Green Christians     Issue 51: Spring 2003

Green Christians is the main publication of Christian Ecology Link and exists to debate environmental matters in a Christian context. Please feel free to contribute articles, opinions and letters to the Editor .
    To obtain a copy of this issue see the end of this page.


The environmental costs of going to war are often underestimated. Some environmentalists find it tempting to take a strict view of their subject: many pressure groups centre around single issues. Yet, as Christians and as ecologists, we can ignore neither the wider humanitarian picture, nor the moral dilemmas of life, and nowhere are these more poignant than in matters of war.

In this issue we see that in war, environmental damage and human suffering are intertwined. Bruce Kent (p. 4) sets out some of the environmental consequences of war, while Margot Hutchison (p. 6) argues that civilians are usually left out of the equation when a decision to go to war is made. Civilians are the first to suffer when roads and bridges are bombed and infrastructure demolished, and the poorest, who cannot afford to escape, suffer most. The destruction of crops, the spilling and burning of oil when wells are bombed or sabotaged, the chemical pollution that occurs when an industrial plant is damaged: all these add to the environmental, and humanitarian, cost. More insidious and long-term are the radiological 'hot spots' left by uranium-tipped missiles, thought to cause birth defects and leukaemia. And this is without mentioning the waste of materials and oil in the production and transport of weapons.

The attack on the World Trade Center brought a new sense of insecurity to those of us who thought ourselves safe. Yet most of us refuse to examine our own consciences for signs that we may be part of the problem, and this, together with the indiscriminate damage caused by some of our weapons, makes it hard to retain the moral high ground in our dealings with those we call terrorists. The 'war on terror' in Afghanistan slid smoothely aside and the spotlight moved to Iraq, where a war has just been fought and won. How have we come to accept war, not as a last resort, but as a legitimate tool for solving our global difficulties?

War has changed in the last fifty years: our present ability to fight it at long range distances us from its effects. We are therefore all the more dependent on media reports for a 'true' picture. However, some journalists recently described the heavy censorship to which they and their photographers were subjected during the first Gulf War (1) by their own governments. Journalist Maggie O'Kane wrote, 'We have been so protected from its [war's] pain and horror by the impenetrable wall of censorship and euphemism... that it was allowed to prevail as a means of conducting human affairs' (2).

However, people protested loudly even before the war started, so it appears that the message of the awfulness of war has been brought home to us. But that is not the only thing to come home: refugees, in a massive and destabilising migration away from their homelands, are knocking on our doors in Britain. It can surely be no coincidence that the UK has recently registered its highest ever number of asylum applicants in the past year - and that the majority of these came from Iraq.

(1) Don McCullin, The Guardian, 14th February 2003.
(2) The Guardian, 14th February 2003.

Further reading: Writing in the Dust, Rowan Williams, Hodder & Stoughton, 2002.

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