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The Impacts of Modern Weapons On The Environment


War - an unfortunate necessary evil that has paved the way for peace throughout the world’s history. The recklessness and extreme nature of a conflict causes the suffering of human life and society, but war also has deadly impacts on the environment and other living organisms besides humans. Every war has a different influence on the environment due to factors such as the method of warfare, the magnitude and duration, the resources that are used and destroyed to name a few. Even if we ignore the who, what, whens and wheres of war, the hows of modern clashes resolutely shape the damage on the environment, and if these methods don’t change, we could very well see an irreversible state of our environment that will lead to our collective demise much sooner than any war will.

How Do Weapons Threaten the Environment?

SAs the world industrializes, weaponry and warfare techniques keep up with the changing times, and with the introduction of biological, nuclear and chemical warfare, the potential for environmental destruction is off the charts. Aside from their implementation, the production, transport, and testing of this advanced weaponry can permanently wipe out ecosystems. Since the end of the Second World War, there have been more than 2,000 nuclear tests alone. Atmospheric nuclear weapons testing involved the release of considerable amounts of radioactive materials directly into the environment and caused the largest collective dose from man-made sources of radiation. Even underwater testing contaminates vast areas of ocean and fish-bearing waters. A particular pathology is ciguatera, a highly toxic disease induced by eating fish that become poisoned by the disturbance of the ecological balance after coral reefs have been shattered by explosions. Epidemiological data for 1960-1984 showed a ten-fold increase in the disease in the Polynesian archipelago. Furthermore, the use of biological warfare aimed at animals and other living organisms in order to disrupt the opponent’s terrain has grave ecological consequences. For example, the large-scale use of herbicides as a method of warfare is having devastating effects on the environment. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military used more than 20 million gallons of herbicides to defoliate forests, clear growth along the borders of military sites and eliminate enemy crops. Even though the United States gained a critical advantage over the Vietnamese, this act of warfare left the vegetation in the area barren, and even today miles of mudflats remain in the area. Biological warfare was also used during WWI and WWII by both sides who fought in order to gain the upper hand against the enemy, specifically by destroying the livestock. During World War I, German saboteurs used anthrax and glanders to sicken cavalry horses in the U.S. and France, sheep in Romania, and livestock in Argentina. During World War II, the U.S. and Canada secretly investigated the use of rinderpest, a highly lethal disease of cattle, as a bioweapon. The purpose of these bioweapons was to take away the animals that could be rationed during war as food or used in battle as cavalry. However, the immediate effect took place on the environment, as not only did the populations of these animals drop immensely, but as we know, everything in an ecosystem is interconnected like a web, so entire ecosystems were disrupted as humans desperately took more animals out of their habitats to replace the ones they were losing. Diseases created by these weapons also spread to other populations in the ecosystems of the attacked animals. Lastly, the infamous use of chemical weapons is often the symbol of newly developed weaponry that people recognize as being potentially harmful, but its effects are often understated. Chemical weapons can be dispersed in gas, liquid, and solid forms, and a major use of chemical weapons that goes unnoticed is the water pollution that it can cause from all 3 forms. Experts estimate today that there are more than 1 million metric tons of chemical weapons lying on the seafloor that are there because of chemical weapon usage. They caused the crops and soil to be contaminated by toxins that got into wells and bodies of water, which contaminated them for decades. Contrary to popular belief, chemical weapons were not only used in WWI, and are even being used by countries like Syria in today’s age. Every powerful country like the U.S., Russia, and Great Britain, all have thousands of tons of chemical weapons and research is being done to find even newer methods of creating these horrible armaments. Chemical weapons need to seriously be contained and limited in order to prevent further contamination of water, food, and organisms that contract the intended affliction. Countries worldwide need to come together and agree to safely dispose of all weaponry that causes environmental harm, and immediately halt any further research or creation of these types of weaponry, or else we could see critical devastation to the earth’s ecosystems.

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