We were very lucky to meet Dr. Richard Matthew last Wednesday, who gave a lecture titled Environmental Change, Extreme Poverty and Acute Violence: Transitioning from Crisis to Sustainability. This session was truly special in that it touched on the main challenges that we, as a globalized world community, are facing in the near- and long-term future. One of the main takeaways from the lecture is that twenty-first century demographic, technological, and environmental changes have introduced a set of potentially destructive challenges that peacebuilders cannot ignore: from ocean pollution, to climate change, to the spread of infectious diseases, and growing global inequality. And even though humankind has certainly made achievements in several key areas (i.e. in medicine, sciences, communication, etc.), the magnitude and complexity of many of these twenty-first century challenges made us feel disillusioned and pessimistic about our ability to overcome them.
In light of this pessimistic (and rather necessary) outlook, I was left wondering: As future peacebuilders with limited time and resources, what should our role be in this seemingly apocalyptic and complex set of challenges? How can we stay optimistic and work within our narrow field of interest, or confined within the boundaries of certain communities, while ignoring larger and potentially more devastating issues such as global terrorism, cyber crime, human trafficking, small arms proliferation, natural disasters, pandemic diseases, etc.? Are there reasons to “smile through the apocalypse”?
The answer, after almost two weeks of being in the SPP program, is a resounding yes. There are numerous reasons, initiatives, projects and organizations that are both inspiring and should make us optimistic about the work we are doing as future peacebuilders. For example, getting to know the members of the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP)—a coalition of organizations and leaders from Salinas and Monterey determined to reduce violence and build community—reminded me that when people with good intentions and a desire for peace and justice come together to work towards a common good, their efforts can represent an important step towards creating a more peaceful society. And in spite of all the constraints and challenges (from lack of funding and governmental support to getting community members to cooperate with their initiatives), the CASP is a real example of how community-based solutions can often be the most viable and effective approach to peacebuilding.