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New Left Review I/200, July-August 1993


Mike Davis

The Dead West: Ecocide in Marlboro Country

Was the Cold War the Earth’s worst eco-disaster in the last ten thousand years? The time has come to weigh the environmental costs of the great ‘twilight struggle’ and its attendant nuclear arms race. Until recently, most ecologists have tended to underestimate the impacts of warfare and arms production on natural history. [1] Although whale-hunting and sewerage are considered at length, the environmental impact of twentieth-century militarism is an inexplicably missing topic amongst the forty-two studies that comprise the landmark global audit: B.L. Turner et. al. (eds), The Earth as Transformed by Human Action: Global and Regional Changes in the Biosphere over the Past 300 Years, Cambridge 1990. Yet there is implacable evidence that huge areas of Eurasia and North America, particularly the militarized deserts of Central Asia and the Great Basin, have become unfit for human habitation, perhaps for thousands of years, as a direct result of weapons testing (conventional, nuclear and biological) by the Soviet Union, China and the United States.

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