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Earth Day Reflections

© Kat Morgenstern, April 2003, all rights reserved.

In the last issue of this newsletter I reflected on the impending war and the dangers it may pose to world peace. Now, three months on, at the time of the spring equinox, as life is awakening from its winter slumber, the war has become a reality. In Iraq the children don't rejoice in spring's arrival this year - instead, death and devastation greet them all around.

There is a lot that can be said about this war: what some see as a just cause, others regard as blatant aggression. What about the mishaps, the bombs that land on civilian targets or the soldiers that will return sick with poisoning from depleted uranium and other harmful chemicals? And who will profit from the slaughter in the end? American corporations, some of them well represented on the Defense Policy Board, the government-appointed group that advises the Pentagon, are already rubbing their hands at the prospect of carving up the Iraqi pie - or perhaps the Middle Eastern pie, as they are planning new attacks on other 'enemies' already.

The human misery inflicted by any kind of war is obvious - I cannot even imagine what it must be like to live in a place where at a moments notice bombs start dropping out of the sky and my life is at the mercy of forces that are way beyond my control, where survival depends on luck as much as anything, and 'normal' life includes the reality of bomb shelters and food shortages and the very real possibility that my friends or family may be dead or badly injured before I see them next.

Another aspect of war, which is almost never addressed, is the impact on the environment, which in the overall war tally just falls under the category of colateral damage, along with the innocent civilian victims of war, I suppose. Black, smoke filled skies, caused by burning oil wells that release god knows how many tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus steadily adding to the greenhouse effect, will bear its consequences long after this war is over. Simultaneously, Oil spills across the desert turn a fragile, arid ecosystem into a barren, toxic wasteland. These are just the most visual and obvious attacks on the environment.

The military prides itself with its smart bombs, which supposedly are targeted at the 'infrastructure' - that does not just mean telecommunication facilities, but also means factories, especially chemical factories, oil refineries, water purification and desalination plants and power plants. During the last gulf war millions of gallons of raw sewage entered the gulf as water treatment facilities were destroyed, and further millions of gallons of poisons and chemicals were released where factories had been bombed. The pollution effects of that previous war are still evident today, and now, the already devastated land is further pounded into toxic dust and rubble. Damaged water wells result in serious pollution of fresh water supplies, and the damage to the sewage system does the rest to spread diseases like wildfire in a country, that thanks to the economic sanctions of the past decade, barely managed to cope with the severe shortages of medicines, even at the best of times.

Depleted Uranium was used during the last gulf war and it is being used now, delivering a lethal package of poison that will reap its consequences for many, many generations to come. Depleted Uranium has a half-life of 4.468 billion years years (info: http://www.stopnato.org.uk/du-watch/rokke/rokke.htm / http://www.cadu.org.uk/info/index.htm). During the last Gulf War 320 tons of this poison had been scattered all over Iraq. No significant attempts have been made to clean up this horrendous pollution and now, more is being added to the existing mess. This poison, unlike the black smoke billowing above, is invisible; it permeates everything, and slowly kills those that come into contact with it as they absorb even miniscule amounts of it. Skin sores, kidney damage, general malaise and cancers are some of the immediate effects, but the genetic defects caused to the reproductive organs will affect generations to come. Depleted Uranium does not just affect Iraqi soldiers either, but likewise affects the troops that fire them, as well as their yet to be born children. Is it not ironic that the American and British troops went into Iraq to search and destroy dangerous weapons that could possibly threaten the US or whoever - yet the only dangerous weapons that are being fired issue from the US troops- and will surely be harming US troops. What will be the long-term consequences in terms of genetic mutation, not just on humans exposed to this poison, but on plant and animal life as well? As yet, nobody seems to have bothered to find out or even asked the question.

During the Second World War, for all its horrors, it was still possible for civilians to find food and medicine in nature, but considering the entirely new types of weapons that have been developed since and are now being used in Iraq and elsewhere, nature itself has come under attack. In a country where there is a chronic shortage of food and medicines, this added dimension of ecological damage unleashed onto the environment is devastating to the civilian victims of the war - who cares for the plants and animals that will be affected? How will they survive? Considering Iraq is home to a site that bears witness to the oldest testimony of medicinal plant uses by our neolithic ancestors, this is a tragic turn of events.* Today, the people of Iraq can no longer rely on nature's gifts to heal the physical wounds of war, nature itself has become its victim.

As I write this, at the beginning of April 2003, Earth Day is just around the corner. I feel deeply saddened for the earth and for humanity, for what is there to celebrate for the earth today? And what perspective does the future hold? During the past year the US government has repealed numerous laws, which were originally intended to extend environmental protection. Now, wilderness areas from the Arctic to the Southwest are increasingly becoming deregulated and opened up to allow industrial exploitation. Terminator Seed technology is slipping unnoticed through the regulating institutions, and the US, with the help of the WTO, is trying to force GM-Frankenfood crops down other countries' throats. The Pentagon seeks exemption from environmental protection legislation and Kyoto has still not been ratified by the United States. And now, a war is being fought over oil, which not only causes new assaults on the earth at the site of the actual battleground, but also on the air and water, which know no national boundaries and are shared by the whole world. Furthermore, the oil gained in this war will only further fuel environmental destruction and line the pockets of already rich corporations and their political cronies. We would be so much wiser to spend even just half of the amount of money that is currently being blown on this terrible war, on research for environmentally friendly energy production to find solutions that will create a healthier environment and cleaner energy to fill the energy needs of all of humanity - instead of spending more money every minute of every day to add to the environmental devastation in this dirty war and beyond.

It is not a happy picture, but what can we do? For one thing we must stop sticking our heads in the sand and hoping that someone else somewhere else will do something about it to change or stop this madness. It is up to each concerned and aware individual on this planet to do something about it, through lobbying politicians, boycotting companies that are an affront to the environment, spreading the word among our family and friends, and by making consumer choices that are responsible and positive. Nothing will change unless we,- that means you, me and every one of us, - change our behaviour and actions.

So, next time you are out and about, admiring the beauty of spring, take a moment to remember how fragile this life is and how easily this beauty that we take for granted can be destroyed - by our own stupidity and greed.

* A human burial sites, the so-called flower burial of the Shanidar IV adult male skeleton, which dates to somewhere between 50,000 BP, to 60,000 BP, was found at an archeological site in Iraq. Paleoethnobotanists have determined that the body had been embedded among more than a dozen medicinal plant species.

May peace prevail -
Kat Morgenstern, April 2003

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This Article was originally published in the Sacred Earth Newletter. The Newsletter is a FREE service containing articles, news and reviews on all things herbal and/or ethnobotanical, with an approximate publication cylce of 6 - 8 weeks. If you wish to subscribe, please use the subscription box to submit your e-mail address.

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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.