The Greening Borders: Cooperation, Security and Diplomacy conference, held last week at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, was the first of its kind for the University of San Diego. It was the initial step in a process to get different stakeholders together and discuss ways to solve environmental issues at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Policy makers, community activists, academics and environmentalists convened under one roof to have a common conversation. They discussed water climate and security issues, climate change, conflict resolution, global best practices, management of trans-border water and the future of the Tijuana watershed, among other things. They also explored similar issues present at other international borders and studied ways in which those problems were resolved.
A common question posed prior to and during the conference was that of who was responsible for the environmental problems and who should fix them. That’s a question that has been pondered for years and likely to be debated for years to come. Michel Boudrias, chair and professor of USD’s Marine Science and Environmental Studies Department and academic director for the university’s sustainability initiative, served as co-coordinator for the conference. He said the issues addressed have come up before and that there are a number of organizations working to solve them.
“There’s a lot of energy, but they’re not always working together and sometimes they’re doing the exact same work from different perspectives,” Boudrias said in a recent interview. “And in a way, if you think about that, if you’ve got two groups working at the same time rather than working together, in a way (it’s) kind of diluting the effort.
“The conference served as a forum for various groups to address the problem as a combined body. The next step, according to keynote speaker William Ury (pictured), is negotiation. Ury is co-founder of the Harvard University Negotiation Project and co-author of “Getting to Yes: Negotiation Agreement Without Giving In,” among other books. He said the keys to successful negotiation can be implemented across a variety of spectrums, hence the title of his speech “From the Boardroom to the Border: Negotiating for Sustainable Agreements.” The first key, he said, is for each party to listen.
“There’s a saying that God gave us two ears and a mouth for a reason, and if you observe successful negotiators, they listen far more than they talk,” Ury said during an interview. “So that, to me, is the first thing, and I think behind listening, too, is an issue of respect because this is a cross-border, cross-cultural challenge. There have been perceived instances of disrespect, of exclusion of voices and so on, and so if you want to kind of set up the negotiation for success, you need to include, you need to show respect, you need to listen.”
He described the conference as a place for pre-negotiation dialogue, where new ideas can be created. “Greening Borders has taken a step back and assembled many players who aren’t always heard on the Tijuana water issue,” he said.
Organizers hope this conference can be a catalyst for other universities and organizations to keep the work going by continuing to bring stakeholders to the same table. More than 100 attendees, including students, took part in the conference.
– Denise T. Ward