Satire | How to make wars carbon-neutral

Since the war with Israel, air quality in Gaza Strip has dipped to a historic low

Updated - November 08, 2023 11:52 am IST

Published - November 02, 2023 03:10 pm IST

Human beings have fought wars for as long as they have existed. For the longest time, ‘history’ meant the history of wars. The first-ever time we gave the title ‘The Great’ to a human being, it was to someone with an infinite capacity for war-making — a man named Alexander. Since the dawn of civilisation, there hasn’t been a day when there hasn’t been a war going on in some corner of the planet. Analysis of all available data leaves no room for doubt that this trend will continue till the dusk of civilisation. If we cannot live without war-making, the question then arises: how do we make wars more sustainable?

Right now, there are two major factors that are making wars totally unsustainable. One is air pollution, a ruthless killer. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution is responsible for more than seven million premature deaths every year. But strangely, both the WHO and the who’s who of the international community have been silent on the precipitous decline in Gaza’s air quality in recent weeks.

Gaza has traditionally enjoyed a healthy Air Quality Index (AQI), thanks to the long-standing economic and existential blockade put in place by its neighbour Israel. There are hardly any pollution-creating industries, and given the small geographical area and limited requirement for motorised mobility, not much vehicular pollution either. But now, because of the war, air quality in Gaza Strip has dipped to a historic low, putting at risk the lives of its 2.3 million residents.

Epic inspiration

Of course, wars involve the use of missiles, rockets, bombs, and bomber aircraft to deliver the bombs, all of which are known to worsen air quality. Also, what is often overlooked is that each bomb that comes down, and each building that it comes down on, causing it to crumble, produces tremendous amounts of smoke and particulate matter, PM2.5 as well as PM10. All this smoke and dust have decimated Gaza’s air quality, which should worry anyone who cares about the environment.

The second, and even more critical, factor affecting the sustainability of sustained warfare is climate change. Both Hamas rockets and Israeli missiles are emitting huge quantities of greenhouse gases. This brings us to the second big question: how to make our wars carbon-neutral?

This column is a satirical take on life and society.

Doomsayers like to argue that humanity may have no alternative but to give up war-making altogether. But I personally don’t think such a drastic step is called for. After all, humanity’s finest cultural achievements, its greatest epics such as the MahabharataRamayana and the Odyssey, would not have been possible if there hadn’t been wars. But yes, I take the point that those wars were fought in a sustainable way — they were all carbon-neutral, and none of them lowered the AQI of the locations they were fought in. If anything, they should inspire us to do better.

Coming to the conflict in Gaza, it is time both sides, as responsible parties to the conflict, ensure that their military actions do not inadvertently harm the health of ordinary people by increasing air pollution. The international community should exert pressure on both parties to adopt non-polluting weapons. Military aircraft, where possible, should switch from fossil fuels to CNG. The military-industrial complex should invest more in R&D and develop weapons that can destroy buildings without generating big plumes of dust. A relatively low-cost solution might be to incorporate into every aerial bombardment campaign a few sorties where the bombing country airdrops millions of N-95 masks.

Net-zero pledge

But air pollution is the easier problem to solve. Making a transition to carbon-neutral wars is a far tougher challenge, but it is not impossible. It is fortuitous that the UN climate conference COP28, which will kick off later this month, is happening in West Asia. It was agreed in the Paris Agreement that sectoral engagement is the key to successful climate action. Hopefully, the current conflict in the region will motivate the global bomb-making sector to adopt the net-zero pledge.

The time is past when humans could freely bomb each other without thinking about the Tracking and Accountability Framework. But human civilisation is in the middle of a Race to Zero, and the world’s arms manufacturers must rise to the occasion and start coming up with green bombs, green missiles and green bullets. We don’t want to be unreasonable — no one is saying we should completely give up armed conflict. But then, there is no justifiable reason why wars, even wars of occupation and conquest, can’t be non-polluting, eco-friendly and zero-carbon.

The author of this satire, is Social Affairs Editor, ‘The Hindu’.

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