climate change conflict law peace

Genuine connections

Now he is a human rights researcher, but as a young man Brian Aycock joined the military. He was sent to provide security for international war crimes investigations, including watching the uncovering of mass graves. Trained to dehumanise the situation he instead developed a strong empathy for the other and returned to study history and literature.  He found community and connection in those who are activists in their daily lives, and a kinship with the downtrodden. He joined the Peace Corps and through genuine connections in places such as Malawi learnt his most important lesson – be nice to everybody. For Brian this means a respect for the other and indeed a breakdown of otherness.  Returning to the US again he worked with poor and disenfranchised on a “get out the vote” campaign – learning much about the value of positive communications.

Further study in the UK in economics led to marriage in Japan and working on refugee resettlement programmes and from there to an MA in refugee law.  He is now working for the International Academic Forum (IAFOR) in Japan, bringing people together in international cooperation of research and learning.   

We talk about the inequity of an international system that has globalised except for labour – privileging money and goods over human beings, and that we have failed to recognise that migration is at the heart of human security.  

He is continuing to research refugee law, focusing on climate refugees.  Brian argues that we urgently need an international framework for burden sharing for such environmentally displaced persons. 

Definition:  Solved before handed onto next generation. 

Superpower: Kindness

Activist: Yes, if you’re not, you’re failing as a human. If you’re not doing anything, you’re letting life pass you by.

Motivation: Respect for human beings

Miracle: Seeing each other as humans – be kind to each other

Advice: Say hello to the people around you. 

This conversation was recorded at Lingnam University in Hong Kong in November 2019.

democracy government green party law Middle East peace politics

Civility to fight injustice

Golriz Ghahraman is an international human rights lawyer who is also a former refugee from Iran.   She has worked to restore communities after war and human rights atrocities, particularly in empowering women engaged in peace and justice initiatives.   She is standing for NZ parliament on the Green Party list.

Update:  this was recorded on 28th July 2017, broadcast 3rd August 2017.


“I prosecuted for the UN, but I also defended”.

Defence comments at 10mins, 20mins & 25:05

Talking points

Standing up to might – don’t take no for an answer.

Bringing down the bad guys.

Each (horrific) situation begins with dehumanising a group

Changing back to language of inclusion.

Sustainable: Environmental and social justice measures are intrinsically linked so we need to sustain humans at the same time that we sustain the environment.

Superpower: Making an argument and being persuasive.

Activist: Yes, activism is the rent that we pay for being on this planet.

Motivation: Justice, I’m the type of person who gets deeply annoyed by injustice, getting involved and fighting for the justice system.

Challenges: Getting into parliament is a pretty massive challenge for me.

Miracle: On a global scale for me it would be about democracy, about giving that dignity to all global citizens. The only way we can be sustainable is through self determination.

Advice: Please vote, not everyone can.


Confessions of a pacifist

Richardc Jackson

Pacifism is the most ethically consistent position…it entails a consistency of means and ends – we’re not using evil means for good ends.

Prof Richard Jackson is Deputy Director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS) at the University of Otago. He has written several books on conflict and terrorism, mostly recently in the form of a novel Confessions of a Terrorist.

Talking points

I had a personal terrifying experience…a taste of the utter lawlessness of war, the arbitrary life and death decisions
Even though nothing happened to me, I was really just on the edges of the war, I realised how morally void war was – that’s one of the reasons why I became a pacifist.

A real impetus for me was to try to understand the causes of underdevelopment

My focus on how we deal with violent conflict, and how we can make the world a more peaceful place.

9/11 occurred, maybe a little bit before, I was starting to question whether we really understood the causes of war.

9/11 was a transforming moment…I started thinking about how we respond to terrorism.

9/11 was void of meaning so we saw the development of a language to describe it, it wasn’t a criminal act, it was terrorism and we quickly saw the response framed as a “war on terror”…it was televised…and it was on the back of years of increasingly racist sentiment…so the response was unlike anything we’ve experienced before…a whole new paradigm of irrational hatred.

The television coverage mirrored disaster films…so the interplay of real and virtual exploded.

This one was framed as “act of war”…and everyone repeated that around the world. The consequence of that, and maybe the intention, was to take terrorism out of the political or criminal frame and to put it in a military frame.

Partly this was a psychological response, because on that day the American military – the most powerful military in the world – proved itself incapable of protecting the American people. It was impotent. Now that impotence had to be banished, so the best way to do this was to say “well this is not just terrorism, and it’s not crime, not murder, this is an act of war”. And the only way to respond to an act of war is to launch a defensive war – to use our military, to deploy it to eradicate terrorism around the world. So a war on terrorism was declared. Then war became the primary frame, not just strategically but legally as well.

The military (response) has been the absolute disaster of it. Because you can’t deal with terrorism though a war response. Terrorism is a political problem and it can only have a political solution.

I’m trying to avoid giving the notion that 9/11 was a rupturing event, it was certainly rupturing, but a number of things had been occurring before that which fed into this moment, the rise of the risk society, the idea that there are these risks out there that are completely unpredictable, well terrorism seemed to prove that, so you have to have an extreme precautionary philosophy in order to try and deal with it. And that means redefining laws – putting people into prison for what they might do rather than what they have done.

This reinvigorated the military-industrial complex…the security sector is thriving in western economies. But it relies on a discourse of “unlimited terrorist threat and that the state has a duty to prevent that, so if we have to give up civil liberties and have surveillance – this is just the price of dealing with this immense uncertain risk that faces us”.

The population was so easily manipulated with a preexisting culture of fear, crime is going down but the fear of crime is going up, something to do with affluenza – we’ve reached a level of society where we’re affluent enough to be able to sit around and be able to worry about things…there are so many moral panics that sweep through society.

The terrorism scare has come at a moment in our society that we’re already in a state of fear.

The media plays a huge role in the drama of terrorism – they just go nuts, exaggerating and hyping up threats that if you look at them statistically are tiny

There’s been a failure of public intellectuals, media commentators, and courageous politicians to stand up and say “hold on a second, this is hysteria, we really don’t need to be this worried, we really don’t need to change our entire way of life for this kind of hyped up threat”.

I’m more of a pacifist than ever before.

Violence is an incredibly useless way of getting things done.

The harm that violence does vastly outweighs any good outcomes that it produces.

I’ve examined theories of ‘just war’ and they are completely ludicrous, they really don’t stand up to scrutiny.

For intellectual reasons, it seems to me that the most realistic, and the most credible, as well as the most ethically consistent position is pacifism. It doesn’t entail any division or bifurcation between the means and ends, instead it entails a consistency of means and ends – we’re not using evil means for good ends, it’s using good means for good ends.

Research is showing that non-violence is twice as successful as violence in achieving its goals, even against the most oppressive regimes.

But not only that, when you use non-violent means to over-throw a dictator, or resist an invader, or change laws – you are creating democratic societies and longer lasting peaceful societies.

The means and ends are intimately connected, and the way you construct your politics will affect the kind of politics you have.

Basic social theory, the way you practice things constitutes the thing you are trying to make. If you practice violent politics you are going to create a violent polity. So to me it makes more sense, and it is more ethical to use non-violence to create a peaceful society.

Every time we chose violence we create the condition for the next war.

We’re not doing nearly enough to educate for a peaceful society. Most of our cultural system and educational system is geared towards normalising war and militarism.

Our remembrance practices – how we remember war and commemorate war is mostly geared towards war is inevitable, necessary and that war can be good and heroic and that we ought to value the people who go and fight in wars, rather than remembering it as a tragic waste of life and sowing the seeds for subsequent wars. Instead of remembering it as “never again”…that narrative got transformed.

In all our cultural productions – TV and movies, they are all about very violent heroes, who we admire even though their violence is exactly the same as the bad guys, they do it for good reasons.

There are not many peaceful heroes out there. Partly it’s because it is hard to make peace sexy, viscerally admirable, exciting, something to aspire to.

But, we’re at a moment in history of war weariness, a growing suspicion of militarism and its connection to inequality, climate change, the bad structural things. There’s a growing global consciousness…

Violence is built into international system.

Now we have a broader war of insurgency – non state actors, part of a growing inequality.

Every time we use violence to deal with what is actually a political problem we actually create more violent resistance. It’s an endless cycle.

(Activist?) I do. As a scholar we have a responsibility not just to study the world but to try and change it. It’s not the biggest part of what I do but it is something I am trying to expand upon.

I don’t believe in remaining neutral – I don’t think it is possible. If you try to remain neutral you basically support the status quo, and that is a political act


(Motivation?) A desire for a more peaceful world and a desire that my contribution to the world is a positive one rather than a negative one on balance. I try to live my life in a way that does no harm but also positively challenges the evil structures that we’re facing and transform them.

(Challenge?) Create more of a voice for peace activists, and work to try and transform what is actually quite a violent society.

(Miracle?) The world’s leaders wake with a revelation about the futility of violence.


climate change oil politics peace science

Encouraging scientists to think differently

Stuart Parkinson

We want to promote dialogue amongst scientists and engineers, particularly in areas where they don’t want to talk about things

Dr Stuart Parkinson is Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility.

Talking points

Our aim is to promote science, design and technology in contributing to peace, social justice and sustainability

Encourage scientists and engineers to think differently

To think differently about their role in society, prioritising environmental issues and social justice rather than a narrow economic focus

The challenge is an agenda of security through an arms industry – we argue for science and technology not based on yet another generation of highly destructive technologies

We want to promote dialogue amongst scientists and engineers, particularly in areas where they don’t want to talk about things

There’s an acceptance of the arms industry – “it keeps us safe” – we want to question that.

We try and fill gaps, ask the awkward questions.

Not just responding to problems with a technofix – another technology.

Part of the concern is that technology is often grabbed as a simple answer and it turns out not to be – it might deal with one problem but create another.

Trying to get around the techofix mentality

The term activist is so often used as a pejorative. If it’s about about questions, proposing different solutions to mainstream, challenging systems and offering something constructive, then it’s an activist organisation.

Working in the arms industry made me ask awkward questions, ones I hadn’t faced before – severely questioning what I was doing.

One of the challenges of the environment is ‘oh we don’t need to worry about that because it is too uncertain’ but on the other hand, we’re willing to believe economists, where the uncertainties are orders of magnitude bigger than the environmental ones.

We’re willing to take at face value economic models…despite being hugely unreliable and based on so many assumptions you can make them prove whatever you want according to your political viewpoint.

We’ve developed an economic system that’s not very stable (or fair or sustainable) so takes a lot of tuning – our news has become fixated on this.

(why sticking to growth narrative) because we haven’t come up with an alternative economic model that works in the way we’ve become used to.

SGR has ethical principles rather than specific polices on every subject. We encourage debate and discussion to apply principles.

(On demilitarisation) moving towards a society that solves its conflicts through dialogue and building trust and diplomacy rather than trying to build new generations of weapons

We need a to follow cautionary principle, rather than doing things just because we can

Some scientists can create a new technology, and other scientists can ask awkward questions about that technology – like what’s the impact, social implications and will it improve quality of life.

We’re being driven along by an economic imperative, not considering broader pros and cons.

We’re breaching environmental limits, some clearly, others either we don’t know or we will breach them in few decades – and that’s really scary.

We need to change norms of international behaviour that says nuclear weapons are unacceptable for anybody to have.

Challenge the assumption that there is a technofix. Technology is just one group of approaches, we need scientists and engineers to know that there are other groups of approaches

Codes of ethics (in professional bodies) are very narrow. Our organisation’s name is Global Responsibility – derived from social responsibility, corporate, environmental responsibility.

Ethics so often in professional institutions is interpreted very narrowly – professional ethics of do you job well, don’t lie, don’t plagiarise, don’t make something that’s going to blow up as soon as you’ve sold it. We think that’s far too narrow, you’ve got to think about your role in society, your place in society as an engineer, as your company, as your profession – and think are we doing the right thing?

Activist: Yes. For same reasons the organisation can be considered activist

Making things unacceptable is a very powerful idea. At the moment nuclear weapons aren’t something to be ashamed of for a lot of countries – chemical weapons are, biological weapons are – that shame that comes with breaching international law that’s built up over a couple of hundred years – its more powerful than people realise.

(What do we need to do to preload students with awkward questions?) We want to inspire students with science, give them at least sight and experience of something else.

The science and technology that is presented as exciting, especially for boys, is things like explosions, fighter planes and warships…we’re trying to present an alternative to that, still desirable, kind of nicer, this is what society is about, helping each other and using technologies that help us to help each other. And this is how is how you can live a good life – not being dazzled by the flashing lights and loud noises of the problematic technologies.

Being affected enough to make a different choice in their lives.

This conversation was recorded in the Common House at Lancaster Cohousing (see earlier conversation with Cathy and Alison).


Positive peace

Gray Southon

(Inability to respond, complexity of science, wickedness of problems yet he seems quite positive) To be effective you have to be positive. If you get negative – you get cynical – you can’t do anything.

Dr Gray Southon first worked in medical physics, eventually becoming a researcher in informatics. Now he is active on the Quaker Futures Committee and in the New Zealand United Nations Association.

Talking points:

The United Nations stopped the third world war – we fully expected it when I was young.

Working through the contrasts of different national interests, of social contrasts, different perspectives, different political interests

We’ve made enormous progress – not enough – but still enormous progress

Climate change is politically difficult. it can’t be too difficult because we can’t pack up and go to another home – we haven’t got another home to go to.

We’ve got to do the best job we can. It won’t be perfect

we have to work to improve understanding, to bring more parties together and to identify and remove blockages.

NZ is one of the slowest movers. The government gives the impression that we are contributing but we shouldn’t be sticking our neck out, but we’re nowhere near sticking our neck out

We’re ruining our reputation by being so slow.
The official policy is that we’re concerned but don’t want to disrupt the economy – they don’t want to sacrifice.

(on critics of UN) To reject a thing is fine is you’ve got a replacement, but there’s no replacement for the UN. We either negotiate or we fight. If you don’t want a world war then you need some way of bringing the nations together. We can work to make it better.

Can there be a just war? No. That level of violence is inherently evil.
The priority has to be to prevent that level of violence. To find ways of resolving conflict in such as way that violence is not required.

We have to learn from our past.

Why has the US got so many military bases around the world? That’s destabilising. Having arms around creates fear. And fear undermines cooperation.

The ‘war on terror’ is horrendous, a quite unnecessary imposition. It has vindicated the terrorists. The United States and its allies have completed the terrorists’ job by imposing terror on the rest of us.

The war on terror has diverted governments’ attention away from development as the main tool for preserving security.

We’ve gotten so tied up with arms as the basis of security, not the first millennium development goal – shared prosperity.

We don’t actually have food scarcity, we waste so much, we distribute it so poorly.

With carbon dioxide we’re polluting our common nest.

There’s no silver bullet, everything is complex, everything has a lot of different angles to it, we need to see it from all those angles and address multiple aspects.

For me at one time sustainability seemed to contradict ideas of progress, that we were putting the breaks on…it took me a while to realise that we’re burning our bridges, we’re destroying the ground under us. We’ve got to find different ways of thinking, different ways of working. People’s understanding of who they are, where they are and what progress is about, their relations to each other and to the world, to the future – these things can be very difficult to understand.

We reject violence in any form, physical including to the environment, emotional violence as well. Interactions need to be based on respect.

(Despite all the effort going into sustainability) we’re still a long way from doing what we need to do. How to people feel about this? How does this inaction affect people?

People have to see the light themselves.

(Inability to respond, complexity of science, wickedness of problems yet he seems quite positive) To be effective you have to be positive. If you get negative – you get cynical – you can’t do anything.

We know what we need to do, I hope we find a way of doing it. But to do that we have to know what the blocks are.

(Miracle question) that the fossil fuel industry has collapsed…investors pull out…we will have to act radically.

(Activist) Yes. Not large scale destruction. There’s an enormous amount that’s valuable, we’ve got to build on it. We’ve got to support the constructive…and try to move the others in that direction.

(Advice) Think carefully about what you do and how you can work together with others to impact policy. Commit to Generation Zero’s Climate Voter.

(What’s driving Generation Zero?) Survival. Our young people, they want to live a life


My generation has had the best life of any generation. It’s downhill all the way now.

education language peace

Peace and poetry

Alison Phipps

It is time to acknowledge that the seeds of violence are within all of us and if we become what we hate, we lose.

Alison Phipps is Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University of Glasgow.
Her research interests focus on languages and intercultural studies, with a particular critical concern for the different ways in which people learn to live and communicate together by stepping outside comfortable or familiar contexts. She was in New Zealand as keynote speaker at the higher education conference – HERDSA, where she gave a talk entitled “When Learning is placed under Siege: Conflict, Creativity and Compassion in Higher Education”.

The more I try to do, the more I have no to do

We have to learn to live confessional lives, lives that still honour beauty, diversity, goodness and truth

How do we live when we have created the conditions of our own destruction? And what is the role of the university with that? To teach dispositions to live with that knowledge.

The place of learning is people

We have never been so educated as to be released our need to be dependent on the material. I’m inspired by the work of
Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu: we must reflect on the fact that the material conditions of our educational systems in Western Universities are based on the fact that we are not required to grow our own food and make our own clothes. And that led me to ask the question, and what would they look like if we were? And how might we grow and spin a university if it were. … the university is opening out from the days that it was theoretically an ivory tower – I’m not sure it ever has been an ivory tower but it certainly has been a place of the elite. We are now seeing universities setting up communities and projects (community gardens etc) and it is being changed by that – new knowledges are coming onto campus. This is very exciting as the university has to move its thinking around as people go to work in different communities.

(how much personal responsibility do we need to take). The critic and conscience of society applies to the university and the people with in it. The mantra ‘but there’s no alternative’ is far too easy. …invading Iraq…supermarkets…but actually there are alternatives being worked out all over the world by creative and courageous people., but often beginning in very small ways. I draw real hope from that. It’s important for me as an academic to try to live as an alternative, and to let people draw their own conclusions, and to decide for themselves to decide whether it is for them to live that alternative. I cannot live otherwise. But this was never a revolutionary action, yes I’ve been engaged in action all my life, but this wasn’t one huge enormous change, these were small steps. I wonder what life would be like if I didn’t have a car…? What would life be like if I filled by home with people who would otherwise be destitute…? There are no answers to these, but with anthropological training I know what can be learned from experience. So in a sense it is a new adventure to try and live in these ways and find out what can be learned. What I’m learning, perhaps is the beginnings of an art of forgiveness, compassion, and possibly humility.

(Am I an activist?). It’s a hard word, I’ve used it of myself, but I’ve always been a little shy of it. Maybe it is because I’m a bit of a poet – maybe there’s too many consonants in the word. I do. But I believe profoundly in solitude and rest and quiet. And the more I try and do, the more I know I have to not do. And those are very contradictory dynamics. But I think I discover when I have been very active and moving very much, but it is important to sit and stop and think – watch and take stock and be restored by what is around me. So yes I do and yes I don’t consider myself to be an activist.

(would your students describe you as an activist? Stanley Fish, critical thinking and nothing else). Critical thinking is not enough. If we really are going to create the conditions for action in whatever the world presents us, and we are going to do it with a degree of dignity, and in a way that we acknowledge that we are bound together, and that we are wholly dependent one on the other, then it is about more than thought – it is about action. I would profoundly come back to the work of Paulo Freire and the work of bell hooks – it’s about love.
When anger can become all consuming, it is time for me to take some time out, to go to the garden to sit on a rock.

computing peace

Computing for peace

Dr Juan Pablo Hourcade from the University of Iowa is the passion behind the  In this fascinating interview he describes how this community is using computing technologies to promote peace and prevent conflict.

Shane’s number of the week: 1.5.   UN’s climate chief, Christina Figueres argues that the world should be aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius, rather than the weaker 2 degrees.