Much of the fighting and dying of the war has and will occur around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, described for years by Western historians as “the birthplace of civilization.”

Much of the fighting and dying of the war has and will occur around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, described for years by Western historians as “the birthplace of civilization.”

Whatever your opinions are about the war, this historical and spiritual sense of place makes the current violence even more mournful.

Another troublesome aspect is starting to gain notice as well: the environmental impacts of this and other wars.

In the First Gulf War, 730 oil well fires and the release of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf caused massive damage, creating a set of environmental problems still being dealt with today.

In addition, the destruction of sewage works and industrial plants led to rivers flowing with waste matter, spreading pollution and disease. Recent research has suggested that the civilian population was particularly badly hit by the air pollution, with increases in chronic respiratory diseases.

The current war can cause long-term damage to Abraham’s ancestral home and to its people through: oil spills; burning wells; accidental or deliberate damage to pipelines, refineries, fertilizer plants and sewage treatment works; and the massive use of depleted uranium weapons.

Simply the movement of thousands of vehicles across the desert will in itself harm this fragile part of God’s creation, not to mention the physical impact created by bombs and shells. Of course the current conflict didn’t begin the contemporary environmental damage. More than 20 years of military operations in the Gulf have greatly damaged water resources, arable land and biodiversity.

Carroll Muffett, director of international programs for the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, recently stated:

“Over the last few decades, we’ve come to recognize that war has not only a tragic human cost, but a tragic environmental cost as well. Fragile habitats are destroyed; wildlife lost; and resources like freshwater, that are critical to the survival of all life, are contaminated or degraded beyond use. There is now general agreement that, just as the law of war prohibits armies from attacking innocent civilians or causing needless human suffering, it also prohibits wanton and unnecessary destruction of the environment upon which all of us depend. In the last Gulf war, this principle was too often forgotten or ignored. It should not be forgotten again.”

In Washington recently, nearly 200 international lawyers and scholars from 51 countries warned of the “potential for massive, and possibly irreversible, environmental destruction that may follow from the use of internationally unlawful methods and means of warfare on the part of both the … ‘coalition of the willing’ and Iraq.”

These experts reminded us that international law prohibits the use of weapons or tactics “that are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long term, or severe damage to the natural environment.”

The principle that Muffett urges us to not forget, and the international law these experts have reminded us of, is, in fact, in keeping with the wisdom of the Bible.

“When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?” (Deut 20:19).

Another more basic biblical lesson we may learn better because of this war and its impacts is that we are creatures “embedded” in God’s creation. Some of us are spiritual children of Abraham. But all of us are children of “Adam,” which could be literally translated “earth-man.” We are earth that God breathed the breath of life into.

So-called “environmental” impacts are not something that happens only to the land and the other creatures, to other stuff “out there,” as if humans were hermetically sealed off from “the environment.” It happens to all of Earth’s creatures, God’s creation—including Adam’s offspring. Pollution resulting from this war will hurt people, as well as the rest of creation, for years to come.

Scripture tells Christians that through Jesus Christ, God was pleased “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:20).

When the war is over, reconciliation will involve healing all the broken relationships of Abraham’s ancestral land, healing all of God’s creatures—both human and non-human—and the land itself.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), has said that they will be ready to start reconstructing Iraq “within days” of the war’s ending.

“We have a standby unit at Bahrain ready to go into the country immediately after the conflict ends,” he said.

Will the United States let them?

Jim Ball is executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network and publisher of Creation Care magazine.

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