Sample Expository Essay: Environmental Effects of the Ukraine-Russia Crisis
International conflicts tend to have adverse effects on the global community and not just on the participating countries. The Ukraine-Russia crisis has affected the global economy and geopolitical landscapes, leading to international sanctions and increased product prices. While these factors are grave concerns for international leaders, entrepreneurs, and other significant players; they tend to ignore the environmental effects of such conflicts. For the Ukraine-Russia crisis, the conflict has the potential to affect the nearby regions as well as endanger the global environment. The crisis can lead to adverse toxic waste pollution, forest fires, effects of nuclear plant damage, and effects of other infrastructural damage which can lead to the destruction of the environment and declining health of citizens.
Importance of Recognizing Environmental Effects of the Crisis
Most news articles, videos, and other content highlight the violence, political turmoil, economic effects, and condition of victims. This is because of the significant effects of these factors on international trade and the overall status of the conflict. However, the focus on these factors tends to downgrade environmental issues (Marcantonio & Hook, 2020). News media disregard the toxic wastes from armament usage, the destruction of local ecosystems, and other ecological effects which can have long-term consequences for the global environment. According to Leila Urekenova from the UN Environment Programme, there is an urgent need to monitor these effects and risks as some of the settings for the conflict are highly polluted areas that can cause further environmental damage due to fighting (cited in Kruzman, 2022). As the Ukraine-Russia crisis continues, these areas will accumulate waste and potentially scatter contaminants into water sources and local soil. The nuclear plants in Ukraine and nearby regions also pose a threat because of the fighting and military mobilization. Recognizing these environmental effects is integral in assessing the potential casualties of the conflict.
Toxic Waste Pollution
Many parts of Ukraine are highly industrialized areas with factories, mines, and plants that produce toxic wastes that pollute the land, water, and air. Most notably, Eastern Ukraine’s heavily industrialized Donbas region contains metallurgical plants, chemical factors, power stations, and mines (Kruzman, 2022). These industrialized sites generate high methane, radon content, mercury, lead, arsenic, other heavy metals, and toxic chemicals (Marcantonio & Hook, 2020). Continuous fighting in these areas can lead to damages that may release the toxic wastes and affect the surrounding environment. This will harm the plants, animals, and the human population in the area. It can lead to the development of diseases which can worsen the conditions of the locals.
However, the threats of the Ukraine-Russia crisis caused many of these sites to temporarily close. These types of closures during international conflicts lead site managers and environmental managers unable to regulate the conditions of the industrialized areas (Marcantonio & Hook, 2020). In the current crisis, a similar event may occur which will leave the Donbas region vulnerable to further toxic waste pollution. Wastes from mining sites and energy plants can potentially flood water sources, such as rivers, which will threaten the health of the population utilizing them as water supplies. Pollutants, such as methane, radon, and vehicle, can reduce air quality and cause increased air pollution. Toxic compounds from ordnance and ammunition will pollute the soil along with preexisting mines and unexploded bombs. Without the regular activities of environmental managers, the accumulation and movement of these toxic wastes will be uncontrolled causing significant damage to the local environment.
Aside from toxic waste pollution, the crisis can lead to increased numbers of forest fires in nearby areas. The drying effects of climate change along with the use of firearms and flammable weaponry can cause wildfires (Kruzman, 2022). The area surrounding Ukraine contains thick forests, the main source for the country’s lumber exports, which further increase the likelihood of forest fires. According to the United Nations, the Donbas region suffered the destruction of 520,000 hectares of land that involved 12,000 forest fires because of the armed conflicts in the area. With the ongoing armed conflicts that involved bombings and artillery use, the nearby forests are at risk of wildfires.
These forest fires will not only lead to the destruction of forests but can affect other geographical locations and ecology. Ukraine is home to over 70,000 species of rare endemic flora and fauna and has 33 wetlands with the “international important status” (DTE Staff, 2022). Wildfires can affect these species and wetlands which will have a significant ecological impact. Losing these species and wetlands can lead to drastic changes in the ecology and even lead to the loss of financial investments for their conservation. Also, since Ukraine utilizes its forests as the main source of lumber, the country can experience a shortage in supply, on top of the current economic effects of the crisis.
Nuclear Plant and other Infrastructure Damage
Ukraine has four major nuclear plants along with smaller plants. Currently, Russian troops have taken control of the Zaporizhzhia and Chernobyl Nuclear Plants as they continue to advance (Stallard & Gill, 2022). The acquisition of these sites meant that armed conflicts are happening near these radioactive plants which can lead to nuclear plant damages. According to the Exclusion Zone Data, the Chernobyl plant has experienced increased levels of gamma radiation. However, according to Wim Zwijnenburg, the Humanitarian Disarmament Project Leader for the Dutch Peace Organization PAX, these increased levels of radiation may be because of movement in the nearby soil (cited in de Ferrer, 2022). Despite this, the threat of nuclear plant damage remains due to armed conflicts with bombings, artillery, and ordnance. This type of damage can lead to irreversible global environmental effects that can leave areas inhabitable for hundreds or thousands of years.
While nuclear plant damages are mostly hypothetical, other infrastructure damages are unavoidable during conflicts. Bombings and ordnance use will result in the destruction of buildings, roads, bridges, and residential areas. Hazardous particles from these destroyed buildings can pollute the air while the remains of ordnance contaminate the soil and water (Pacheco-Torgal et al., 2012; Zeig-Owens et al., 2011; Frost et al., 2017, cited in Marcantonio & Hook, 2020). These infrastructural damages can result in poor soil quality which may be unsuitable for agriculture or commercial uses. The air pollution from damaged buildings can cause health issues, such as early death and cognitive suppression (Burnett et al., 2018; Calderón-Garcidueñas et al., 2018; Gehring et al., 2015, cited in Marcantonio & Hook, 2020). Additionally, damaged buildings will result in civilian casualties that may include deaths and severe injuries.
The Ukraine-Russia Crisis and Oil
One of the most significant effects of the crisis is its influence on the current global oil prices. International sanctions on Russia have led to the decreased supply of oil which increased its prices. While most countries consider this a negative effect, other parties have taken advantage of the situation to promote sustainable energy use. For example, U.S. Senator Edward Markey has announced legislation to prohibit Russian oil since it is an unsustainable source of energy. The acquisition, production, moving, and storage of oil have negative environmental effects (Oil and Petroleum, 2021). Processes like hydraulic fracturing generate hazardous chemicals that are dangerous to humans and can contaminate water sources. Moving oil through sea routes can lead to oil spills, which are highly damaging to the environment. In late February 2022, Russian missiles have attacked a Moldova-flagged chemical tanker that contained 600 tons of fuel oil and diesel. (Yee & Jozuka, 2022). The vessel burst into flames, destroying the commodities on board and forcing the crew members to jump off the ship (Tanas, 2022). While the news did not report an oil spill due to the attack, it shows that the crisis can lead to such an event, damaging the aquatic ecology.
Furthermore, because of the sanctions on Russia, other countries are producing more oil which can have negative effects on the environment. According to Ali (2022), the burning of fossil fuels will have detrimental global effects due to toxic pollution. Oil-producing countries, such as Qatar and Riyadh, may need to produce more oil as Western pressure along with sanctions affects the supply of oil. This will contribute to the toxic pollution and hasten its adverse effects. Despite this, the crisis has also led some parties, such as U.S. Senator Edward Markey and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to acknowledge the environmental effects of oil and begin to promote the use of clean energy.
The Ukraine-Russia crisis can have detrimental environmental effects as the armed conflict continue to disrupt and endanger the local ecology. The toxic waste pollution, forest fires, nuclear plant damage, and other infrastructural damage will lead to the degradation of the surrounding and global environment as well as threaten the health of the citizens. The continuous conflict will leave highly polluted industrial sites abandoned allowing toxic wastes to spread and accumulate. The dry season along with the use of weapons can ignite wildfires and destroy hectares of forests. Damage to nuclear plants and other infrastructures can release hazardous chemicals and cause irreversible harm to the environment. As the crisis continues to develop, the more severe these environmental effects will become and the more difficult it will be for humans to address the incoming issues.
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De Ferrer, M. (2022). Radiation Levels at Chernobyl are Rising: The Environmental Impact of Russia’s War in Ukraine. Euronews. Available at https://www.euronews.com/green/2022/02/25/radiation-levels-at-chernobyl-are-rising-the-environmental-impact-of-russia-s-war-in-ukrai. Accessed March 3, 2022.
DTE Staff. (2022). Environmental Impacts of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict. Down To Earth. Available at https://www.downtoearth.org.in/video/environment/environmental-impacts-of-the-russia-ukraine-conflict-81699. Accessed March 3, 2022.
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Kruzman, D. (2022). The Environmental Costs of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine. Grist. Available at https://grist.org/international/environmental-costs-of-russias-invasion-of-ukraine/. Accessed March 3, 2022.
Marcantonio, R. & Hook, K. (2020). The Environment in Warfare-Related Policy Making: The Case in Ukraine. Small Wars Journal. Available at https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/environment-warfare-related-policy-making-case-ukraine. Accessed March 3, 2022.
Markey.senate.gov. (2022). Senator Markey Announces Legislation to Stop Russian Oil Imports. Ed Markey. Available at https://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/senator-markey-announces-legislation-to-stop-russian-oil-imports. Accessed March 3, 2022.
Stallard, E. & Gill, V. (2022). Nuclear Plant: How Close Was Nuclear Plant Attack To Catastrophe. BBC. Available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-60609633#:~:text=There%20are%20four%20major%20nuclear,south%20Ukraine%20nuclear%20power%20plant. Accessed March 6, 2022.
Tanas, O. (2022). Chemical Tanker in Black Sea Hit by Shelling, Crew Abandons Ship. Bloomberg. Available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-02-25/chemical-tanker-in-black-sea-hit-by-shell-crew-abandons-ship-l02hvbzw. Accessed March 3, 2022.
Yee, L. & Jozuka, E. (2022). Japanese-Owned Cargo Ship Hit By a Missle Off Ukrainian Coast. CNN. Available at https://edition.cnn.com/europe/live-news/ukraine-russia-news-02-26-22/h_d79d1d542a90f15d7c38c6e3b03d73ab. Accessed March 3, 2022.