If there is a group of Americans to whom Iraqis struggling with the health effects of depleted uranium, cluster bombs, white phosphorous, and all the various poisons of war can relate, it might be the mostly black and largely poor residents of Gibsland, in northern Louisiana.
Here's how an op-ed in the New York Times from one resident describes their situation:
"For years, one of the largest employers in that area was the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, about four miles from Minden. The Environmental Protection Agency eventually listed the plant as a Superfund site because for more than 40 years 'untreated explosives-laden wastewater from industrial operations was collected in concrete sumps at each of the various load line areas,' and emptied into '16 one-acre pink water lagoons.'"
And now (from Truthout.org):
"After months of bureaucratic disputes between the Army and state and federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) recently announced an emergency plan to burn 15 million pounds of M6 -- up to 80,000 pounds a day over the course of a year -- on open 'burn trays' at Camp Minden, a disposal process that environmental advocates say is outdated and has been outlawed in other countries. The operation would be one of the largest open munitions burn in U.S. history."
Every once in a while -- around Vieques or Jeju Island or Pagan Island -- environmental organizations find themselves confronting one little corner of the environment's greatest destroyer. While the big environmental groups seem unlikely to confront the institution of war itself until it's too late, we should take these opportunities to encourage them. Because they are taking on the military over this burn. There are plenty of former members of the U.S. military who can tell them about the health impacts of burns abroad, which veterans refer to as "the new Agent Orange." The EPA can fill activists in on who creates the most environmental disasters within the United States. Hint: It starts with mil and rhymes with solitary.
A major motivation behind some wars is the desire to control resources that poison the earth, especially oil and gas. That fact, often disguised, should be faced by those of us concerned over the earth's future. The wars are not to protect us but to endanger us, by the generation of animosity and by the destruction of our planet. The production of the world's largest, most wasteful military ever is not a safety measure in case a good war comes along, but exactly what Eisenhower warned it would be, a generator of wars. The $1 trillion the United States dumps into the war machine each year is needed for urgent environmental protection. And the war preparations spending does not enrich us; it impoverishes us while concentrating wealth away from places like Gibsland. That's a lot of downsides for an institution whose main function is to kill lots of innocent people while stripping away our civil liberties.
But, back to the environmental downside. And oil. Oil can be leaked or burned off, as in the Gulf War, but primarily it is put to use in all kinds of machines polluting the earth's atmosphere, placing us all at risk. Some associate the consumption of oil with the supposed glory and heroism of war, so that renewable energies that do not risk global catastrophe are viewed as cowardly and unpatriotic ways to fuel our machines. The interplay of war with oil goes beyond that, however. The wars themselves, whether or not fought for oil, consume huge quantities of it. One of the world's top consumer of oil, in fact, is the U.S. military.
The U.S. military burns through about 340,000 barrels of oil each day. If the Pentagon were a country, it would rank 38th out of 196 in oil consumption. There's just no other institution that comes remotely close to the military in this or other types of environmental destruction. (But try to discover that fact at an anti-pipeline march.)
The environment as we know it will not survive nuclear war. It also may not survive "conventional" war, understood to mean the sorts of wars now waged. Intense damage has already been done by wars and by the research, testing, and production done in preparation for wars. Wars in recent years have rendered large areas uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War "rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality," according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School.
Perhaps the most deadly weapons left behind by wars are land mines and cluster bombs. Tens of millions of them are estimated to be lying around on the earth, oblivious to any announcements that peace has been declared. Most of their victims are civilians, a large percentage of them children.
It is wonderful to have organizations now and again challenging particular aspects of the destruction war causes. Below is a letter that every peace and environmental and peace-environmental organization in the world should sign onto:
Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
William Jefferson Clinton Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
Mail Code: 2201A
Washington, DC 20460 Giles-Aa.cynthia@Epa.gov
SENT BY ELECTRONIC MAIL
RE: Proposed Open Burning of M6 Propellants at Camp Minden, Louisiana