Sunday, June 20, 2010

The largest environmental disaster in history?

My Dad was a Republican, although he died before the GW Bush "Presidency," so, who knows what he would think about the screw-the-planet-because-Jesus-is-coming-back-soon lunatics in the GOP now. I like to think that he would be like Charles Barkley, a former "Money Republican" like Dad who said, "I used to be a Republican until they lost their minds."

But who knows. Maybe he'd be a crazy tea bagger, in which case we wouldn't talk anymore. Politics isn't a polite sport for me. I know someone's a wingnut, I give them a blast of my best stuff, and then I eliminate any connections with them. Just ask the Guvernator fans in my family.

But one thing I would ask my Dad, what I ask any old person who might have experienced it directly, is what they knew about the dust bowl. After reading this NYT article, Where Gulf Spill Might Place on the Roll of Disasters, I've been researching man-made environmental disasters, and the dust bowl keeps coming up.

Still, for sheer disruption to human lives, several of them could think of no environmental problem in American history quite equaling the calamity known as the Dust Bowl.
“The Dust Bowl is arguably one of the worst ecological blunders in world history,” said Ted Steinberg, a historian at Case Western Reserve University.
Across the High Plains, stretching from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakotas, poor farming practices in the early part of the 20th century stripped away the native grasses that held moisture and soil in place. A drought that began in 1930 exposed the folly.
Boiling clouds of dust whipped up by harsh winds buried homes and cars, destroyed crops, choked farm animals to death and sent children to the hospital with pneumonia. At first the crisis was ignored in Washington, but then the apocalyptic clouds began to blow all the way to New York, Buffalo and Chicago. A hearing in Congress on the disaster was interrupted by the arrival of a dust storm.
By the mid-1930s, people started to give up on the region in droves. The Dust Bowl refugees joined a larger stream of migrants displaced by agricultural mechanization, and by 1940 more than two million people had left the Great Plains States.

Pretty serious stuff. In the last few days in my role as Captain Bringdown as my wife refers to me, I've been reading about Bohpal, Chernobyl, the Johnstown Flood, The Three Gorges Damn, and various oil spills, nuclear contamination sites, deforestation, climate change, and the near extinction of the North American Buffalo. How can anyone decide what the worst is? They're all awful. Many lives are still being claimed by some of these catastrophes, when you take malnutrition, bad water, cancer, and birth defects into account.

So what's my conclusion about the worst man-made environmental catastrophe in history? Homo Sapiens.

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