I've been long wondering, and pondering this question since I've been studying and researching WWII for the last 15 years.

I know this is an impossible calculation to make, but I wonder if anyone has any idea how I might come to some fact or figure on the total environmental impact of WWII. When I research this, what comes up usually, is just the atomic bombings of Japan. But, i'm interested in more of the long-term effects. For example, here is a list of some of the items I've been trying to quantify.

  • How much lead is in the ground, from the ~180 billion small arms fired, that is now leaching into the groundwater?
  • How much lead is leaching into the ocean water from the war in the Pacific?
  • How much oil was spilled into the ocean from all of the merchant shipping sunk in the Atlantic, coupled with all of the oil from the U-Boats that were sunk.
  • How much heavy metal contamination is entering the oceans from things onboard those sunken vessels, like the lead in the batteries in the U-Boats?
  • How much CO2, and other toxins that might still be measurable today was released into the atmosphere from all of the fuel that was burned to fly 1,000 plane formations over Germany, and Japan, and to fuel the "Red Ball Express", not to mention all of the tanks, from all sides, ships, trucks, guns, trains, etc.
  • How much pollution and other toxins that might still be measurable today was released by all of the cities that the Allies burned to the ground? The 16 square miles of Tokyo, in a single raid that killed more people and did more damage than Little Boy did in Hiroshima. Add to that, Dresden, and all of the other cities destroyed by firestorms. Those fires had to release thousands of tons of toxins in the air?
  • All of the fires from the scorched earth policy employed by both Hitler, and Stalin.

All of that doesn't even take into the account all of the pollution that manufacturing all the weapons of war added as well. My interest lies in the lasting damage that was done, and what effects it might still be having on the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. All of that cargo didn't just disappear. It is still there, slowly decaying, and leaking oils, fuels, grease, and who knows what else. Not only from the delivery (Liberty) ships, but from the cargo as well. In the Pacific, all those carriers, battleships, and cruisers, that went down, with all of the HE on board, all of the lead ammo, all of the fuel, and oils on in the planes. It's actually mind-boggling when you think about it. Or... Am I wrong? Are the oceans simply that big, that when you combine everything that ever went down into the ocean, it is just not enough to have a measurable effect of the wildlife, quality of the water, etc?

Japan is a really good example of how Mother Nature heals herself. But there still has to be some sort of measurable impact of WWII that remains still, to this day, doesn't there?

I realize that coming to some solid numbers is probably an impossible task. But, best-guesses, and estimates, backed by solid evidence and facts would be fantastic.

  • 7
    Hi LarryF and welcome to History SE. This looks very broad as you are covering a lot of different sources / kinds of pollution. I think you need to narrow it down...P.S. I'm not the downvoter, but maybe whoever it is feels the same way (?) Oct 31 '19 at 5:56
  • 2
    and how do offset the negatives from the positives of greatly reduced population in many areas, thus less industrial and agricultural load in the years after the war.
    – jwenting
    Oct 31 '19 at 8:12
  • 5
    I don't think there is a generally accepted method of estimating the environmental impact of anything. I think you're asking for new research in economics to be conducted and then applied to history. It is going to be difficult to identify an authoritative answer.
    – MCW
    Oct 31 '19 at 9:03
  • 3
    You bring up a single event, the Tokyo fire bombing, with 16 sq miles on fire. Currently one of the fires burning in California covers 119 sq miles, and estimates from 3500 to 7000 sq miles burned in the Amazon this summer. If you are interested in doing some of the math on the effects, look into Atmospheric dispersion modeling.
    – justCal
    Oct 31 '19 at 11:34
  • 5
    That was a relatively less industrialized era. We probably generate more radioactive waste and put more human-generated CO2 into the atmosphere worldwide every year today than was released that entire war. Realize there are almost 4x as many human beings on this planet as there were then as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 31 '19 at 13:10

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