Issues Uncategorized

How war and militarism affect our environment

The following viewpoint by KNOW was published in the Kalamazoo Gazette on April 19th, 2011.
We celebrate Earth Day on April 22. As we celebrate, we are grateful for all that our earth and its natural environment give us, and we commit ourselves to striving in as many ways as we can to preserve the planet on which we and our descendants must live. We can best do this by honestly recognizing the ways in which war and the preparation for war damage the earth.

Most obvious are the ways in which the violence of war destroys the lands where war is fought. Thousands of tons of explosives crater landscapes and pollute the air and water. Incendiary weapons damage soil and water and entire ecosystems. (And, though controversial, there is evidence that the depleted uranium we use in weapons enters the air and increases rates of cancer and birth defects.) Forests and oil fields burn. Jungles are sprayed with defoliants that are toxic to human and animal life. (The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam is a tragic example.) Farmland is left unusable by land mines, which also threaten wildlife.

In these and many other ways, the destructive forces of our weapons are destroying people, animals and plant life long after the conflicts in which the weapons were used are over.

Less obvious, but equally tragic is the economic cost of war and of preparation for war. Billions of dollars are spent for weaponry, leaving us less able to afford the cost of dealing with climate change and other environmental crises (as well as, of course, leaving us less able to pay for education, health care and other social needs). Think of the economic costs of the development, production, testing, storage, transport and disposal of weapons.

Moreover, military bases, training exercises and the production of weapons consume valuable resources and pollute our land, air and water. For instance, two-thirds of the EPA polluted Superfund sites are abandoned military facilities or production sites. And, according to the Environmental Health Policy Institute of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, the U.S. military generates more toxic waste material annually than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined. In addition, nuclear and biological weapons have been developed whose deliberate or accidental use is possibly the greatest threat to humans and to the earth.

For more data on the environmental consequences of our military system, see “The Green Zone” by Barry Sanders. He concludes that, by giving little attention to pollution and resource consumption and destruction by the military, environmentalists are ignoring the single greatest threat to the environment, ignoring an institutionalized system that negates all our individual attempts to conserve and protect our planet.

The United States is currently fighting two wars (three if we count Libya) and maintaining military bases in more than 100 countries. In the last 20 years, we have intervened with our army, navy, and/or air force in at least 15 different foreign conflicts. The United States, even in its current economic crisis, spends close to $900 billion a year on war, preparation for war and the lingering costs of previous wars, more than 10 times as much as any other nation in the world, in fact as much as the next 15 nations in the world put together. We think of this as “defense,” though often our military approach to problems make us less rather than more secure, producing more enemies than friends.

We need, as a nation, to demonstrate that we can lead the world in finding non-violent, non-destructive solutions to the conflicts among the peoples who must share this planet. We must recognize the environmental costs of our present emphasis on “defense” policies and we must change our ways. If we really want to defend our earth and the web of life of which we are a part, if we really want to defend our children and grandchildren, we need to work harder to find alternatives to war and militarism.

We are grateful for another Earth Day, which reminds us of our responsibilities as stewards of the earth and as the human members of the interdependent family of life.