Fight climate change by ending war

By Andrea Peloso

Given the immensity of pollution caused by war, peace may be the only solution to global warming.

Few ecologists appear to acknowledge the impact of war on our ecological crisis, and few peace activists discuss the ecological consequences of war. However, Barry Saunders, in his book The Green Zone, states his view that as the crisis of imperialist war continues to threaten the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond it is in fact turning every being in the world into collateral damage by the sheer scope of the environmental impact it is having. Never have the peace and ecology movements had so much in common.

War devastates ecosystems with radiation, wasteful burning of oil and destructive use of resources that are needed for positive social purposes. Saunders explains:

“Here’s the awful truth: even if every person, every automobile, and every factory suddenly emitted zero emissions, the Earth would still be headed head first and full speed towards total disaster for one major reason.  The military…produces enough greenhouse gases, by itself, to place the entire globe, with all of it’s inhabitants large and small, in the most imminent danger of extinction.”

Does this mean that what ecologists and environmental activists are currently focusing on is meaningless? Not if we consider that our current system of consumption and economy is also related to war. The choices of North American citizens and governments affect the entire world.

Peace activists and ecologists have both known since the inception of the Iraq War that it is a war about oil, a war to continue the North American consumption and economic model as is — an impossible illusion as oil is non-renewable and running out. Rex Weyler, founding Greenpeace member and ecologist, says, “Global warming is a symptom of human overshoot: the consumption and waste that exceeds the biophysical capacity of the Earth. If we attempt to reduce the fever, but ignore the disease, we will, at best, extend the suffering.”

The same thing could be said about war: war is a symptom of the consumption and waste that exceeds the biophysical capacity of the earth, and its people. War is a tool to maintain the current economic model of consumption for the powers that be for as long as possible.

When considering the facts about oil consumption, and carbon emissions, Saunders notes:

“The United States leads the world in oil consumption, using approximately 20.6 million barrels of oil daily…(“Americans use more oil for their motor vehicles than the total combined amounts used by Russia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France.”)…while the United States represents about five percent of the world population — about 330 million people — it consumes a quarter of the world’s oil…If the military used fuel in the same proportion as the entire civilian population in the United States, then we could expect it to consume about 100, 000 barrels of oil per day.  We know it consumes at least something in the order of ten times that figure.”

The sooner that wars in Afghanistan and Iraq end, the less global warming will impact on future generations. Our media and politicians treat the consequences of war as localized, affecting perhaps the troops and civilians in the general area. But the devastation of war remains global. The land of Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly polluted and all people, worldwide, will pay for the consequences of the emissions expended in war.

As peace activists, we must educate ourselves about ecology. Ecologists need to learn about the impact of war.  Together, only together, we can face the sheer immensity of the challenges before us.  We have the opportunity to double our effectiveness by supporting one another in solidarity. Any movement sincerely concerned with solving the challenges of war and ecological destruction must merge the two challenges of peace and ecology

Andrea Peloso lives in Toronto and coordinates Code Pink Toronto. This article first appeared on, October 6, 2009