A conversation with Mr. Narek Ohanyan, an environmental activist

1-Please introduce yourself and share details about your work. What motivates your interest in this field?

Hello, I’m Narek Ohanyan, a second-year student at the American University of Armenia, where I am pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with a minor in Environmental Studies. My academic and professional journey is deeply intertwined with my commitment to environmental activism and sustainable development, specifically in areas impacted by climate change.

My interest in this field stems from growing up in the Ararat Valley of Armenia, a region facing significant environmental challenges such as desertification. Witnessing these impacts firsthand has shaped my understanding of environmental issues and fueled my determination to contribute to solutions that intertwine environmental sustainability with community resilience.

I currently lead the Climapolis project, an innovative startup under the Generation Unlimited initiative

supported by UNICEF in Armenia. We aim to revolutionize eco-education for teens, fostering an environmentally conscious and proactive generation. Through this project, I have developed educational

programs and initiatives that have reached nearly a thousand young people, educating them on

sustainable practices and environmental stewardship.

Additionally, my role as the UN Children and Youth High-Level Climate Champion for Central Asia &

Europe at the UNFCCC COP27 allowed me to advocate internationally. Here, I focused on raising

awareness about the pressing climate change issues and promoting sustainable living solutions.

I am motivated by the belief that integrating technology with environmental solutions can lead to

transformative outcomes. My technical background in computer science enables me to create innovative

tools and platforms that facilitate effective education and advocacy for environmental and food security

issues. This approach addresses immediate environmental concerns and contributes to long-term food

security by promoting sustainable agricultural practices and resource management.

This passion for technology and sustainability drives my interest in working in the field. I am eager to

contribute my skills and experiences toward developing integrated solutions that address peace and food

security through environmental conservation and sustainable development.

Environmental Crisis:

2-The environmental crisis knows no political boundaries, affecting the entire world to varying

degrees. What is your perspective on the current state of the world and its future in terms of

environmental challenges?

The challenges of our time are immense and quite multilayered, the most important being climate

change. The present transformation rate in Earth’s climate is speedy, resulting from anthropogenic

activities that increase the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels,

massive deforestation, and large-scale industrial activities. This acceleration is the cause of rising global

temperatures, increased sea levels, and intensified weather extremes. Furthermore, it is widely claimed

that the rates at which biodiversity is lost are high, and human-induced actions that are among the

major ones include habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, and the introduction of invasive species.

This loss is crucial, as it ultimately affects ecosystems’ capacity to carry out vital functions like pollination,

water purification, and carbon storage. For instance, the degradation of air, water, and soil quality due to

industrial by-products, plastic pollutants, pesticide runoff from agricultural land, and emissions from

transportation and manufacturing remains commonplace. All this carries excellent risks to human and

wildlife health and the degradation of the quality of our environment. The other issue is emergency

cases of depletion of natural resources—water bodies, minerals, forests, among others—that cannot be

sustained. Over-exploitation of these natural resources leads to scarcity and rising costs, bringing

competition and other potential conflicts. This may ultimately lead to the need for satisfaction being

denied to future generations. In this context, environmental degradation exacerbates the matters for the

most vulnerable members of society, mainly in developing regions where most communities lack the

infrastructure to adapt and be resilient against these changes. This not only supports the social

inequities but also aggravates the issues of poverty and displacement. Above all, a sustainable future can

only be imagined through innovation and technology. These upcoming innovative solutions in renewable

energy, sustainable agriculture, and water conservation offer hope in reducing any new environmental

degradation. This needs to be supplemented with effective environmental governance and decisive

policy steps at all levels, local or global. This effort, for instance, the Paris Climate Accord, is a worldwide

initiative but needs even more robust implementation. Public awareness and active involvement are the

backbones of development. It is expected that single individuals or groups’ education on environmental

matters could act as a stimulus for sustainable consumer behavior and increase the degree of protective

policy. Equally vital are the restoration and rehabilitation of the ecosystems. Large-scale projects like

reforestation and wetland restoration hold equal significance in the overall eco-balance and contribute

to carbon sequestration. In the final analysis, meeting these challenges will depend on sustained

cooperation, innovation, and a profound commitment to sustainability. The challenge may be great, but

the growing international attention and dedication to the agenda of sustainable development provide a

glimmer of hope with the outcome, which has the potential to bear: a resilient, stable environmental

future can be achieved.

War and Environmental Impact:

3-Wars have devastating effects on the environment. Recently, a ship carrying 22 tons of chemical fertilizers sank in the Red Sea due to conflict. How significant do you believe the environmental risks posed by wars are?

The impacts of wars and armed conflicts might be highly severe and have temporalities on the timespan

on which they can affect both the natural and human environments. For instance, your example of a

shipload that sank in the course of armed conflict in the Red Sea with chemical fertilizers onboard is

typical of how wars could potentially amount to environmental disasters and be harmful to marine

ecosystems and beyond due to the released toxic substances.

This may involve land degradation, habitat destruction, and high pollution in conflict areas. For example,

during the Artsakh conflict, there has been a substantial environmental impact with the mass

destruction of forests and agricultural lands and water contamination. As reported, the use of white

phosphorus by Azerbaijani forces is an issue of high concern since it can cause particularly destructive

burns and leave long-lasting soil and water contamination that will affect the ecosystem and human


Wars also trigger indirect environmental problems since they drive population displacement, increasing

environmental pressure in host areas. This often results in accelerated deforestation, soil erosion, and

water scarcity. In a similar armed conflict in Ukraine, for example, intensive military activity has resulted

in significant environmental damage: houses and infrastructure have been set on fire, and the pollution

from military activities has dramatically increased the risk of nuclear contamination near nuclear


Conflicts’ most alarming environmental effects are persistent and long-lasting. Not only are the

environmental threats in areas affected by the conflicts physical, but they are also capable of causing

long-term environmental damage through the inappropriate or deliberate destruction of dangerous

substances, ensuring protracted contamination of critical resources.

The environmental destruction that war causes leads to impaired critical economic sectors, such as

agriculture and fisheries, forming the basis of livelihoods for local populations. Such damage reduces

potential in agriculture and compromises water quality, affecting human health and economic activities.

To address these challenges in a befitting manner, the international community must put measures such

as conflict resolution, rehabilitation of the environment, and strict compliance with international laws

that protect the environment during war. For instance, the United Nations Environment Programme is a

critical organ in the assessment and aid of the conflict zone in environmental recovery. The

environmental risks of war are immense to the extent that they may nullify decades of conservation

efforts. Therefore, sustainable peace and environmental recovery in conflict areas remain of prime

importance; they require much attention and action worldwide, calling for dialogue, understanding, and

cooperation by all the concerned parties.

Arms Race and Environmental Concerns:

4-The global arms race consumes substantial budgets for weapon development and sales. Considering 

the environmental crisis, how do you view these military expenditures?

Large budgets of military expenditures, especially during a global arms race, incite profound concerns

when juxtaposed against the fundamental need to protect the environment and human rights. Using

substantial financial and intellectual resources for the development and production of armament not

only means an opportunity lost for dealing with environmental challenges but also, more often than not,

at the same time, enhances the abuses of human rights and environmental degradation.

Money spent on the military denies the same potential benefits it would have contributed to sustainable

development, environmental conservation, and public welfare services. For example, investment in

renewable energy technologies, the restoration of ecosystems, and climate resilience would have

long-term benefits for the planet and its population. These areas usually lack entire investment because

of priorities given to defense spending.

Indeed, military activities cause massive environmental destruction—from pollution due to the

production and testing of weapons to habitat destruction due to military exercises and the long-term

environmental effects of the conflict, as already explained. In terms of a carbon footprint, the military is

a pretty big end user of fossil fuels.

This hurts human rights: the flow of arms into conflict zones leads to a further acceleration of conflicts in

intensity and duration, increasing civilian losses, displacement, and suffering. Second, the issue of

concern concerning the arms-exporting regimes and their potential use for human rights abuses by

regimes is paramount. The development and deployment of autonomous weapons, either drones or

driven by AI, raise other questions of ethics regarding who should be held accountable in warfare.

Opportunity costs, one of the main economic concepts, come to mind when using money and resources

for arms that cannot then be spent on health, education, and environmental protection. These sectors

contribute directly to human well-being and environmental stability but are generally underfunded in

much of the world.

There must be a strategic shift in global priorities to accommodate these concerns. Here are the

potential measures:

● Redefine security to include environmental integrity and human security. Once such a definition

is made under an extensive umbrella, it could ensure that national budgets align with

sustainable development goals.

● International treaties and agreements that govern the manufacture and sale of weapons can

decrease the total number of weapons in the world and allocate resources to more productive


● Promoting peace and conflict resolution initiatives reduces the need for military spending,

improves stability, and benefits human rights and environmental conservation.

● Increased transparency in military spending and arms trade is very instrumental, for the public

and international bodies can hold governments into account on the use of such resources,

meaning that the activities of the governments do not further human rights abuse and

environmental destruction.

Indeed, long-term global stability and prosperity are possible only with the total paradigm shift from

militarism to an integrated approach toward valuing and safeguarding environmental sustainability and

human rights. Long-term commitment and change in attitude should be part and parcel of actions at

national and international levels.

Food Security and Sustainability:

5-With the world’s population exceeding its capacity, there is increasing pressure on land resources for food production. This leads to pollution and health issues. What solutions do you propose to address this problem? Additionally, how can cooperation in sustainable agriculture contribute to peace?

With a rising population in the world, food production is needed, so it exerts more pressure on land

resources, resulting in, for example, pollution and health issues. However, with total belief in science and

focus on innovative solutions, promising solutions to these challenges are in hand. Besides, sustainable

agriculture can play a huge role in fostering peace through cooperation.

Innovative Agricultural Practices, like

1. Precision Agriculture: With the support of technologies like GPS and IoT sensors, water use,

pesticide application, and fertilizers can be applied precisely. Such methods of applying

chemicals help reduce wastage and avoid environmental hazards.

2. Vertical Farming: Growing crops in stacked layers, one on top of another, in buildings under

controlled conditions will sharply save on land use while conserving water and reducing the

application of pesticides and herbicides.

3. Genetic Modification and CRISPR: Future development in genetic modification and CRISPR

technology might lead to pest and disease-resistant crops with reduced chemical inputs and

more climate-resilient characteristics—crucial in climate change adaptation.

Sustainable Practices and Resource Management, like

1. Agroforestry: Integrating trees and shrubs in agricultural landscapes helps improve biodiversity

and soil health and lessens erosion. This, in itself, helps sequester carbon and counteract climate


2. Regenerative Agriculture: Techniques of crop rotation, cover cropping, and reduced tillage assist

the restoration of soil health, increased water retention, and accumulation of organic soil matter,

making agricultural systems more resilient.

Socio-economic and Environmental Benefits, like

1. Reducing Food Wastage: More effective food distribution systems combined with better storage

structures can decrease food wastage from farm to consumer, making food production more

efficient and less stressful for the environment.

2. Dietary Shifts: Promoting diets that rely less on meat and more on plant food will reduce the

strain on land resources, considering that meat production is more land and resource-intensive.

Sustainable agriculture is a unique cooperative platform. Shared agricultural technologies and other

research projects can bring countries closer by fostering mutual interests and reducing conflicts. For

instance, in the case of water management, since agriculture is a concern that transcends borders,

collaborative water conservation can be a basis for making broad-based diplomatic relationships.

Likewise, international agricultural development programs secure regions through better food security,

reducing poverty and making communities less conflict-prone. Governments, international organizations,

and the private sector for sustainability and peace could support these. In brief, adopting innovative,

science-based agricultural practices and evolving international cooperation in sustainable agriculture can

ensure the taking care of the pressing challenges of pollution and health due to overpopulation,

contributing to global peace and stability. The optimistic approach will be realized with technology and

working together to create a sustainable future for all.

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