Monday, October 15, 2012

War - The Culture of Death

Today on my podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, I'll be talking about war in the context of environmental degradation.

Imagine the puzzlement of intelligent beings from another planet as they approach Earth. Descending through Earth’s dense atmosphere, the ship’s sophisticated sensors whirr with incoming data. The readings are bizarre: millions of acres of land littered with explosive devices; landscapes pockmarked by bomb craters; radioactive materials polluting bodies of water both large and small; toxic chemicals poisoning soils; carbon dioxide clogging the air, building up heat around the planet. Incredibly, the planet appears to be a toxic waste dump. These intelligent aliens might well wonder what kind of crazed animal wreaks such damage on an otherwise beautiful planet, one that seems so suitable for life. They might be even more surprised to learn that the damage was and continues to be done by the species considered the most intelligent on Earth – Homo sapiens.

Why does a species with such a short lifespan spend so many of its precious years making life as miserable as possible, even hastening death for so many of its own kind? One might conclude that they are possessed by such a deep hatred for life that they are willing to attack and poison the only known planet that sustains and nourishes them.

Whatever the pathology in the wiring of some human brains – inexplicably those in the heads of men likely to be leaders of countries – it has invented a monstrous self-deception that war and national security are inseparably linked. In pursuit of this illusion, governments spend most of their economic and human resources manufacturing, selling and buying weapons of destruction that not only increase insecurity but threaten all life on the planet.. Back on October 28, 2002, the first observance of the International Day for Preventing Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said: “War not only causes human suffering. It can also be devastating to the environment. Long after peace has been restored, the negative environmental impacts of conflict often remain.”

War is hell on Earth. Environmental destruction is a strategy of war. There is hardly any environment on the planet that has not been scarred, scorched, poisoned, mined, radiated or otherwise brutalized by war. The world’s armed forces are the single biggest polluters of the planet. According to the Science for Peace Institute at the University of Toronto, Canada, 10 to 30 percent of all global environmental degradation is a direct result of military actions (Ref. 1). Eleven nuclear reactors and at least 50 nuclear warheads sit on the ocean floor. Mines and unexploded ordnance lie in wait in some 90 countries. According to the International Commission of the Red Cross, 100 million land mines are scattered around the world where they kill or maim between 1,000 and 2,000 people, mostly children, every month. After more than 23 years of war, Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, its once dense forests and much of its farmland have been destroyed, and rare species of birds and mammals, such as snow leopards, gazelles, bears, and wolves, are endangered.

In Iraq, 12 years of U.S. invasion and occupation have left that country crippled, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead, homes, schools, hospitals, electrical and sanitation systems destroyed, some some 2 to 4 million refugees, depending on whose figures you use. Iraquis’ air, soil, water, blood and gene pool have been contaminated with depleted uranium, resulting in birth defects and cancers. And the environment is littered with unexploded cluster bombs.

The Vietnam war has been called “an unprecedented assault on the environment.” Ten percent of southern Vietnam’s tropical forests, including one-third of its coastal mangroves were destroyed by herbicides. Mangroves play a vital role in coastal ecology and provide a rich source of food that sustains fish populations. Over the course of 13 years, from 1961 to 1974, Vietnam was repeatedly hit by cluster bomb units (CBUs), affectionately called “bomblets,” large bombs, napam, land mines, and toxic chemicals. The country’s soils, water systems, biological diversity, and even its climate were affected. During the course of the war, the United States admitted it dropped 72 million liters of chemicals on Vietnam, most of it Agent Orange. This highly toxic agent contained the most dangerous type of dioxin called TCDD, which stands for 2, 3, 7, 8 tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin. Known to cause almost every kind of cancer, TCDD spread throughout Vietnam’s drinking water and soils and entered the food chain. From there, the toxic chemical got into the blood of animals, including humans, where it entered the germ cells, subverted DNA, the basic molecule of life, and caused mutations – babies born with two heads, fingers and toes that drop off, strange limbs, and retarded growth. Both human and environmental effects will continue long into the future.

The most devastating assault on humanity, one that launched the horror of nuclear war, occurred in August 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy,” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Watching the mushroom cloud boiling up from what had been a city filled with life, Colonel Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the B-29 airplane that dropped the bomb, wrote in his journal: “My God, what have we done?” The heat, air pressure, and radiation from the explosion made it seem as if a sun had exploded. Within seconds, people, buildings, plants, and all animal life within a 1.5-mile radius was vaporized. For months and years to come, people exposed to the radiation died – more than 140,000 by the end of 1945. An estimated total of 200,000 people are believed to have died as a result of the bomb.

Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb, this one on the city of Nagasaki. Approximately 70,000 people died by the end of 1945 as a result of this bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man.”

One might have thought that the horror, suffering, death, and devastation caused by these two bombs would have been enough for governments to take immediate action to outlaw such weapons. Instead, it triggered a nuclear arms build-up, known as the Cold War, between the United States and the former Soviet Union that continues to threaten the entire planet even though the Cold War has ended. The activities of producing these deadly weapons and the disposal of the waste by-products have created entire areas of the planet that are now radioactive.

Learn more on the podcast.

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