The Clincher

February 02, 1991|By EDWARD FLATTAU

Washington.

Brent Blackwelder, a vice president of Friends of the Earth, is a highly respected conservationist who has been a leader in the national environmental movement for nearly two decades. When Brent talks, people listen, including this writer.

But we parted ways recently when Mr. Blackwelder declared that Saddam Hussein's use of an oil spill as an instrument of ecological terrorism was all the more reason to negotiate a settlement with the Iraqi dictator.

As far as I'm concerned, this exercise in eco-terrorism clinched what was already a very persuasive case for removing the Iraqi leader from power.

Since he unleashed poison gas on dissidents within his own country, it doesn't take much imagination to anticipate he would do the same to us if the circumstances were right in his own mind and he had the delivery capability.

He has been perfectly willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of his own loyal subjects to further his personal ambitions, so why not the lives of millions abroad if they stood in his way and he were in a position to annihilate them.

Now, Mr. Hussein has engaged in a deliberate act of massive pollution of the planet's resources. It is nothing less than a crime against humanity for which he should be brought to trial before an international judicial body. Were he allowed to walk away without being prosecuted for fouling the Persian Gulf, what would prevent him from ravaging the planet in similar or even worse fashion at a future date if things weren't going his way?

Indeed, the chilling message inherent in his purposeful desecration of Persian Gulf waters and its marine biota is that he is prepared to risk destroying life on earth as we know it if he can't have life on earth as he wants it. He's just not the kind of guy who invites compromise.

Moreover, should his treason against the planet be overlooked, what of other despots around the world who might be inspired to employ international eco-terrorism for intimidation purposes?

Environmental terrorism is not new. In 146 B.C., the Romans burned Carthage to the ground and then, to make sure the North African city-state didn't rise from the ashes, they sowed the surrounding farmland with salt. During the 12th century, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria poisoned wells and burned agricultural lands in the path of England's King Richard the Lionhearted, whose army was seeking to liberate Jerusalem.

The British destroyed the cattle and crops of the Kaffa tribe in South Africa to cut short an uprising during the 1850s. And on our own turf, there were those who participated in the slaughter of the western plains' vast bison herds in order to break the resistance of fierce Indian tribes that depended on the animal for subsistence.

Until very recently, however, the extent and lingering effect of eco-terrorism on the global environment were severely limited by the relatively primitive methods of inflicting such damage. That has changed with the advent of weapons of mass destruction and the emergence of military delivery systems which virtually span the planet.

Now, a well-equipped sovereign chieftain who chooses to be an environmental terrorist could conceivably possess the means to throw regional ecosystems and perhaps the entire global environment out of sync.

The human race cannot afford a head of state who might eventually be able to destroy the earth's biological support system and has demonstrated a proclivity to risk triggering DTC fatal ecological chain reaction merely to advance a personal political agenda.

It seems inconceivable that Saddam Hussein would ever submit to being held accountable for his actions against the planet's natural resources. That leaves the international community with little choice but to dislodge him and his regime or be subjected to the daunting threat of global environmental blackmail for years to come.

Edward Flattau writes a column on the environment.

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