Environment and War Week at Stanford

by the Environmental Justice subgroup, Students for a Sustainable Stanford

Many people at Stanford can probably agree that war often leads to terrible consequences.  We tend to think of the horrors faced by soldiers in the battlefield, the tragic civilian casualties, the resulting political strife, and the great economic cost.  However, it has become increasingly evident that war also takes an enormous toll on the environment, an issue often overlooked in discussions of militarism and conflict.  That is why the Environmental Justice subgroup of Students for a Sustainable Stanford has partnered with Stanford Says No to War to put on Environment and War Week.  Through our events this week, we hope to raise awareness about the ways in which the environment is linked to conflict, and to educate Stanford students about the enormous environmental destruction that results from modern warfare.

As the film Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives explains:  “In all its stages, from the production of weapons through combat to cleanup and restoration, war entails actions that pollute land, air, and water, destroy biodiversity, and drain natural resources. Yet the environmental damage occasioned by war and preparation for war is routinely underestimated, underreported, even ignored. The environment remains war’s ‘silent casualty.’”

The examples of war’s impact on the environment are numerous.  Use of chemical warfare is still impacting ecosystems in Vietnam.  Landmines leftover from Cold War conflicts still plague Latin America, posing a risk to people and wildlife.  Resources are often directly attacked as part of warfare:  forests and crops are burned, wells are polluted, and wildlife is killed.  These acts of environmental destruction have effects long past the time of conflict, and are potentially devastating to ecosystems and the people who depend on them.

War also harms the environment in less-direct manners.  The densely populated displacement camps that often result from violent conflict place undue stress on the local biosphere, leading to deforestation and further environmental degradation.  In addition, the entire process of war burns an enormous amount of fossil fuels, contributing to global climate change.  As we continue to destroy the Earth with our warfare, we also create a greater risk of violent conflict over ever-scarcer natural resources.

This week, beginning with a screening of Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives, the student groups and individuals involved with the planning of this series hope to call attention to these ‘silent casualties of war.’ Long after wars end, the environmental consequences continue to take a tragic toll, but it’s a consequence many of us are unaware of. We hope you’ll join us in watching the film 7pm Tuesday evening at Bechtel International Center, learning more about the issues in White Plaza on Weds. from 11-1:30, and hearing from Barry Sanders, author of The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism at 7pm on Thursday in Tresidder Oak.

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