Thursday, October 15, 2009

What War Brings: environmental destruction

Photo: Soldier deposits trash into a fire pit on a military base in Iraq.

WHAT WAR BRINGS: severe destruction of the environment

We have here on Daily Kos a series of almost daily diaries on the environment, called Green Diary Rescue or DK GreenRoots. I have not heard them mention the US military and its impact on the environment – maybe I missed it? Wars and occupations are surely one of the most environmentally destructive actions that humans have ever participated in. And if the US military does not care about the water that the troops drink while at home at Camp Lejuene, you can bet your last dollar that they don’t give a rat’s ass about how they damage our environment.

For starters, the US military is the largest single consumer of energy in the world. Even without dropping a single bomb, or running a single burn pit, or dumping their garbage somewhere, they are already the biggest single consumer of energy in the world.

Index Research: The Pentagon and Oil

Defense Energy Support Center (DESC) sold $13 billion of energy to DoD services in FY2006. More than half of it was to Air Force. Oil accounts for more than three-fourths of DoD's total site delivered energy consumption. In terms of fuel types, jet fuel(JP-8) accounts for more than 50% of total DoD energy consumption, and nearly 60% of its mobility fuel. In 2006 Air Force consumed around 2.6 billion gallons of jet-fuel, which is the same amount of fuel U.S. airplanes consumed during WWII (between December 1941 and August 1945).

Most of the energy is used by vehicles, and about one quarter is used for buildings. Here is the overall consumption just for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The DLA supplied more than 2.8 billion gallons of fuel to Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than 2.2 billion gallons of fuel support to Operation Enduring Freedom as of March 2006. This makes more than 5 billion gallons, or more than 119 million barrels of oil. Today 56 000 barrels of oil per day, with a cost of at least $3 million, is consumed by military in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Of course, not all of it is put into vehicles or used to power buildings. Recently, the Taliban has regularly been blowing up those tankers full of oil before they even reach their destinations.

So, right there, we have a hell of an environmental impact.

This does NOT include the energy needed to PRODUCE all the armaments and hardware that the US military makes, uses and destroys on a regular basis. Nor does it take into account the amount of energy used by the thousands and thousands of contractors, both for their operations, travel and supplies. I did not find any articles on that, but we are surely spending a lot of money, a lot of environment resources, and a lot of energy to produce all the bullets, bombs, protective clothing, hummers, tanks, airplanes, bombers, grenades, drones, night vision goggles, helmets, boots, guns, and god only knows what else, that the US military and it’s contractors use up.

I suppose the above amounts of oil quoted do reflect what it takes to get food and water to our 700 bases around the world. Somehow, I don’t think they are ‘buying local’.

The negative environmental impact starts before any of that equipment, or one soldier or Marine, even leaves the country.

And then there is the damage done to the environment from bombs and other munitions. The total cost is not calculable in a single blog post. I figure it would not fit in a book either. It would take an entire library – a large one – to document the total impact of the vicious fighting that goes on during a war or occupation. Think of all the bombs dropped, the car bombs that exploded, the cluster bombs, the heavy duty bullets, the drone bombings, and all the other armaments that were used in the fighting. Even if they never hit a single human (but they did), it would leave a hell of mess in its wake. Buildings, vehicles, anything and everything just trashed, and certainly not trashed in an environmentally safe way. All vegetation in the vicinity destroyed and contaminated. Unknown amounts of toxic materials just spread all over the place in tiny little pieces.

Here is an example, from June 2009.

Turkish bombs burn large tracts of Iraqi forest

More than 125 hectares (300 acres) of forest in northern Iraq have been burnt in the past month due to Turkish bombardment, a senior official in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan said on Sunday. The official told AFP that an emergency team of firemen and border and forest guards had been formed to extinguish the fires in the Kurdish province of Dohuk.

This is just one example of one area of bombing. Nearly the whole of the country has been bombed at one point or another. For the most part, they did not start forest fires; they started fires in buildings, probably mostly homes.

And off course, bombs and munitions kill off wildlife along with people. Here is a link to a Daily Kos diary about the snow leopards from Afghanistan.

And, both the US administration and Iraq administration intends to keep on damaging the environment with bombs and munitions. This report is from August 2008.

US surges $11 billion in arms sales to Iraq

The sale not only carries implications for the balance of power in the region, but also raises important questions about oversight, accountability, and transparency in a country riddled with internal violence.

I guess it did not raise questions about the impact on the environment. No one seems to think of that. But it is not just Iraq that we sell weapons and military supplies to. From the same article:

The United States is already the unparalleled leader in arms sales agreements to the Middle East. As a March 2008 analysis by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation detailed, the United States was responsible for 56% of all arms sales agreements with Middle Eastern countries from 1999 to 2006. This was nearly five times greater than Russia's share, the second highest supplier, and over eighteen times greater than China's. Blocking Russia and China's influence in Middle Eastern arms markets is considered an important foreign policy goal by many U.S. defense officials.

I guess it is more sporting to arm our current and future enemies, but I fail to understand why the American people want to pay for this.

The impacts of occupation are far-reaching in regards to environmental impact. The report below is from July 2009.

Iraq now a farming basket case

Iraq's agriculture faces the same problems as farmers everywhere: drought (in its fifth year), bugs, disease, salty water, red tape. Those problems are exacerbated, however, by location and history. Eight years of war with Iran, defeat in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, then 12 years of sanctions and, most recently, six years of war and U.S.-led occupation have left the country's agricultural sector in shambles.

Again from July 2009.

Iraq in throes of environmental catastrophe, experts say

Now-frequent dust storms are just one sign of the man-made damage that has taken the country from Middle East breadbasket to dust bowl, they say.

……….Iraq is in the throes of what some officials are calling an environmental catastrophe, and the increased frequency of dust storms is only the most visible manifestation. Decades of war and mismanagement, compounded by two years of drought, are wreaking havoc on Iraq's ecosystem, drying up riverbeds and marshes, turning arable land into desert, killing trees and plants, and generally transforming what was once the region's most fertile area into a wasteland. Falling agricultural production means that Iraq, once a food exporter, will this year have to import nearly 80% of its food.

They claim that even the slightest wind whips up a pall of dust that lingers for days. The Iraqi Agriculture Ministry estimates that 90% of the land is either desert or has severe desertification. And what usable land that is left is being eroded. One thing that has been blamed for this helping cause this condition is US tank movements. That fact has not been established, but the following facts have contributed to the desertification of Iraq:

- farmers till marginal lands, at the encouragement of the Iraqi government, and then abandon them

- people chop down trees for firewood, since they don’t have electricity for heat

- lack of power also means that water is not pumped to formerly irrigated fields

- power stations have been forced to shut down due to low water levels in the rivers

- drought is in it’s fifth year – this cause can not be blamed on war or occupation or corruption

- Turkey, Syria, and Iran have built dams that curtail the river’s flow – and they have gotten away with it, due to the chaos and corruption, due to the occupation

One commentator at this report wondered how much of that dust is contaminated with DU. One thing we do know: there is radioactive waste all over the place in Iraq. This report is from August 2009.

Radioactive wreckage, landmines blight Iraq

RADIOACTIVE wreckage and tens of millions of landmines still blight Iraq after decades of war and the deadly violence that engulfed the nation after the 2003 invasion, the environment minister says. Narmin Othman Hasan said a lack of funding and Iraq's fragile security situation was hampering efforts to clean up contaminated sites across the country. She said that only a fraction of tanks and other wartime vehicles contaminated with depleted uranium have been successfully treated and disposed of by the Iraqi authorities. "We have only found 80 per cent (of the contaminated sites)... because of the (lack of) security there are still some areas we can't reach," she estimated.

Of course, they have poisons still lying around from prior wars also in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. The above article goes on to discuss the possible health effects of depleted uranium, but says that the impact is still disputed. It also says that reports of negative health effects of DU are causing panic in the Iraqi population. DU was not only on bullets and bombs, but is also on tanks. The report also talks about landmines – how civilian contractors were paid to clean these up, but were suspected of selling the munitions to the insurgents. There are an estimated 25 million landmines in Iraq. This is a problem in Afghanistan too.

There was a recent report on the extreme rise in cancer rates in Iraq.

Iraqi cancer figures soar

Doctors in Iraq are recording a sharp rise in the number of cancer victims south of Baghdad. Sufferers in the province of Babil have risen almost tenfold in just three years. Locals blame depleted uranium from US military equipment used in the 2003 invasion. Some 500 cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2004 alone. That figure rose to almost 1,000 two years later. In 2008, the number of cases increased sevenfold to 7,000 diagnoses. This year, there have so far been more than 9,000 new cases, and the number is rising. Mosab Jasim reports that Iraqi researchers believe radiation is responsible for the increase in cancer and birth defects in the country, but he says the US and British militaries have sent mixed signals about the effects of depleted uranium.

There is a video report from Al Jazeera below under the first comment. And here is another report from October 2009.

IRAQ: War remnants, pollution behind rise in cancer deaths?

Remnants from Iraq's three recent wars - the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the Gulf War in 1991 and the US-led invasion in 2003 - coupled with the absence of adequate government controls on emissions and industrial effluent, have turned Iraq into one of the world's most contaminated countries, say officials.

…… She said her ministry had identified military vehicles and tanks contaminated with radioactive materials dating back to the wars of 1991 and 2003, but no action had been taken to get rid of them.

…..DU is a heavy metal and a by-product of the uranium enrichment process. It can enter the human body by inhalation, eating contaminated food, eating with contaminated hands or by exposing an open wound to contaminated dust or debris, according to Rahim Hani Nasih, a doctor in Mosul. It can also contaminate soil and water, and coat buildings with radioactive dust. Wind and sandstorms spread the contamination, leading to diseases, including cancer, Nasih said.

So, we don’t know (for sure) how much depleted uranium will impact the health of current and future residents of the area, but we do know something about Agent Orange and it’s history.

Agent Orange continues to poison Vietnam

From 1961 to 1971, the US military sprayed Vietnam with Agent Orange, which contained large quantities of Dioxin, in order to defoliate the trees for military objectives. Dioxin is one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen (causes cancer) and by the American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects). Between 2.5 and 4.8 million people were exposed to Agent Orange. The spraying covered 1.4 billion hectares of land and forest - approximately 12 percent of the land area of Vietnam.

Yes, we really did a number on the environment there – and along the way, did huge evil to the people who lived on the land.

A plea was made in a Daily Kos diary to help the people impacted by this massive destruction of the environment.

Well, let’s see – we covered the hugely negative environmental impact of all the energy used just to start up a war and occupation, and then we covered the environmental impact of all the munitions on the environment – both in blowing shit up and the possible after effects of the munitions, like DU. Is that all?

Oh, not by a long shot.

Our little contractors out there in the middle of our occupations not only did shoddy wiring that electrocuted our troops, they also exposed them to lots of toxic substances. This clearly impacted on them – but also surely had an impact on the environment, and on the local people living in the area. This is a report from October 2009.

20 WV Guard members sue KBR over exposure

Two subsidiaries of KBR Inc. are being sued by 30 members of the West Virginia National Guard who claim they were exposed to a toxic chemical while guarding a water plant in Iraq. The members of the Moundsville-based 1092nd Engineer Battalion filed the lawsuit Monday in Marshall County Circuit Court against Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc., and KBR Technical Services, Inc. According to the lawsuit, the guardsmen guarded the water plant while KBR contractors repaired the facility in 2003. The lawsuit claims the guardsmen weren't told that they were being exposed to sodium dichromate, a chemical linked to cancer and other illnesses.

And then there are the burn pits. This is where the military gets rid of its garbage, and does not pay any attention to whether it is toxic garbage or not. They just burn it. This environmental assault is impacting our troops. It is clearly also impacting on the environment and the local people who live around the burn pits.

NH congresswomen: snuff burn pits

According to a statement from Shea-Porter and Bishop, the Department of Defense has dismissed any long-term health risks posed by the pits, but the representatives believe that hundreds of tons of war-zone waste -- including dioxin, benzene and other carcinogens -- are leading to serious health problems among veterans. They cited a waste pit at the 15-square-mile Joint Base Balad in Iraq has burned unexploded ordnance, petroleum products, plastics, rubber, paint and solvents, and medical waste, including amputated limbs, according to a 2006 memo from a top U.S. military official. This wouldn't be the first time that something the defense department thought safe proved harmful -- a la Agent Orange.

I’m not buying the idea that the US Department of Defense thought burning this stuff was “safe”. I think the reasonable explanation is they didn’t give a shit.

What I presented above is just a small sampling of the environmental impact of wars and occupation. The vast destruction of the munitions and the energy used to produce them, the chaos leading to wasteful and environmental destructive practices, the corruption of puppet governments, the lack of any enforcement of environmental regulations, the waste, the waste, the waste….. the list of the contributors to the environmental destruction is enormous.

Fight climate change by ending war

War devastates ecosystems with radiation, wasteful burning of oil and destructive use of resources that are needed for positive social purposes. Saunders explains: “Here’s the awful truth: even if every person, every automobile, and every factory suddenly emitted zero emissions, the Earth would still be headed head first and full speed towards total disaster for one major reason. The military…produces enough greenhouse gases, by itself, to place the entire globe, with all of it’s inhabitants large and small, in the most imminent danger of extinction.”

Is it really that bad? Are we in danger of extinction? I don’t know. But I do know it is bad.

Here is a quote that sums it all up:

“We hear war called murder. It is not: it is suicide.” - Ramsay MacDonald, British prime minister 1931-1935

Yes, it is suicide to our home, our planet, to allow this to continue. And I didn’t even mention what the use of nuclear weapons might do, if we were to use them in a future war. Maybe nuclear winter will overcome the effects of global warming? Well, probably not.

Given the immensity of pollution caused by war, peace may be the only solution to global warming. – Andrea Peloso

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: severe destruction of the environment.

Iraqi cancer figures soar – October 2009

You can bomb the world to pieces……

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