AIDS and Human Conflict: Who Cares About the Environment Overseas?

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It is becoming increasingly clear in our world today that what happens in other parts of the world affects us all in one way or another.

Sectarian strife and instability in the Middle East has a direct effect on the price you pay at the pump; displacing food crops for ethanol production causes your grocery bill to edge ever upward; political instability and ruthless regimes stymie global economic progress toward open markets and peaceful democracies, thus making your world a more unstable place to live; and the AIDS epidemic likewise has a destabilizing effect, thus increasing instability even further and allowing radical elements to fill the void.

In countries such as Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Mozambique, we have seen similar themes of instability both on a political and environmental level. While each country has a different history and a unique set of social, economic, and political issues, it is clear that human conflict has negatively impacted their ecosystems. But why would that matter to the average American living thousands of miles away?

To answer that question, let us examine just one environmental consequence of human conflict: the wartime practice of scorched earth policy, which according to recent reports, is now seeing a resurgence in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Scorched earth refers to the tactic of setting the enemy’s villages and agricultural fields aflame so that nothing of value would be recovered. The idea behind this tactic is to cause disorientation, starvation, and even dehydration so the enemy would be forced into submission. With their entire livelihood wiped out; homes, farms, livestock, grain stores, and supplies; they would have no choice but to capitulate. But what of the effect on the global environment?

Scorched earth policy adds carbon dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere from the burning of trees, grasses, and wood. It places a strain on neighboring countries who experience not simply an influx of new immigrants, but also a strain on agriculture and food supplies, which may have an impact globally. Disease may run rampant, and with modern-day airplane travel, can easily be transported from one place to another.

When viewing environmental issues from a global perspective, it becomes clear that we are entering into an age of environmental interdependence. That is, with respect to the realization that each of the 195 countries on our globe depend on one another for our overall environmental sustainability, we should address conflict not simply on an economic and political level, but on an ecological level as well.

So in answer to the question, “Why should the world care about environmental concerns thousands of miles away,” we must ask ourselves, what is the cost of inaction? Because, as they say, what goes around comes around. And increasingly, that couldn’t be any more truthful than in the case of global environmental issues.

But that’s not all. The world should also care about the environment in other countries because it is a moral imperative. We must remember that, like ourselves, people who live in other countries are intimately connected to their environment. When their trees are felled, or their crops falter due to climate change, or their livestock are starved for lack of food, or their water becomes polluted, that becomes a moral issue that needs to be addressed. So perhaps in addition to addressing problems related to starvation and malnutrition, we should equally address the environmental causes of human suffering.

Regardless, it is becoming clear that Americans should begin to think more globally, with an equal focus on humanitarian work and environmentalism.

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