Maybe together we can survive in a world beyond war

Published 10:00 pm Monday, June 2, 2014

Today is Memorial Day, a day to honor the soldiers who have fought for our country at great expense to themselves and their families. All of us have memories of friends or relatives who have gone off to war and never returned. War is waged at great cost to humankind and to our environment.
Years ago I heard that war and the military complex is the number one polluter in the world. I do not know whether or not that’s true, but I do know that the environmental damage created by war is huge.
Even though ecological disturbances brought on by war have been occurring for thousands of years, modern day warfare has made its impact increasingly severe.
Recognizing the long-term and widespread impacts caused by such degradation, experts have coined the term ecocide, literally meaning the killing of the environment.
I’ve always thought of the environmental damage caused by war in terms of the land destroyed by bombs, and tanks; water pollution caused by destroyed buildings and forests; and the amount of resources and energy required to rebuild what was destroyed by war. But nowadays it goes way beyond that.
Now we have lasting health and environmental effects of depleted uranium (DU) weapons made from low-level radioactive waste, and there’s Agent Orange, used in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971. The environmental and health effects were devastating.
The spraying destroyed 14 percent of South Vietnam’s forests, including 50 percent of the mangrove forests. Few, if any, have recovered.
Agent Orange contains dioxin, which causes birth defects, spontaneous abortions, skin and lung cancers, lower IQ and emotional problems for children. Those children are tomorrow’s parents. The dioxin from Agent Orange is in the soil and the water; crops grown in the soil and fish from the rivers are the source of food for millions of people.
This is a clear reminder that poisoning our environments is akin to poisoning ourselves.Then there is the lighting and dumping of oil wells in Iraq by the Iraqi military, and stolen radioactive materials ending up in Iraqi villages, where the people dumped the contents out of the barrels in the rivers so they could use the cleaned out barrels to transport food and water.
War kills, plain and simple. And war creates wounds that do not heal for a long, long time, regardless of who won or who lost the war. Many Americans still carry scars from the Civil War, 150 years ago.
Fortunately there is a growing realization that national security and ecological conservation are inextricably linked.
For the first time some of us are making environmental degradation an issue worthy of consideration and protection.
The 1992 Rio Declaration states, “warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.”
It is amazing to me that countries of the world can agree to take the environment into consideration when they are at war, killing civilians as well as soldiers. It’s amazing to me that people are willing to kill each other because they have different beliefs, or they have more oil than we have, or they are bullies.
There are more and more people in the world every year, living on less land with fewer resources to go around. If we do not figure out a way to get along, it will be the demise for all of us, regardless of who is right and who is wrong. Death takes no sides.

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