Institute of Concern
for Public Health
February 20, 2009
A Critical Study into the Military and the Environment
By Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH
ISBN 1-55164 1838
Published in America by Black Rose Books, Toronto Canada, Apr 2001
Published in Europe by The Women’s Press, London England, Nov 2000
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As weaponry and warfare have become more complex and sophisticated, so the long-term effects have become more insidious and deadly. Looking not just at the visible manifestations of damage such as ‘scorched earth’, Rosalie Bertell shows how the space programme, Star Wars research and electromagnetic weapons have destabilised the ecosystem, causing widespread devastation in environmental, economic and social terms. She calls for a new approach to security, rising above the national agendas, to seek global solutions to a global problem.
Dr. Rosalie Bertell’s No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth, published in 1985, was the first book to reveal the dangers of low-level radiation. Since then, she has become an internationally respected activist and lecturer.
Excerpt from the Introduction
I felt the piercing cold and saw the clear blue sky and magnificent sun. It was an unreal experience, this winter day at the top of Beckley Hill in Vermont. I was more used to a winter filled with overcast, cold and dreary days, and had formed a close mental association between sunny and warm.
The sunny cold of Vermont made me think more generally about deceptive appearances and how misleading a “first look” can be. My mother always looked well, even at the age of 95, and this was probably because of the twinkle in her eyes and the fact that her spirit was still fully alive. Some of my friends with cancer could have walked in a beauty pageant and no one would ever have noticed that they were sick. It made me think about the Earth and the delicately balanced natural processes that regulate it. If the Earth were damaged or suffering from some “illness”, would we be able to recognize the problem early on, when it might be possible to reverse the process?
On this Vermont day, the birch trees were stripped of their leaves, standing naked in seasonal repose. But this bareness was normal, natural, and in the spring, the delicate green leaves would appear again to clothe the trees in elegance. The Earth itself has cycles, and our human ancestors have faithfully marked the passing of the seasons and the weather for some 150 years. However, our knowledge of how these cycles function and how they interact is, as yet, incomplete. We do not know how resilient the Earth is, nor can we gauge its capacity to heal itself.
On a clear cold day, the Earth looks wonderful, the air feels refreshing and it can be hard to believe the warnings that we have seriously compromised its health. Yet, since the United Nations Conference on the Environment in 1972, it has become obvious that the Earth faces serious problems: trees dying, species becoming extinct, contamination and depletion of drinking water, soil erosion, deforestation, smog, reduction of fish stocks, poverty and overcrowding. More recently, the incidence of violent weather has been increasing at an alarming rate and there is evidence that many so-called “natural” disasters are linked to human activities. All of our attempts to restore the health of the planet by changing our lifestyle, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, “reusing, recycling and reducing” seem not to have stemmed the tide. In fact in September 1999 the United Nations Environment Program announced that the environmental crisis is deepening not receding.
It is my belief that we have been treating the symptoms but not the cause of the disease of the Earth. We have been abusing Earth’s natural systems, the way it regulates temperature and water supply, recycles waste and protects life. For me, some of the most fundamental abuses have occurred because of our continued reliance on the military.
Wars result in immediate deaths and destruction, but the environmental consequences can last hundreds, often thousands of years. And it is not just war itself that undermines our life support system, but also the research and development, military exercises and general preparation for battle that are carried our on a daily basis in most parts of the world. The majority of this pre-war activity takes place without the benefit of civilian scrutiny and therefore we are unaware of some of what is being done to our environment in the name of “security”.
Review by Matthew Behrens QUILL & QUIRE – February 2001With the election of George W. Bush provoking renewed international concern about plans to launch a Star Wars military program, Rosalie Bertell has produced a timely call to action on the dangers the military poses to the delicate balance of life on Earth.
Bertell is a nun and cancer-research scientist whose ground-breaking 1985 work, No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth, sounded the alarm on the understated problems associated with the nuclear fuel cycle. With Planet Earth, she has again unearthed a wealth of disturbing, almost unbelievable information on the ways in which war and military testing are disrupting natural patterns both on the earth and in the protective layers of the atmosphere. Dramatic changes in the global climate, as evidenced by a rash of violent storms, intensive droughts, and dangerously shifting weather patterns, are linked not only to carbon dioxide emissions, but also experimentation with electromagnetic weapons, nuclear weapons testing, and the high-tech nature of warfare itself.
A no-nonsense writer who presents stark facts in an accessible fashion, Bertell builds her compelling case with the care and solid methodology that are the hallmarks of good science. Her findings run from the terrifying – the strategy of U.S. Space Command to fight in space – to the outright bizarre – the U.S. military tossed 350 billion copper needles into orbit to create a «telecommunications shield» in the early 1960s, and they’re still rotating around the planet.
Bertell admits that much of her research may sound depressing, but she manages to provide fairly hopeful prognosis based on a change in thinking that would eliminate the military as an institution, concurrent with the development of civil society institutions under an Earth Charter. Planet Earth deserves a wide audience as we begin a make-it-or-break-it century for the third rock from the sun.
Review by Theresa Wolfwood The Ecologist, February 2001, Volume 31, No. 1Rosalie Bertell believes, as have many greens before her, that the current focus on economics is at the expense of ecology and the social environment. In Planet Earth, this internationally-respected scientist states that the most urgent problem facing humanity now is how to sustain Earth, our life-support system. To do this, we must find a new model of global living, not based on military force in support of a hard, unbending capitalism. This book is a vital contribution to the search for new solutions and means to create change. And she sees signs of hope in new social movements springing up around the world.
She begins with a detailed and devastating analysis of the wars of the last ten years of the 20th century. In Part II she provides an acute scientific basis for the madness of war and the destruction that science, harnessed to the military, is planning for us and our world. She discusses so-called natural disasters that are linked to human-caused climate change, the “down-to-earth problems with Start Wars,” and the environmental crises spawned by war-making, including pollution caused by depleted uranium and chlorine-based herbicides. She examines the economic fallacy of the military providing jobs and prosperity. There is detail and fact here enough to convince any concerned citizen, particularly those who see saving the environment as a separate struggle, that the work of peace, economic justice and ecology are one.
In the chapter Rethinking Security, Bertell brings it all together. She says that “global consumption of resources is exceeding Earth’s restorative capacity by at least 33 per cent. War and the preparation for war drastically reduce the store of these resources still further, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle on which competition for raw materials leads to further conflict.”
In order to redress this crisis, she says, we must tackle the question of security. We need to challenge the belief of many that military force is a ‘necessary evil’. This new concept embraces a vision of social justice, human rights and the health of the environment. Security will be achieved through the protection and responsible stewardship of the Earth.
Bertell calls this ‘ecological security,’ based on a complex multi-faceted approach to the world’s problems. Realizing this vision is a big job and required multi-faceted solutions.
Bertell has many insights and ideas on how to create such solutions. She cites the need to alter the core belief of military security. Change always follows a challenge to core belief. Consider the examples of civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and the new challenges in the work of children’s rights, child soldiers and animal rights.
This book is full of examples and ideas. It is a book to hold on to, for repeated reference to information and inspiration. In her own words, “It is my hope that this book will open up for the reader an historical matrix against which to view the present and future… I also hope it will spur the reader to become involved in peaceful enterprises. We must set up a co-operative relationship with the Earth, not one of dominance.” She says that in spite of fears of abuse, Earth is still an amazing and beautiful creation. “It deserves our best efforts. Enjoy it, love it and save it!”.
Theresa Wolfwood works with the Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation which promotes peace and social justice. She lives in Victoria, B.C.