Blog Action Day, 2007: We’re writing about environmental issues.
Each January 1 I reflect on one of many forgotten environmental disasters, because it’s a focus of television coverage. Oh, the disaster itself isn’t covered — most often it’s not even mentioned — but it’s there if you know anything at all about it.
The Tournament of Roses Parade.
With the Bowl Championship Series game in town, and thousands of tourists out to see the parade, the games, and other festivities, no one really wants to talk about the why of the Rose Bowl, and the Rose Parade.
But once upon a time, under the sunny skies of southern California, Pasadena hosted a flower industry. Cut flowers were the produce. The Los Angeles Basin around Pasadena produced $1 billion in cut flowers annually by the late 1940s. Partly to promote that industry, local civic movers pushed a festival named to celebrate the flowers, to promote them, to feed local industry. The shtick was this: Parade floats had to be decorated exclusively with flowers and flower petals. What better way to showcase the local agricultural miracle?
Nearly 60 years later, I’ll wager less than 0.1% of the flowers used in the parade come from the Los Angeles Basin.
Air pollution forced the flower growers to move. Air pollution mottled the petals of the roses, browned the daisies, and otherwise spoiled blossoms. The greenhouses, the fields, the entire industry left the area. And today, all that is left is the parade and football game. Parade floats are decorated with flowers imported from Venezuela, Israel, Europe, Hawaii, Mexico, South America and Asia.
And so it goes. Significant upheavals in human activities, prompted by environmental goofs by humans, get shuffled out of the history books, out of our collective consciousness — and as Santayana warned, we repeat them, over and over. Los Angeles is not the only city ever to have suffered from air pollution — there were killer fogs in London and Pennsylvania within a decade after World War II. Surely people learned, no?
Consider Mexico City today. Consider Beijing today.
So I just want to list some environmental disasters that we would be better off, if we remembered them and considered how to avoid them in the future, rather than forget them and be doomed to repeat them.
(I reserve the right to post links and edit this list to add to it, as I find additional information, and as readers may add information in comments.)
Environmental disasters you should know
- Silting of the canals supplying Babylon
- Destruction of the cedars of Lebanon, and subsequent erosion
- Easter Island deforestation disaster
- Australian and New Zealand megafauna extinction
- American megafauna extinction
- Sacking of Carthage, and salting of the agricultural lands there, 146 B.C.
- Black Plague
- Extinction of the dodo, on Mauritius, between 1600 and 1680
- Extinction of the Great Auk; a particularly poignant story. One auk was put on trial in Scotland accused of causing a ruinous storm; the last nesting pair discovered in 1844 was slaughtered because it was so rare (and the egg smashed to preserve the value of the pelts)
- Destruction of the oak forests of Scotland
- Cholera epidemic, England, 1855 (the John Snow “pump handle” story)
- Flood of the Hwang Ho (Yellow) River in China, 1852; the river probably killed millions after bursting its man-made dikes, and ended up entering the sea 400 miles from its previous mouth
- Draining of Caddo Lake, Texas, by Col. Shreveport, 1873
- Accidental creation of the Salton Sea, California, 1901
- Extinction of the American passenger pigeon, and subsequent rise of Lyme disease (last passenger pigeon died in 1914)
- Rickets from industrial pollution, Europe and America, prior to 1920; to prevent rickets from skies darkened by industrial pollution, irradiated ergosteral is added milk — “Vitamin D”
- American Dust Bowl, 1930s
- Kaibab Plateau Disaster, Arizona, 1941 (discredited among scientists? Hmm. There’s a story there for the blog!)
- Donora, Pennsylvania, killer fog, 1948
- London, England, killer fog, 1952 (4,000 dead, at least – more than died at the World Trade Center in 2001)
- Downwind fallout crisis, Utah, 1952-1961, and accompanying events involving uranium miners and “atomic veterans”
- Klamath County, Oregon, mouse wars, 1957
- Aftermath of the construction of the Aswan High Dam (1968), including schistosomiasis plagues and depletion of Mediterranean fish
- Love Canal, New York, discovered 1978
- Times Beach, Missouri, circa 1985
- Chernobyl reactor melt down, 1986
- Devastation of the Aral Sea, 20th century Soviet Union, begun in 1918, manifested serious problems in the 1980s
It’s not an exhaustive list by any means — I wager some of these are new to most readers. I wager some of you can provide better information, and other disasters that I, perhaps, have forgotten. Please, inform us.