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Environment and History

The Environmental Footprint of War

Joseph Hupy

Environment and History 14(2008): 405-21. doi: 10.3197/096734008X333581

Warfare and the physical environment have always shared a close and interconnected relationship. Until recently, historical writings have mainly focused on the environmental factors influencing the outcome of battle and not the effects of war on the environment. While a growing body of literature has begun to address the effects of war on the environment, many aspects of the direct effects of battle on the environment still require attention. Warfare, a powerful agent of landscape change, is a unique form of landscape disturbance in that it is often larger in magnitude and size than other forms of anthropogenic disturbance, such as mining or logging. War is also unique as an anthropogenic agent of change because of its capability to render such widespread destruction over large areas in such short periods of time. Despite the magnitude of landscape disturbance associated with modern warfare, however, it is seldom recognised as a significant form of anthropogenic disturbance. The destruction associated with modern warfare is particularly catastrophic due to the extent, magnitude and duration of contemporary wars. These large magnitude disturbances radically alter the shape of the landscape, limiting the ability of the landscape to revert back to its original state. This article addresses the direct impacts of war on the physical landscape and why the magnitude of disturbance has increased significantly over the past century.


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