trying to become as sustainable and ethical as possible.
THE MEANING BEHIND WHAT WE BUY
These two beloved pillars of consumerism are just examples of some of the commodities that have the potential to kickstart conflict, attract conflict, or be produced in the context of conflict. Experts refer to gold as a “conflict commodity” and many say that avocados are on their way to becoming conflict commodities as well. Conflict commodities on the whole have negative environmental, social, and economic impacts for communities that grow, mine, catch, or make such products.
The unfortunate truth is that there’s really no way to ensure that you’re buying 100% ethical gold or avocados. However, just because something is (or is very nearly) a conflict commodity doesn’t mean you should simply boycott it – oftentimes this hurts individual producers and communities more than cartels. So what should we as conscious consumers do? The answer is that there’s no good answer. The fact that we live in a complex and difficult world means that finding solutions to the problem of conflict commodities isn’t as simple as we would like to think. Learning about the hidden supply chains behind some of our favorite products, being mindful about what we purchase and from whom, and buying local are all great starting points.
These issues aren’t going away anytime soon. We at ARTICLE22 would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on buying ethically in an inherently unethical world.
Marlet.ca The Hidden Cost of Avocados
Nytimes.com How Tainted Gold May Have Ended Up in Your Phone
Occrp.org Report: Colombia Loses Billions to Illegal Gold Trade
Photo from Avocados from Mexico
Photo from Wikipedia Gold Mining
Pulitzercenter.org The weekly: Tracing Conflict Minerals from the Ground to the Consumer
Rotten, Netflix documentary
Theguardian.com Are Mexican Avocados the world's new conflict commodity?
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
BY ISABEL FREY RIBEIRO
In our personal guides, we usually write about the things we've tried working on to make the world a better place. But this topic of Armed Conflict and the Environment provoked many more questions than answers.
Sometimes the closest thing to an answer is simply knowing what questions to ask. Follow along with this 8-slide guide to take a glimpse at some things we've been thinking about.
CELEBRATING 10 YEARS SINCE THE CLUSTER BOMB BAN BECAME LAW
BY ALEX HINIKER
It was August 1, 2010. I was standing in front of more than 1,000 people in Vientiane, Laos, doing everything I could to fight back tears: The Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force, meaning the ban on cluster munitions became international law. Representatives of the Lao government as well as international organizations, foreign embassies, and the United Nations (UN) agencies had gathered together with survivors, deminers, and the general public in Vientiane to celebrate this momentous achievement.
As the representative of the Cluster Munition Coalition, I was speaking on behalf of an international civil society campaign working to eradicate cluster munitions, and I was overwhelmed with emotion about how far Laos had come.
ABOUT BLOOD DIAMONDS
Danny Archer, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the infamous 2006 film, Blood Diamond.
Your diamond necklace has a dark secret. Long associated with imperialism, today diamonds are one of the most well-known conflict commodities. The modern-day diamond obsession began in the 1800s with the founding of De Beers in colonial South Africa. Demand for the gem grew exponentially when the company marketed diamonds as an accessible luxury for the middle class with the slogan, “A Diamond is Forever.” As demand for diamonds rose, the riches they generated attracted armed conflict that continues today in countries like Sierra Leone.
You might remember watching Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond (2006). In the past two decades, films like Blood Diamond and reporting by agencies like Reuters have raised awareness of the proliferation of blood diamonds. International regulators like the United Nations and the World Diamond Council have tried to stem the flow of conflict diamonds with agreements like the 2003 Kimberley Process Certification Scheme aimed at preventing diamond purchases from funding conflict.
Every diamond supplied to ARTICLE22 is Kimberley Process Certified in accordance with the 2003 Kimberley Process Act from our reputable and honorable merchant here in NYC. We are always looking for ways to tighten our supply chain by purchasing directly from artisanal producers. It is our dream to one day be able to do this for our diamonds and gemstones.
Britannica.com Diamonds, gold, and imperialist intervention (1870-1902)
Reauters.com Factbox: De Beers Past and Present
APRIL BIRTHSTONE: DIAMOND
BY WALLIS SUDA
Diamond is a stone of superior strength, invigorating imagination and ingenuity, the word is derived from “adamas,” which means, “invincible.” Diamonds are formed deep beneath the earth's crust under extreme temperatures and pressure then rising to the surface. However, it in Greek mythology they came from above, believed to be tears of the Gods, fallen from the stars, diamonds were thought of to be part of the mythological universe. Myth and geology both illustrate the spectacular. Born from deep within the earth or fallen from the ethers of the sky is a tremendous energetic process, endowing this stone with innate beauty, fearlessness, and strength to see new possibilities. A symbol of love, it embraces strength of character and a bond with others. Diamond is connected to the crown and etheric chakras as well as the birth month of April.
Read more on our birthstones here.