The war against Iraq that began last night will lead to “massive and possibly irreversible” environmental damage to the Persian Gulf region and contribute significantly to global warming, experts cautioned this week. Environmentalists who have been monitoring the situation say the ecological destruction could be radically worse than the damage sustained during the 1991 Gulf War. In that conflict, Iraqi forces dumped 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Persian Gulf and set fire to more than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells, releasing almost a half-billion tons of carbon dioxide. A new war in the region could compound lingering problems from the 1991 conflict, while doing further harm to the environment, water resources, and endangered species. In a recent interview with MTV, Hans Blix, chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, called the environmental issue “more ominous than that of peace and war.”

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.