Sunday, January 16, 2011

War and the Environment - Non-war time

Mark Woods, in his piece "The Nature of War and Peace: Just War Thinking, Environmental Ethics and Environmental Justice," mentions several impacts of war operations, including

  • "the compaction, erosion, and contamination of soils by bombs and missiles and their hazardous and toxic residues and by the passage of military vehicles,
  • other forms of land pollution ranging from latrines and garbage dumps to landmines, unexploded ordnance, and radioactive dust,
  • defoliation, deforestation and land degradation, 
  • contamination of surface waters and groundwater,
  • atmospheric emissions and resulting air pollution from military equipment and vehicles,
  • direct and collateral killing of animals and plants and loss of habitat, 
  • degradation and destruction of protected natural areas, and
  • noise pollution."
These impacts are truly gigantic, and several real-life examples of the environmental impacts of war can be found here and here. But I think Woods leaves out the most environmentally and ecologically aspects of war - the preparation for war. I refer to these times not as "peace" times, but rather non-war times. Since many governments are always constantly preparing for war, and looking forward to the next war, such interludes between war cannot be justly called "peaceful" times. During these non-war times, it is not as if the military machine stops. Instead, it is doling out contracts to companies like Lockheed Martin and Dow Chemical to produce the next-generation fighter jets, and the next-generation toxins. During the research of these toxins, during the production and testing of these jets, natural resources are constantly extracted violently from the earth. Pollutants are released into the air and aquifers. Given that significant effort is expended on such work during non-war times, and that nations have always been in non-war states longer than in war, I am absolutely positive that the cumulative impacts of these activities far outweigh the impacts during war. In fact, any effort to "green" military operations during war are laughable. (Using a compact fluorescent bulb in Afghanistan? Might as well just use an incandescent and stop insulting the environment. Please stop greenwashing.) If you are just looking at greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts, let alone other environmental impacts, the Department of Defense's operations in fact account for a huge amount of emissions - only 35 countries use more oil per day than the Pentagon itself (not including contractors). At the same time, the Department of Defense has won several exemptions for environmental law and regulations to conduct its training, research, and preparation. (Click here and here if you want to explore various military bases in the US that are Superfund sites.) "The earth's environment is battered by war, its preparation, practice and aftermath.

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