- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Debates concerning the War on Drugs have focused broadly on socio-economic, political and even security factors. Unfortunately, one of the most crucial subcomponents of the drug issue, environmental devastation, has been largely ignored. Now, there is indisputable evidence that the production of illicit crops is wreaking environmental havoc in some of the worlds most pristine locations, from Laos to Peru. Accordingly, saving dolphins and the trees in Oregon should not be our only concern.
The cultivation, production and trafficking of illegal drugs in just Bolivia, Peru and Colombia is responsible for the wanton deforestation of 960,000 acres in the past 20 years. That is equal to almost half of Yellowstone National Park. According to satellite photos, the past decade has seen the destruction of more than 300,000 acres in Colombia alone. Expanding narcotics production is destroying the lungs of the world.
Methods used to grow coca and poppy plants harm the environment in a variety of ways. The coca leaf can be harvested from four to six times a year. This rapid turnover destroys dense vegetation, leaving virtually nothing behind to protect the soil from massive erosion. In addition to making thousands of acres essentially useless, this increased erosion also greatly enhances flooding, ruining more land.
Additionally, slash-and-burn techniques used to cut down millions of trees contribute to air pollution, which accelerates the greenhouse effect, thus raising worldwide temperatures.
Ironically, the recent White House study on global warming neglected to associate drug users who create this demand as prepetuating this problem
Just as devastating as the growth of illicit crops is the refinement of raw coca leaves into finished cocaine. Precursor chemicals, like sulfuric acid, acetone and hydrochloride acid, used to produce refined cocaine, are dumped into rivers and lakes. This radically decreases oxygen content in the waters, and increases pH levels. Soil and plant life also absorb these toxins, further polluting the food chain. For every two acres used to grow coca then processed into cocaine, two tons of pesticides, fertilizers and toxic chemical waste are dumped into Colombias soil, streams and rivers.
This horrific level of contamination leads to the agonizing death of millions of rare and innocent animals and fish, as well as the pollution of the Amazon River itself. In attempts to avoid law enforcement agents, or get more fertile soil, drug producers often move to new areas, only to start the raping process all over again.
One solution to this problem, eradication, will help reverse this negative process. The cogent use of a number of relatively environmentally friendly chemicals makes it possible to simultaneously reduce the supply of narcotics and protect the Andean region.
The seemingly most effective chemical is Glyphosate. Farmers in more than 160 countries, including the United States, use this herbicide. In spite of misinformed claims by some environmental groups, Glyphosate is biodegradable, water-soluble and described in a recent State Department report as "one of the least harmful herbicides available on the world market." As an example, in 2000 the Colombian government used Glyphosate to successfully spray 22,800 acres of coca and poppy fields, thus reducing the killing supply to us, and allowing a portion of the jungle to reclaim itself.
Aside from destroying illegal crops and protecting the environment, eradication enables the indigenous population to grow a variety of legal crops. A U.S. agricultural station in the Huallaga Valley of Peru in the late 1940s found that more than 20 high-cash crops could grow in that environment. The eradication of narcotics, coupled with a plan of crop substitution, would enable the peoples of the Andean region to begin a process of environmental, economic and social reform. Colombian officials have stated clearly that spraying "stimulates the return of involved communities to the cultural, economic, social and labor conditions of the region."
Unfortunately, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others have neglected this mortal threat to our planet. A lack of physical courage or intellectual foresight has prevented them from either taking a proactive role on this issue, or aligning themselves with other groups.
Environmental activists should stop wondering about the limited possibilities of environmental damage resulting from eradication and start aggressively fighting the massive destruction presently being wrought by drug producers.
Ecological groups have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to bring constructive national awareness to an issue. If these groups would spend as much time and effort on the effects of narcotics production, a problem infinitely more pressing than saving coyotes, they could play a crucial role in turning the tide in the War on Drugs, helping reduce it to its lowest manageable level. They should be actively in convincing every junior high school student in the United States that aside from hurting themselves, cocaine and heroine use kills trees, animals, fish, thereby hurting our environment.
A coalition of anti-drug activists and environmental groups would provide the balanced pressure required to reduce both drug supply and demand as well as raise national consciousness about ecological concerns. Failure to produce cooperation between both ends of the political spectrum may very well lead to the loss of critical environmental treasures.

F. Andy Messing Jr., executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation, is a retired Special Forces major, who advised then-Gov. George W. Bush on narcotics issues in July 1998. Patrick J. Oswald is a research assistant at NDCF.


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