States’ Appetite For Wars Bury The Needs Of Nature: Climate Change An Unavoidable Reality – Analysis


States are only part and not the pivot around which nature revolves

When states wage wars against one another, they lapse into a Hobbesian state of nature where selfishness, distrust of others and desire for limitless power blind the state’s actions to larger aspects and horizons of life which are also indispensable for sustainability of humankind not only for now but for generations to come such as Climate needs.

Hans Morganthau was perhaps right in his analysis of International Politics when he asserted states define their interests in terms of power and they always pursue it without a modicum of trust in other states particularly if researchers look at the ongoing protracted wars between Russia and Ukraine and the other between Israel and Hamas amid other civil wars and strifes.

Human beings and the states constituted by them in their striving for power, territories and limitless energy and other economic needs consider as if nature is at their disposal and mercy and they can go on exploiting and vitiating it while forgetting the very fact that they are just part of an environmental and ecological system and not the pivot around which nature revolves.

No War is Existential and Irreconcilable

States involved in wars tend to hide their real intentions (power, egotism, territories and other gains) and define the wars as a struggle for their survival such as Russia has defined the threat it perceives from Ukraine and the latter from the former. Much in a similar fashion, Israel defined its retaliatory actions in the aftermath of attacks launched by Hamas in terms of survival. Hamas apparently pursues objectives that are irreconcilable with those of Israel.

Nevertheless, it must be kept in mind that it was Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu who promoted this group to foster Israeli interests which boomeranged. Israel has already retaliated to Hamas’s attacks disproportionately and now it is redefining its interest keeping other actors such as Iran and Hezbollah in view and which is making the war far more dangerous. Russia and Ukraine also ran their diplomatic channels for a several months following Russian invasion and they also moved closer to negotiating positions but the battlefield gains of Russia, macabre atrocities that Ukraine discovered near Kyiv and in Makariv and massive flow of assistance from the West in favour of Ukraine turned each of them inflexible enough to negotiate.

If these were existential wars, there could be no debate about larger aspects of human lives. However, this is not the fact and all the wars can be brought to a grinding halt if not resolved through diplomatic channels and negotiation if larger aspects of human lives are kept in perspective. Attempts to find solutions to wars through diplomatic means have been a whack-a-mole strategy for the parties to wars just to showcase the other as an unpredictable actor and not susceptible to diplomatic channels.

Wars and Ecological Devastation

Increasing levels of heat in temperature (heatwaves experienced in the Tropical regions), earthquakes, cyclones, droughts, loss of biodiversity, landslides and rise of sea-levels are directly linked to green house gas emissions caused by human activities and loss of biodiversity which could have absorbed such gases at their sources such as trees. While the states are committing themselves to reducing green house gas emissions and transitioning to carbon-free renewable energy resources at the international level, they are trying to achieve these goals by reorienting and reorganizing lives of civilians glossing over the fact that their military activities also emit such gases to such an extent that accumulated carbon emissions from civilian lives become negligible compared to it.

According to credible sources, while the world’s militaries apart from their emissions during the wars account for 6% of all greenhouse gas emissions, many governments do not even report data on emissions from military activities. According to a report of Watson Institute at Brown University, the US led “War on Terror” released 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which has more of a warming effect on the planet than the annual emissions of 257 million cars. Some scholars go on to argue that during wars such as the one between Russia and Ukraine extreme levels of ecological crimes are committed conceptualised as ‘ecocide’ including attacks on industrial facilities that contaminate groundwater supplies and airways and the deliberate bombing of wildlife refuges and other important ecosystems.

The report titled ‘Climate Damage Caused by Russia’s War in Ukraine’ has provided crucial information as regards the ecological devastation caused by the war in its first year beginning from February 2022 based on data collected from multiple sources, including satellites, scientific papers, expert interviews, industry reports and open-source intelligence. As per the report the war by the completion of just one year had caused a total of 120 million metric tons of planet-heating pollution which is equivalent to the annual emissions of Belgium. Wars generate planet-heating pollution through fuel used for tanks, planes and other equipment, construction of fortifications, production and use of weapons and explosives, fires and destruction.

Urban warfare in Ukraine caused extensive damage to buildings, roads, and infrastructure including energy and chemical processing industries leading to air pollution and realising of particles and dangerous substance which impinged on the lives, health and respiratory systems of civilians. It has been also reported that the Russian attacks on facilities that process dangerous chemicals in Ukraine such as ammonia threatened the safety of civilians residing in nearby areas.On the other side, the methane gas released after the sabotage of the Russian gas pipelines Nord Stream 1 and 2 in September 2022 also caused significant damage to the environment.

While the wars continue to destroy the environmental and ecological systems, the post-reconstruction process and the consequences of wars further significantly damage the systems. For instance, reconstruction would burn vast amounts of materials such as cement and concrete that would cause very high levels of carbon pollution. Particularly, Russian attacks on and destruction of energy infrastructure would significantly enhance planet-heating pollution during reconstruction.

According to the United Nations’ report, the instabilities and anarchy caused by wars can lead to “illegal competition over natural resources including illegal logging, the intentional setting of forest fires to clear land, and the extraction of precious minerals using highly toxic methods”. According to NASA, in the summer of 2023, the average global temperature was 1.2 degrees Celsius higher than the average of the summers between 1951 and 1980.

It has been argued by experts and scientists that to avoid warming above 2 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century, most countries must achieve net-zero global emissions in the coming twenty five years. While only eight countries with low industrial and massive forest base namely Bhutan, Comoros, Gabon, Guyana, Madagascar, Niue, Panama and Suriname have so far achieved the goal of net-zero emissions, it seems to be almost impossible for many countries to reach this stage primarily because of their craving for more military power, insatiated and unlimited industrial needs and desire for quick and unsustainable development.

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra has a PhD in International Relations from the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. He is currently working as a Lecturer in Political Science, S.V.M. Autonomous College, Odisha, India. Previously, he worked as the Programme Coordinator, School of International Studies, Ravenshaw University, Odisha, India. He taught Theories of International Relations and India’s Foreign Policy to MA and M.Phil. students.

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