How War Impacts Climate Change and the Environment

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused catastrophic loss of life, widespread displacement, and a growing global food crisis. The conflict has also extensively harmed Ukraine’s natural environment, highlighting the many ways in which war devastates biodiversity and contributes to the climate crisis. 

With each additional day of warfare, Ukraine’s ability to recover its vibrant society and environment wanes, and its capacity for transitioning to an economy that excludes fossil fuels shrinks. 

War also inevitably entails destruction, resulting in widespread toxic substances, dead wildlife, and an atmosphere choked with fumes. 

How War Impacts the Climate Crisis and the Environment

  • Militaries consume enormous amounts of fossil fuels, which contributes directly to global warming. If the US military were a country, for example, it would have the 47th highest emissions total worldwide. 
  • Bombings and other methods of modern warfare directly harm wildlife and biodiversity. The collateral damage of conflict can kill up to 90% of large animals in an area. 
  • Pollution from war contaminates bodies of water, soil, and air, making areas unsafe for people to inhabit. 

As countries worldwide give more money to their militaries, fossil fuel use rises both with and without conflict. And while simply maintaining a military contributes to climate change, active warfare maximizes this potential. 

The US and allied forces, for example, have fired more than 337,000 bombs and missiles on other countries over the past 20 years, according to Salon. The jets carrying those weapons can burn through 4.28 gallons of gasoline per mile, with each detonation releasing additional greenhouse gas emissions, and destroying natural carbon sinks like soil, vegetation, and trees. 

If the US military were itself a country, it would have the 47th highest emissions total worldwide, greater than the countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Portugal overall. 

War Causes Pollution

The environmental impact of war is far more immediate than greenhouse gases warming the atmosphere.

Pollution, in particular, is immediately felt by people stuck in conflict zones who have to contend with unsafe air, water, and soil.

People in Afghanistan, in addition to the nonstop pollution caused by bombs, have been exposed to open-air burn pits used by the army to dispose of waste. The resulting fumes from these pits have led to increases in cancer rates for both veterans and locals. 

Waste management in general tends to collapse during conflict, and it’s not uncommon for households to burn household trash and dump human waste in bodies of water and unlined holes.

Warfare in urban areas, like what’s happening in Ukraine right now, causes extensive damage to buildings, roads, and infrastructure, which can fill the air with debris and rubble, making it much harder to breathe. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also featured attacks on facilities that process dangerous chemicals such as ammonia, which has threatened the safety of nearby communities. 

In Yemen, Saudi Arabia has continuously bombed infrastructure like desalination plants, dams, and reservoirs, depriving communities of easy access to water. 

War Destroys Wildlife and Biodiversity

It’s never been calculated how much wildlife is lost to war — the animals killed, the plant life incinerated, the endless biodiversity erased. 

But some of the approximations are mind-blowing. The number of large animals present in an area can decline by up to 90% during human conflict, and even a single year of warfare causes long-term wildlife loss, according to a study published in Nature.  

Another study found that the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique lost 95% of its biodiversity after a long civil war. 

During the Vietnam War, more than 5 million acres of forest and 500,000 acres of farmland were destroyed.

Lush marshlands in Iraq were reduced to 10% of their historic size after former President Saddam Hussein ordered major rivers stopped to squash an uprising. Afghanistan has lost nearly 95% of its forest cover in recent decades. 

And years after a war, landmines can continue to explode and kill wildlife

Conservationists have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to war to prevent the demise of ecosystems that are essential to our collective well-being, whether it’s forests, grasslands, or bodies of water. Other advocates of peace note that environmental destruction becomes fuel for more war, as it deprives people and community of essential resources and ways of life. 

The climate crisis itself has been labeled a threat to global security, but ending war and securing peace is the surest way to protect both ourselves and the planet. 

This post is an excerpt from an article published in Global Citizen. For the full article you can visit : https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/how-war-impacts-the-environment-and-climate-change/

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