Wars lead to casualties of all kinds, with living beings experiencing tragedy and hardship of all kinds. The violence will only continue unless the far-reaching damage of armed conflict is recognized, addressed, and alternative measures to settle disputes are prioritized. Land degradation, water and food shortages, and injuries and death are a few of the many devastating consequences of wars 'greed, the hunger for power, and fear.'
Source: Wilson Center
The environmental consequences of war
The environmental consequences of war include habitat loss, pollution, minimal regulations on manufacturing, and forced migration. Habitat loss occurs through ‘scorched earth’ battling methods, which calls for the purposeful degradation of soils or waterways to reduce the opponents’ chances of survival. Along the same lines, military personnel who settle in a new area to prepare for an attack will need to settle in an yet ‘undeveloped’ area - again leading to habitat loss. These tactics threaten rural communities, who find themselves caught in the middle of conflict, simply because of their geographical location. Many of these environmental consequences lead to other ones: for example, scorched earth methods also include intentionally burning crops or infrastructure, which results in pollution.
Habitat loss - before and after (Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images)
Developing and maintaining military bases involves ample vehicles, weaponry, buildings, aircraft, and other infrastructure that require a vast amount of energy, materials, and labor. The world’s largest militaries in the Global North produce more emissions than entire countries in the Global South combined. The U.S. military is the 47th largest emitter in the world. Militaries also use vast swaths of land and sea to test their weapons, leaving ecosystems bare once the testing is over. The United States alone operates about 800 international stations with minimal regard for the environment, lack of adequate supervision, and therefore a disregard for the communities in the area. By dedicating so much time and energy to militaries, governments lose sight of the many manufacturing regulations we have in place. Thus, militaries are allowed to create noise and chemical pollution without repercussions. Even when a country is not at war, numerous resources are dedicated to building and preparing military forces, which diverts attention away from urgent climate solutions.
Military training exercise in southern California (Source: Marines via Flickr)
Many forms of pollution, including air, chemical, light, noise, and water, result from war. One of the main causes of this pollution is the use of weapons. In our increasingly high-tech society, weapons are becoming more dangerous, toxic, and radioactive. Ever since World War II, we have become increasingly aware of the harmful effects of nuclear weapons. These fatal weapons destroy everything in their path due to their extreme heat. Even when this isn’t intentional, such as the accident at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986, it can lead to the same detrimental results. Radioactive substances cause genetic mutations, disease, and other health defects in plants, animals, and humans, including cancer. Radiation can linger in an area for decades. It spreads through dust particles picked up by wind and water currents, contaminating food and water sources. Fortunately, we are witnessing nature’s resilience even under these circumstances. Three decades after the accident in Chernobyl occurred, plant and animal life returned. Slowly but steadily, nature heals if given time, care, and space to grow.
World peace - for our sake and the planet’s
Long-lasting peace may seem too optimistic, but some communities have negotiated, written treaties, or dealt with disagreements in nonviolent ways. We all have the ability to carry out these practices, but we must first address the root causes of war. Underneath the nuanced and complicated reasonings behind war declarations lie three sentiments: greed, power, and fear. Regardless of the reason for starting a war, such as differences in political ideologies, economic inequalities, or one nation’s desire for more natural resources, these three sentiments influence decision-making processes. Recognizing these as the foundation of all wars allows us to reconsider how we approach national and international disputes.
We can look to transformative justice to reevaluate how conflict is dealt with. By centering accountability, flexibility, intersectionality, and a dedication to abandoning ineffective punitive measures, transformative justice works through trauma and disagreements in a communal setting. It intends to revolutionize the way we work through conflict. This concept usually applies to peer-to-peer altercations, but imagine what it would be like if we utilized it on an institutional scale. If world leaders focused on cooperating rather than overpowering each other, we could see transformative justice exist worldwide. Transformative justice goes beyond reform and seeks the development of entirely new systems that respect all humans and all living things. Focusing on healing and community allows transformative justice to move away from violence and into peace, even during times of hardship. Only when we allow ourselves to imagine what this would look like can we make this a reality. And when we do that, we can minimize war and the resulting environmental damage.
Syrian refugees learn to garden in Jordan, demonstrating the power of healing people and the planet (Source: Green Prophet)
Even when war is officially declared over, ongoing conflict is exactly that - ongoing. We lose loved ones, entire homes and cities, and morale. We all walk away with physical and emotional scars that take lifetimes to heal. War is all-encompassing, and it affects people even if their nation is not an active participant. For the many refugees forced to flee their homes in search of safety, the impacts of war are personal. The fatal consequences of war impact people, wild animals, and the ecosystems we rely on for survival. To avoid the catastrophic aftermath of war, we can work together to prevent war in the first place.