Environmental Costs of War

Using war to resolve conflicts seldom has the expected outcome. Some wars drag on for years and years with no resolution. War has an immense and lasting impact on the environment. Oil from heavy military equipment and spent uranium from weaponry pollute waterways making water non potable. Dust from explosions and movement of vehicles is often toxic. Destruction of basic infrastructure contributes to human and animal excrement washing into waterways that when consumed can cause gastrointestinal illnesses and other sometimes deadly diseases.
Wars destroy habitats. Humans, birds, flowers, trees, fish and every other living organisms are affected. Fires burn homes, businesses, cars and surrounding landscapes contributing to air pollution. Artillery turns infrastructure into rubble which in turn causes dust that can cause cancer. Troops digging trenches to protect themselves during active conflict change the landscape and cause erosion. Frequently, destruction of the environment is a way to expose the “enemy” so they can be more easily destroyed. Bare soil will cause topsoil to wash away during rains until vegetation can grow back.
War makes the environment unlivable for people, plants and animals. A 2009 study conducted by Dr. Thor Hanson and his colleagues found that most conflicts in the last seventy years have taken place in areas which are ecologically diverse and sensitive. We are currently experiencing a high rate of extinctions.
Agreements to reduce or limit emissions from fossil fuels have been made
by almost every country in the world. Fossil fuels warm the earth and must be replaced with clean and sustainable sources of energy. The excessive use of fossil fuels to power wars contributes to climate change as carbon dioxide and other earth-warming gasses are emitted into the atmosphere.
It takes decades for the environment to recover but will likely never returns to its original state completely. Heavy metals from artillery remain in the soil and continue releasing pollution. Some delicate species of flowers, birds and other animals are decimated permanently. Places where heavy fighting has taken place in the past cause disease, destroying productive families and contributing to disabilities.
The war in Ukraine is destroying farmlands and will impact the food supply. Ukraine typically exports wheat, corn, rye, and is the top exporter of barley and sunflower seeds. These items will be more expensive to buy or will become temporarily unavailable as Ukraine will be unable to meet demand. According to the United Nations, prices could increase 8% to 22% for these items worldwide. This conflict will also affect the price of oil. An increase is expected to plague consumers globally.
War is one of the most senseless ways to resolve conflicts. Everyone loses except for the few that initiate the wars for their own purposes. War is not limited to the small area where fighting occurs — it affects all life globally. Emissions from war pollute water, soil and air limiting future land use. We must find another way to resolve conflicts worldwide. The price of conflict affects the environment and is just too high.

– Lisa Luck is Program Manager of Education for the Putnam County Solid Waste Department in Cookeville, TN

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