Damage Plan | General News & Politics | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Damage Plan 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:56 pm

Page 3 of 6

How realistic is that? Both before and during this last buildup to war in Iraq, the anti-sanctions community made quite clear the argument that depleted uranium (DU) leftover from the First Gulf  War was responsible for a cancer cluster in Basra that produced horrible birth defects and premature deaths. The head of an Iraqi environmental organization who grew up in the Basra region agrees there could be some DU in the area. But he cautions that we also have to look to the environment where unchecked pollution from factory emissions and raw sewage freely flowing into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was coupled with the purposeful drying of the marshes by Saddam Hussein. People bathed and drank from stagnant pools containing this toxic mix, which could very well be the true cause of the cancer cluster. This news does not sit well with the agenda of the anti-war movement that continues to use the DU issue to support their actions, which does nothing to truly help the very people they claim they want to help. So how realistic is collaborative effort between environmentalists and the anti-war community?
I fully agree. That’s why I said at the beginning that people specialize and become anti-war, or pro-women and children, or whatever pro- or anti- you can be. And to some degree that makes sense because we all have limited time, energy, financial resources, and intellectual capabilities to become knowledgeable in one area or another. But there are dangers in specialization in that you focus on one end but maybe overlook important things in other issue areas. It would be good to collaborate. I am one of the few who has investigated two areas at the same time. As a scholar, all I can do is put my findings forward to the readers and hope they become inspired.

You talk about the size of wars using the terms “big wars” and “small wars.” How does the size of a war effect the environment?
We don’t know. Given the limited evidence—there is only a very small number of wars that can be studied from a scientific perspective—it appears that the so-called “big wars” such as the Persian Gulf War or the Vietnam War have had a relatively limited effect. We do not study all of the effects that these wars could have had, so there is quite possibly a big misperception here. A “big” war can appear to have only a “small” effect because we study only one or another of the potential environmental impacts. On the other hand, what we call “small” wars, such as civil wars, often are in fact very big wars, although they may not be very big in the eyes of the international media. The war in Southern Sudan went on for decades and no one in the West even noticed. The only war we noticed in the Sudan was the Darfur War. But the war in Southern Sudan was “big” on the ground yet “small” in the media. The terms big and small are perceptional. So-called “small wars” or unattended wars may in fact have very large effects, in large part because of the refugee flows they generate. And so-called “big wars” may have generated small environmental effects, perhaps merely because we don’t study all of their potential effects.

A war occurs. Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced across the border into another country or countries. You state that a lot of research has looked into adverse effects—depletion of resources, increases in pollution, and so forth—that displaced populations have on the environment they move into. Yet no research gets done on the region they have left. Is such research important? Why?
From a purely logical point of view, if refugees are driven out of Place A and into Place B, research done in Place B, where there may be some environmental or ecological damage done, needs to be complemented by research in Place A, where the people are coming from. If you eliminate human habitation in Place A, logically speaking, non-human life should be able to recover there. So, on a purely logical scientific basis, if people move from A to B, we should study not only what happens in B, but also what happens in A, because whatever losses there are due to the refugee influx in Place B, might be compensated for in Place A, where the refugees are coming from. I know this sounds harsh because people are highly concerned about what happens to the refugees. I acknowledge that and fully sympathize. But from an ecological point of view, if you take humans out of the equation and ask, “What happens to the remainder of nature—non-human nature?” surely you would want to know what happens in the places the refugees leave. Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever looked into these areas.

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