Environmental costs of war: Ten Reasons Why Militarism is Bad for the Environment
* Simon Doolittle works for the Program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (www.umass.edu/peri).
While the war rages in Iraq , Congress has taken the step of appropriating $75 billion to cover the war costs and some humanitarian aid. While this is an enormous amount of money, most analysts agree that it is nowhere near enough. Whatever the final dollar amount assigned to this particular conflict, it will almost certainly fail to include the very real environmental costs that come with war, and militarism more generally.
Below is a list of ten environmental costs associated with militarism. On the surface some of these reasons have a more obvious economic impact than others. However, we should take care to remember that the ultimate source of all of our wealth is human health and the natural bounty that is humanity’s common inheritance. Any threat to our health and environment is inherently a threat to our economic well-being.
1. Militaries are notorious polluters.
According to geographer Joni Seager, “anywhere in the world, a military presence is virtually the single most reliable predictor of environmental damage.” And military pollution isn’t limited to bases, it does significant damage to the environment at large. Together, the world’s militaries produce an estimated 6-10% of global air pollution.
2. Militaries are exempted from environmental regulation.
The Pentagon fiercely resists regulation and aggressively covers up information about its pollution. An EPA official once described the Department of Energy’s attitude about regulation of their nuclear activities as: “Look, Buster, don’t bug me with your crap about permits. I’m building atomic weapons.”
3. Militarism robs other social needs.
In 2004, President Bush hopes to increase the US military budget to $399.1 billion. That’s a lot of money not spent on finding ways to reduce poverty, hunger, and environmental degradation.
4. War destroys health and sanitation infrastructures.
This grim reality was on full display in the first Gulf War. A UN observation team at the end of the war found that the “recent conflict has wrought apocalyptical results on the infrastructure” leaving “means of modern life support…destroyed or rendered tenuous.”
5. War destroys ecosystems and livelihoods.
From “carpet bombing” to landmines to “scorched earth” campaigns, war routinely leaves ecosystems ravaged and agricultural livelihoods destroyed. Central America offers a tragic example. Sociologist Daniel Faber reports that “Vietnam-style ‘scorched earth’ operations and military manoeuvres have obliterated vast agricultural lands and crucial ecosystems, pushing millions of refugees into overcrowded cities and overtaxed hillsides.”
6. Nuclear weapons are an environmental catastrophe.
Nuclear weapons pose an environmental threat to humanity unprecedented in human history. A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could kill up to 30 million people, and leave vast areas uninhabitable in one of the world’s most densely populated countries. A nuclear war involving half the world’s weapons could trigger a nuclear winter and end human existence
7. Nuclear waste is an environmental catastrophe.
Even if they are never used, nuclear weapons create wastes unlike any other in human history, remaining deadly for hundreds of thousands – sometimes millions – of years. There is no completely safe place for these wastes over geological time. Leaving such long-lived waste for future generations is profoundly irresponsible.
8. Military toxins poison the poor and people of colour
Right here in the US , the military has recklessly poisoned poor and communities of color, and soldiers whose health is threatened by poisonous weapons – not to mention combat – are disproportionately poor and people of color. Internationally, the US , USSR and Europe tested their nuclear weapons on indigenous peoples’ land.
9. War poisons many generations of civilians.
War is the curse that keeps on killing. This grim reality is on display in Iraq . Before the current war began, the first Gulf War and sanctions had already left Iraqis with, in the words of one doctor, “a health crisis of immense proportions,” with infant mortality, death of children under five, and birth defects all rising dramatically.
10. War kills people.
Any environment with bullets whizzing and bombs dropping is polluted in the most lethal way. War killed up to 175 million people, most of them civilians, in the 20th century alone – history’s most bloody century. We must work now to ensure that our present century is known for peace – not war.
NOTE: This is an edited version of a longer piece. For the full length version, with a full list of references, see: www.umass.edu/peri/warandpeace.html
Produced by the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College . Please see our website for other articles in our Ten Reasons Why Militarism is Bad series, including “Ten Reasons Why Militarism is Bad for Reproductive Freedom” and “Ten Reasons Why Militarism is Bad for Queer People.” http://hamp.hampshire.edu/~clpp/popdev.html