It seems like the human way. Once again, we're at war. Earlier in this century, it was the disastrous U.S. global war on (or, more accurately, of) terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East and Africa; if you're Saudi Arabia, it's still Yemen as attacks there only rev up, largely unnoticed by the rest of the world; and for all of us today, it's Ukraine. So, give Vladimir Putin credit. With one disastrous invasion of a neighboring country, he's brought to the fore the possibility of chemical, biological, or god save us nuclear war, while creating a staggering refugee crisis that can't be ignored in Europe the way the previous ones from the global war on terror and the Syrian nightmare largely were. And as TomDispatch regular Andrea Mazzarino reminds us today, in his own way, the Russian president has brought to the fore another crisis as well, another kind of war. I'm thinking, of course, about the carbonized war that humanity continues to wage so ceaselessly against this planet.
In a single terrible act, he's taken the worst imaginable set of challenges to our very existence on this planet, rolled them up in a ball, and presented them to us, even as he ensures that we continue to blast ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By now, it should be clear enough that, in this century, war has both distracted us from the deeper climate crisis on this planet and helped, as Mazzarino suggests all too vividly today, to compound it, military conflict being a distinctly carbonized event of the first order.
The saddest thing of all is that, until the invasion of Ukraine brought war close to the heart of Europe and NATO, the attention given to the subject in this country has been less than striking in this century. (Note, for instance, how, unlike Ukraine, the ongoing disaster in Yemen is barely covered in our news.) That's why the organization that Mazzarino co-founded years ago, the Costs of War Project, should be considered a small miracle on this increasingly desperate planet of ours. After all, it focused in a laser-like way on the devastation caused by the American war on terror more than 900,000 dead, including almost 400,000 civilians; at least 38 million displaced; and $8 trillion squandered or still to be squandered on it by this country, despite our domestic needs. On this environmentally embattled planet of ours, war couldn't be more of a disaster, as Mazzarino makes all too clear today. Tom
The Costs of (Another) War
When We Could Be Fighting Climate Change
What do a six-year-old in the United States and an 85-year-old in Russia have in common besides being on opposite sides of a war?
They're both feeling the strain of a warming planet.
"Is the earth going to get so hot that we can't survive?" my young son asked me last summer as we plodded through the woods behind our Maryland home. I wasn't certain, I replied hesitantly. (Not exactly the most reassuring answer from a mother to a question I ask myself every day.) We had just left my younger child at home, because she started wheezing when she stepped into that already more than 100-degree July morning.
A few summers earlier, during a visit to a town about 4,500 miles away near St. Petersburg, Russia, an elderly friend of mine said to me, "When did it become so hot?" Like my daughter, she was breathing hard and continually glancing back toward her doorway.
Since the 1990s, as an anthropologist of human rights and war, I've traveled to Russia. I was then visiting the farm where my friend grew crops to add to the food she purchased with a government stipend she got as a survivor of the Nazis' siege of her city during World War II. She gestured towards the apples in her orchard and shook her head. Canned each fall, they provided part of her diet, but fewer of them seemed to be growing each year. Would she die of hunger and heat, I wondered, after surviving a war?
Usually, when I brought up my worries about our warming climate, she would just joke. "We could use a little global warming in Russia," she would say and gesture at the icicle-laced landscape around her wooden home. I often heard some version of that satirical refrain in cities across Russia where, in winter, the air can grow so cold it stings your lungs.
On that last visit of mine, however, it was clear that both the frost and the heat were becoming ever more severe and unpredictable. Among acquaintances and activist colleagues alike, I found a growing awareness of environmental issues like deforestation and water pollution. But they were careful in what they said, since Russian nongovernmental organizations regularly faced threats and even politically motivated charges that could force them to close.
Still, across Russia, I had also seen examples of local authorities listening to such activists and sometimes making small changes like halting logging projects to protect a community's food supplies or stopping construction that's polluting local wells. And increasingly, climate change was growing harder even for Russia's autocratic president, Vladimir Putin, to ignore, with Siberia recently all too literally on fire and its melting permafrost creating a "methane time bomb" of greenhouse gases that will help drive heating globally in a potentially disastrous way.
The Environmental Costs of War
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