Designing Peace Through Transportation — The Context of Rio+20


By Marcus Nobel
Feb 2, 2012

Forum on Peace through Transportation

A Joint Project of the WPI (Wholistic Peace Institute) and KOTI (Korea Transport Institute)

So what exactly does Peace have to do with transportation?  (Fights on the Max Train? Road rage? Nukes on Freighters?)

In context of Rio+20 the role of transportation is quite important. One of the dominant themes of Rio+20 are cities. The transportation issues in cities primarily involve moving people and light goods.

As an observer and participant in the environmental movement over the past 40 years I would like to give my perceptions on the big picture. Where have we been and where are we going? And how does transportation in general, and urban design and infrastructure specifically, help us as a civilization to achieve a peaceful and sustainable future?

Although humanity has always shared a common physical existence on Earth, it has only been recently that the fact of our interconnectedness–financial, cultural and biological, to name a few — has become unavoidable. We are one.


The Blue Marble we all call home. Photo NASA

One of the most widely distributed photographic images in existence, The Blue Marble is a famous photograph of the Earth, taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 . The image is one of the few to show a fully illuminated Earth, as the astronauts had the Sun behind them when they took the image. To the astronauts, Earth had the appearance of a glass marble, hence the name.Since that iconic photograph was taken a global consciousness has emerged that states, to solve our global problems –internationally as well locally- humanity needs to work together.

Timeline: Stockholm72/Agenda21/Rio+20 — 40 Years of Environmental Progress or Not?
Stockholm72 (United Nations Conference on the Human Environment) “The Conference cannot deal with all the ills of the world, …it could establish a new and more hopeful basis for resolving the seemingly intractable problems that divided mankind. It had to be recognized that the physical interdependence of all people required new dimensions of economic, social and political interdependence.”

I was in Stockholm in 1972 and on a bright sunny day in June my father Claes Nobel went to the head of the Swedish Nobel Foundation Mr. Stig Ramel and proposed a Green Nobel Prize for the environment

Mr. Ramel said , “Young Nobel do not worry about these things. It’s a beautiful day go out and look at the pretty girls.”

1972 was also the year that established World Environment Day, EPA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Atmospheric Nuclear Test Ban and Earth Day.

Agenda 21 (The Earth Summit) was the action plan of the United Nations related to sustainable development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It was a comprehensive blueprint of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally. It included plans for UN agencies, NGO’s, women, youth, science and industry.

The full text of Agenda 21 was revealed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit), held in Rio de Janeiro on June 13, 1992, where 178 governments voted to adopt the program. The number 21 refers to an agenda for the 21st century.

If there was a problem with Agenda 21 it was that it relied too much upon legislation, taxation and even nationalization.  There are 40 chapters in the Agenda 21, divided into four main sections.

Section I: Social and Economic Dimensions
poverty, developing country, changing consumption patterns, promoting health […]

Section II: Conservation and Management of Resources for Development Includes atmospheric protection, combating deforestation, protecting fragile environments, conservation of biological diversity biodiversity, control of pollution and management of biotechnology and radioactive wastes.

Section III: Strengthening the Role of Major Groups
Includes the roles of children and youth, women, NGOs, local authorities, business and workers and strengthening the role of indigenous peoples, their community and farmers.

Section IV: Means of Implementation includes science, technology transfer, education, international institutions and financial mechanisms.

Rio+20 The objective of the Conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges
Themes of the Conference will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Eco 1.0 vs. Eco 2.0

Eco 1.0: US vs. Them 

The old eco-paradigm in place since at least 1972 was primarily legislative and therefor most actions were legal litigation – lawyers suing on behalf of the snail darter. Classic adversarial positions were taken and a siege mentality developed from which we are still recovering. The old paradigm was Us vs. Them –primarily in the form of environmental activists vs. Industry– and was absolutely inevitable and necessary. This siege mentality paradigm still exists today, but we are slowly moving away from it.

Eco 2.0 We are all stakeholders

If the old paradigm was Us vs. Them, the new paradigm is we are all Stakeholders. We are all in this together. As stakeholders we have a collective responsibility to participate in the outcome of our shared future.

But the concept of stakeholders only works, if stakeholders are motivated. As a project Manager I can tell you that if your team doesn’t agree upon, and sign a charter, your project will fail.

What prevents our citizens from becoming enlightened Global Stakeholders?
Empathy Fatigue, Media Overload, Politics, Religion, Economics, Poverty, Greed, Ignorance, etc.

Earth Ethics as a Civic Value

Simply put Earth Ethics as a civic value simply means respect for the environment.
Earth Ethics seeks to increase the Eco-IQ of global citizens.

Here in America, in a well-intentioned effort to remove the ancient and historical divisiveness of religion, race, creed, sex and sexual orientation we have removed most of our traditional cultural values from our public institutions. We have certainly taken God and Religion out of our public schools. We have taken patriotism out of our schools – we don’t say the pledge of allegiance or sing America the beautiful or allow our armed services to recruit on campuses. We have kicked the Boy Scouts out of our schools.
In this vacuum we have some vague idea of political correctness based upon a very watered down set of American virtues. This does not work to inspire or provide the moral leadership to solve our civilizational problems. Alexis de Tocqueville stated that America would not work without the moral backbone of Christianity.

So given these seemingly insurmountable environmental issues how will we “ the human species” solve them without a common philosophy?

Does science, technology engineering and math alone, solve our Civilizational/Global problems? No. They address only subsets of much deeper issues that are ultimately the root cause.

I work with an organization called the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), and one the great aspects of that job is the opportunity to meet with and to get to know some very bright and motivated high school students from around the world.

During one event a young student asked me if all of our Science & Technology keeps advancing every year why do we have war?

Peace is an Art not a Science

Peace is an Art not a Science and it should be taught in our schools as part of the humanities. Unfortunately in the American School system we are cutting back on the humanities.

By emphasizing STEM – the hard skills of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math— our societies have become more technologically advanced resulting in higher standards of living. This is certainly a positive.

So, we have the skills to build a nuclear missile…but do we have the wisdom not to use it?

Currently the answer is no.

It is critical to educate all of our students –Especially STEM students—in the humanities including Earth Ethics.

Every cell in the human body has the DNA to clone a new body. We need to develop a generation of young students and global citizens that posses the DNA of Earth Ethics; a broad understanding of the complex global and civilizational problems and the Eco-IQ necessary to solve them.

Less is More Paradox

We in America, and most of the western world, have for the last century lived in age of unparalled prosperity and wealth. Never before in the history of mankind have so many had so much. And that’s part of the problem.

To Quote Walt Kelly’s Pogo: “We have met the enemy…and he is us.”

Our current levels of consumption, reproduction, environmental destruction and warfare are unsustainable.

Portlandia and the Bicycle  

(Or – Just Pedal all your –Social/Economic/Environmental– problems away.) The Portlandia television series on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) uses city of Portland Oregon as character not just setting. The TV series pokes fun at many of Portland’s wonderful Idiosyncrocies including Portland’s wonderful bicycling culture.

One might be led to believe that the simple act of riding a bicycle could cure almost all of society’s ills; oil dependency, too many automobiles, Wars, Air Pollution, Global Warming, Obesity, Diabetes, Cancer. However in every one of these humorous stereotypes there is an element of truth.

These are the 60% of cyclists who are intrested bicycle transportation but are concerned about safety. Photos:

Designing Bicycle/Pedestrian Centric Communities
American cities are primarily designed around the automobile.  As Americans we love the freedom, power speed and convenience of our cars. To not love cars is almost un-American. It is the perfect American status symbol.

However, one of the best environmental practices in urban transportation is simply to get people out of cars. Walk. Bike. Take mass transit.

4 types of transportation cyclists in Portlandia

The biggest issue for most transportation cyclists is safety.

Build it and they will come

Studies have shown that most people would be interested in bicycle commuting if they felt it was safe.  It is therefor the resonsibility of our Urban Designers and Transportation Engineers to build safe and efficient transportation infrastructure that encourages pedestrian and bicycle transit.

When we design our communities so that the great majority of daily activities can be done on foot, by bike or by streetcar we will reap enormous benefits –environmental, economic and social.

Front Row: Marcus Nobel President United Earth; Dr. Gyeng Chul Kim, President of KOTI; Gary Spanovich, Executive Director of WPI. Second Row: Dr. Peter Ye, Port Container Rapid Transit System Expert. KOTI; Dr. Young-Jun Moon, Director, Center for ITS and Olympic Transport, KOTI; Dr. Ok Namkung, Public Relations Officer of KOTI; Katherine Morrow, Port of Portland; Nancy Olmstead, Rotarian; Young Park Mananger Capital Projects, Trimet; Back Row: Joel Sebastian, Principle Ackerman Middle School, Canby OR; Professor Scott Winegar, Concordia University Security Studies Director; Shukhrat Arifjanov, Medical Teams International. John Bates, Korean Consul,Yong Park, Trimet, Chris Tucker, Revenue Manager, Trimet


Second Annual Forum on Peace through Transportation
Friday, January 27, 2012
Sharing Korean-Oregon Best Practices
A Joint Project of the WPI (Wholistic Peace Institute) and KOTI (Korea Transport Institute)
Hosted By Concordia University-Peace and Security Studies, College of Education

Download the Memo of Understanding between KOTI and WPI

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  • Tom Sherman


  • Tom Sherman