How do we step forward and expand protections for species that rely on ecological corridors for habitat, support indigenous rights and conservation, and push onward with sustainable climate solutions across imaginary lines that separate us from one another politically and often religiously and culturally? Nature has no borders.
When visiting the Boundary Hydroelectric Project in 2019, I stepped a few yards from a warehouse building and my host mentioned that I was now standing in Canada. Just a few steps and I crossed a man made, invisible line without a border crossing station and without having to show my new enhanced driver’s license!
Closer and very current is the idea that viruses don’t really respect borders either. The Global efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate that solidarity and cooperation are our most powerful weapons in addressing global concerns affecting the survival of humans.
In an article by Rabbi Michael M. Cohen, the executive director of the Arava Institute, about Home, Earth, and Identity, focuses on a program and culture of learning that promotes the environment as a ‘vehicle’ to understanding our differences – political, religious, and cultural – and beyond that, the realization that nature, our connection to it, is what truly ties us together and perhaps this approach can offer a respite from conflict and provide movement toward a sustainable peace – Nature has No Borders.
The Arava Institute is a leading environmental teaching and research program in the Middle East, preparing the future leaders of both the Arab and Jewish communities to cooperatively work on solutions for the region’s environmental challenges. Since 1996, the APEN (Avara Peace and Environmental Network) has successfully brought Christian, Muslim, and Jewish college students from Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Tunisia, United States, and Canada, just to name a few countries, to live together and study the environment.
Rabbi Cohen describes the orientation for new students, that takes place in the Arava Valley, designed to stage the semesters work by offering a bio-centric approach (considering all forms of life as having intrinsic value) and addresses religious, political, and cultural differences – all to present in our daily life – in an activity that is called Home, Earth, and Identity. He describes that “by finding the common identities, the similarities that overlap our differences, which can be the tools for the needed reconciliation between Jews and Arabs.“
“At the Arava Institute we have learned that the environment can serve as one of the vehicles for that important task.”
Alumni from this program are involved in numerous cross-border projects that include river restoration, air quality, biodiversity, bio-gas, and the Dead Sea. With the establishment of APEN, the proof of success in this approach and its resulting dynamic that reaches beyond the time spent on campus, is also found in the establishment of environmental organizations by the alumni that are taking up positions of environmental leadership where they reside – over 75% of alumni work in the environmental field.
The article points out that the Institutes success of these long term effects of a people-to -people program is due to a number of factors:
The Environment itself – for it invites us not to fear each other. Conflict is mostly about land. Often, a geopolitical instrument that divides nations and causes conflict. Land and political borders are barriers and impede reconciliation efforts. Rabbi Cohen states that when we view this from the perspective of the environment, a new foundation can be built – the environment, that does not recognize borders – invites us not to fear one another.
Rabbi attributes another part of the programs success to:
“All of our participants bring their strong individual national, cultural and religious identities with them to the program. While never negating their identity, our interdisciplinary program creates a framework that allows the environment to act as the metaphor, the level playing field, and, most importantly, the glue that allows us to deal with the more difficult political issues that can’t be avoided with such a constellation of young leaders.”
February 2021, Canada and the United States entered an era of bi-national cooperation to protect our fragile environments along the shared border. The two governments agreed to work together on protecting nature on land and sea, supporting Indigenous-led conservation and using nature-based solutions to fight climate change making restoration and conservation a top priority.
A positive move that recognizes Monarch butterflies do not carry passports and Moose really do not respect the U.S. Canadian Border! Wildlife, habitat, or green corridors between our countries serve a number essential purposes that include protecting wildlife in the midst of human interactions. They enable predators, such as wolves and bears, to hunt for food in other locations, minimizing their threat to people. The corridors can also minimize wildlife encroachment into human populated areas, especially during natural disasters such as wildfires or floods. Corridors enable animal populations can thrive by encouraging movement between isolated populations. This increases genetic diversity, colonisation, and interbreeding of both plants and animals.
Bordering countries share a responsibility to act. If fragile ecosystems such as forests and grasslands continue to decline due to industrial expansion, than we lose a valuable resource – a resource that is key in safeguarding us from the effects of climate change. When biodiversity collapses, the web of animals and plants is fragmented, and support and interaction with our environment, specifically our climate, is also dismantled – until almost nothing can survive.
Recognizing this connectivity and the historic opportunities to partner and coordinate our efforts in conservation and preservation across borders, is being played out between the scientific and environmental communities throughout the world. It is a complex question – these political borders that separate us as people – but perhaps we can start tearing down the fear they create by first working to preserve nature and the environment together.