As we face a human crisis unfolding in Ukraine and surrounding countries due to war, a question comes to mind: can we engineer peace? Can we educate the next generation of great problem solvers to help ensure we design, build and implement a more peaceful world for all?
Peace is foundational to making progress in meeting the many complex challenges we face as global citizens. Without peace, we can’t build a world that is safer, more efficient, more comfortable and more sustainable. In fact, the United Nations prioritized this critical component of human development by ensuring it was one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 16 is “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” and challenges us to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.
When peace is disrupted, especially on a global scale as we’re experiencing with the current war in Ukraine, our attention is diverted from other pressing challenges. While it’s inspiring to see so many countries, individuals and businesses come together to support the citizens of Ukraine, it also means we’re using fewer resources to support the achievement of the SDGs. As long as we’re focused on managing ongoing global conflicts, we won’t reach those goals by the year 2030.
No Peace, No Progress
War has many damaging collateral effects and making progress in sustainability is one of them. The conflict in Ukraine has rapidly slowed or even reversed progress on at least half of the SDGs. Much of Ukraine’s infrastructure has been destroyed including roads, electrical systems, food distribution and hospitals — reversing progress on SDG9: “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure” as well as SDG3: “Good Health and Well-being.”
And it’s not just Ukraine where progress is being impacted by the conflict, it’s worldwide. We were making progress on SDG1: No Poverty and SDG2: Zero Hunger by providing supplies, funding and manpower to countries and citizens in many regions around the world. As a global community, we only have so much to contribute, and now the need has drastically changed our focus to the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine.
UN Climate Chief Patricia Espinosa is concerned the war may distract global leaders from the climate crisis. We’re running out of time, and the Conflict and Environment Observatory started seeing the environmental impact of the Ukraine invasion after only 48 hours in an initial rapid assessment. A more in-depth analysis shows the war’s intense impact that will only grow as the conflict rages on. A spokesperson told Euronews Green: “In Ukraine, the scale of the destruction that we are seeing… it is likely that we’ll see permanent pollution issues being caused as a result of this conflict. Some of them will be temporary like smoke and fires, but others will last for a while. Some will be rained out to the rivers and the soil.”
Not only has our attention diverted, but the climate crisis is actively worsening due to the war. We’re exhausted from the pandemic — and now war — and our resources are spread thin. But it is our global responsibility to work together to do something now before it’s too late.
One way to start is by engineering peace by integrating principles of peace in all aspects of engineering design, development and implementation. Peace Engineering, a concept introduced by Dr. Ramiro Jordan in conjunction with International Federation of Engineering Education Societies (IFEES), is defined as “the application of science, technology and engineering principles to promote and support peace.” You can hear more about this exciting topic in a recent webinar titled “Peace Engineering A Call to Action: Nov 2018 to present.”
We can’t build a better world if we aren’t working together, whether we’re reaching across careers, disciplines or country borders. Just as countries are coming together to support Ukraine, we must use the knowledge, skills and experiences of all career disciplines to efficiently design peaceful solutions to our most pressing conflicts throughout the world, and ultimately achieve the SDGs. According to Jordan, Peace Engineering is all about collaboration and partnerships while embracing community, culture and individuals. Peace Engineering will help us get there.
That’s why, when Jordan started a Peace Engineering (PEng) minor at the University of New Mexico, where he is a professor and associate dean of engineering for international programs, he offered to include students with backgrounds outside traditional engineering. His team developed academic content with an eye on a global audience, so that colleges and universities in other countries will be able to integrate many Peace Engineering principles for their students.
Peace Engineering should be an option at all academic institutions to better prepare future generations of global STEM professionals. If they come into the workforce prepared to solve the global challenges in the context of building for peace, maybe they will have a better chance of helping improve our world.