In recent years, a new force has been introduced to the struggle for environmental protection. The world’s military looms as an ominous threat above our fragile eco-system. Even during years of peace, the military’s havoc is wreaked “Not in some remote sandbox or sea lane, but within the heart of a rapidly unraveling planetary ecology, whose intricate web of intertwined lives, often trigger complex feedback processes.” (Thomas). The greatest crime perhaps is the slow murder of the planet. The world has suffered more ecological damage in the past fifty years, than ever before. Oil spills, toxic dumps and nuclear testing, plague the world’s resources. The majority of these originating from the world’s ‘protectors’. The greatest victim of all our wars, is Earth. Her sufferings coming from toxic dumping, chemical warfare and nuclear testing
Perhaps the best example of a dumpsite would be Subic Bay in the Philippines. Since the end of the Viet Nam conflict, 4,000,000 gallons of untreated waste have been dumped into the bay each day. As Pentagon official David Berteau summarized “If any one nation bears the brunt of the U.S. military’s practice overseas, it may well be the Philippines”. It is estimated that this dumping has destroyed thousands of kilometres of coastline, and a valuable eco-system. Though this is not to imply that the Philippines are the sole victim of military dumping, indeed there are hundreds of such dumpsites across the globe. As is clearly seen in map 1.1
Indeed the weapons of war do more harm to Gaia than to any foreign soldier, Chemical warfare & High-tech weaponry of the 90’s may turn out to be what eventually lays Mother Earth to rest. Chemical Warfare was introduced by German soldiers during WWI. Since then, dramatic increases in chemical weapons have put Earth on the verge of collapse. It is estimated that 240 pounds of Agent Orange, a defoliant, was dropped over S. Viet Nam during the 1960s. This may not sound like much, but to put it in perspective, two ounces of the substance, placed in New York City’s water supply, would kill every inhabitant. (Day, 208). And it will remain in the environment for centuries to come. Not so far away, more havoc was being wrought on the environment, this time due to the space race, the liquid fuel used by Soviet era missiles and rockets — unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) — is both highly toxic and hard to remove from the environment once leaked. (Federov) Large areas of Russia are contaminated with this chemical at the sites where missiles are stored and dismantled, and in regions where the first and second stages of rockets crash to the ground. Experts have already found 110 polluted sites, totaling 20 million hectares. (Federov). Traces of UDMH and its products of decomposition have been found in vegetation, soil and sediment, considerably exceeding maximum permissible levels. (Federov) They have also been found in fodder, vegetables, and domestic animals. UDMH and similar toxic propellants were used in rockets launched across the former Soviet Union for decades.
The newest front in the continuing battle is the nuclear force. Bigger, stronger, better. With a slew of nuclear ‘accidents’, fallouts and testing, this has become a much larger threat than conventional forces ever were. Military involvement in nuclear genocide has been well documented among the many case files for nuclear tests. Rather than evacuate island natives, medical professionals were called in to study, but not aid, the victims of nuclear fallout. But the effect on the natives is insignificant next to the damage wrought on our planet. It is now estimated that more than 16 islands in the South Pacific alone, are ‘dead’ lands, incapable of supporting any lifeforms. And they furthermore continue to contaminate other islands, due to tainted tides.
But the deliberate exposure of friendly populations to radiation for purposes of medical study has extended all the way to the suburbs of the US and former Soviet Union (Thomas, 34). Amounts of up to 30 million curies have been emitted from nuclear warhead facilities in at least five countries in the interests of medical study. (In comparison, the Chernobyl disaster caused about 50 million curies to be released.) The US admits to testing the effects of a nuclear warhead on 620,000 American citizens. (McIvor, 63) and many more are believed to exist in the former CCCP.
Though many programs have been aimed at safe nuclear waste disposal, most have been quickly dismissed as impractical, for both economic and environmental reasons. These included; Sub-Seabed Disposal, which, due to political maneuvering by several countries, was rendered impossible. Launching the waste into outer space. Technically feasible, but due to high launch failure rates, kept it restricted to Earth.
Bury canisters in the Antarctic ice shield, unfortunately research determined the ice was unstable over the period of thousands of years the waste would require to break down to manageable levels. (LWV, 44) Some say disarmament brings further dangers since the technology is dangerous and the risk of accident considerable. There is another problem. Many of the biggest missiles are now being dismantled after thirty years’ of Cold War service, producing more waste than ever before. For example one typical unit of 52 heavy SS-18 nuclear missiles, deployed in Kazakhstan was transported to central Russia in 1995-1996 for dismantling. This left 6,000 tonnes of UDMH for disposal. — which has reportedly disappeared. ( Ivanov, 1 ) This obvious mishandling of such incendiary waste, is evidently not acceptable. Until a proper alternative is found, we must limit our dependence on nuclear power, to reduce the amount of waste generated.
One might, as so many so strenuously have, that the ecological cost is insignificant next to the protection that the military affords us. But as A. Taylor once said “The cause of war, is the preparation of war” So it must be remembered that a military threat could potentially wipe out an entire country, but so too can Mother Nature. Thus I think there needs to be equal attention brought to the two, I don’t think that one should necessarily outweigh the other as a priority. If we continue along our destructive path, we will seal, not just our fate, but the planets as well.