Seeds of Peace

Plant a tree, win the Nobel Peace Prize? The world's highest honor, bestowed last week on a Kenyan feminist dynamo most famous for her grass-roots effort to plant some 30 million trees in Africa, has run smack into critics who question the connection between the peace prize and the environment.

In this new era of global terrorism, some people are astonished that the prize went for the first time to an environmentalist, and not to someone actively trying to prevent, say, the spread of weapons of mass destruction. "A peace prize should honor peace, not the environment," said Carl Hagen, the leader of Norway's opposition Progress Party.

But the Nobel committee has proven wonderfully visionary in granting the prize to Wangari Maathai. Now Kenya's deputy environment minister, Ms. Maathai has worked for nearly 30 years to combat deforestation while at the same time putting her own life on the line to stand up for democracy and women's rights in her country.

The first African woman to win the peace prize, Maathai points out that "many of the wars in Africa are fought over natural resources." The United Nations, for instance, finds a nexus between recent African hot spots like Burundi, Rwanda, eastern Congo, and Zimbabwe and environmental issues.

And if it's the Middle East that the more traditional peace prize advocates are concerned about, ponder this: What would be the outlook for conflict in that region if the world were no longer dependent on oil?

Futurists rightly warn it's impossible to decouple the environment from man's security. Some governments recognize this. Environmental protection, for instance, is written into the new European Union constitution.

Buckminister Fuller coined the phrase "spaceship Earth." To travel together, mankind's got to maintain it.

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