Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day. Today we honor the Earth by calling attention to the common goals of the peace and environmental sustainability movements.
But first, some context: Assessing the impact of war on the environment can be fraught with complexity, but here is a sampling of those effects:
- Destruction or contamination of farmland, forests, wildlife and biodiversity
- Unexploded ordnance (UXO) left to cause death and maiming of people and animals. In Laos alone, about 80 million undetonated cluster munitions are still present in the environment
- Polluted water supplies for people, plants and animals
- Exacerbation of climate change (the U.S. military is the world’s largest consumer of oil)
- Oil spills, both deliberate and as collateral damage
- Disruption of ecosystems from refugees and displaced people
- Radioactive wastes from depleted uranium weapons and nuclear testing
- Pollution from chemical weapons, herbicides, and routine operations of the military-industrial complex
- Failure to clean up after warfare, causing long-term public health, agricultural, and ecological devastation
It works the other way, too–that misuse, destruction, and scarcity of natural resources can be the cause of war. Examples include conflicts over oil in the Middle East, rare metals in the Congo, food shortages and water scarcity in South Asia and throughout the world. More and more, climate disruption is becoming or is predicted (pdf) to be a source of conflict.
In other words, environmental degradation is a threat to global security.
As you celebrate Earth Day on Sunday, please consider what it will take to stop the intertwined scourges of warfare and environmental destruction. Even more important, make a commitment to do something about them.
Pat Daniel, Ph.D., Managing Editor of Engaging Peace