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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Five eco-reasons why we don't want war

While the American political machine considers whether or not to stoke the fires of Syria, more reasoned voices are calling for peace. Pope Francis is one such voice and he has added prayer and fasting to this call. 

While we wait, pray, and fast for miracles (small and big ones)—and as we call in all sincerity for truce and dialogue—the horrors continue. And so we think of the immediate harm done to people remaining in Syria and to the over two million who have fled. We think of the violence done to individuals, most often the weak and innocent; to families; and to entire communities. Compounding the suffering of war is the damage to natural environments. This is not a small issue because such damage impacts people during and long after the fighting ends.

Here are five reasons why eco-issues count when we go to war:

War pollutes water supplies: Drinking water comes from reservoirs, rivers, or groundwater. The bombardment of weaponry contaminates these supplies with a missile's residue and with the debris of what was once a built environment. Fuel contamination, metals, spilled chemicals and chemical weaponry can easily turn a region’s water supplies into a toxic slurry. For the most vulnerable people—children and the elderly—such contamination results in imminent harm if this water is ingested or slow dehydration when family members are forced to travel long distances to find clear, potable water. Basic sanitation also quickly becomes an issue when clean water is not readily available.

War pollutes the air: Soldiers, well-connected rebels, and well-prepared civilians may have gas masks during times of war. For those without such devices, toxins and particulates can be a regular component of what one takes into one’s lungs. Smoldering fires and regular bombings can keep the air sullied for hours and days—or weeks or months.

War obliterates natural habitats: All that teeming life that God found good in the Book of Genesis needs a home. In fact, most life forms prefer particular kinds of homes. The destruction brought by war—along with all that polluted water and air—devastates a region’s unique natural habitats, and unique habitats help define a quality of life. Besides the damage to non-human species, habitat destruction can easily impact local fishing and agriculture, which only adds to the suffering of the innocent.

Photo: Flicker/ninjawil
War destroys infrastructure:
Roads, bridges, and airports become the frequent targets of bombing. Other targets—whether intended or not—include underground water and sewer lines, drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities, and other infrastructure necessary for public health and a clean environment. Such infrastructure is expensive to replace and not quick to rebuild. This damage becomes a long-lasting communal wound long after conflicts cease. And thus the suffering continues as people lose access to clean water and as their natural waterways are contaminated with sewage.

War leaves behind a toxic dump: Added together, the consequences noted above are compounded by the debris of factories, homes, vehicles, above- and below-ground chemical storage systems, electrical transformers, and a host of other man-made systems and devices that use toxic chemicals, heavy metals, fossil fuels, and lost more. Then there is the matter of regular garbage pickup, which can easily come to a halt during times of war. With massive amounts of debris strewn about during and after a war, cleanup takes time—lots and lots of time. And even after debris is hauled away—hopefully to a safe landfill—widespread soil contamination often makes once pristine neighborhoods uninhabitable.

This is of course a short list. It is neither detailed nor specific to a particular conflict. But this subject does not require advanced degrees to understand. 

Under specific circumstances, some wars can be justly waged. But William Tecumseh Sherman said it best in the late nineteenth century: "war is all hell." One reason why this is so is because war leaves behind a hellish environment when it’s over, scarring for a long, long time God’s very good, life-sustaining creation.

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