Biggest Environmental Disasters From The Last 100 Years
Our planet is a precious resource but when we take too much it can have devastating effects.
Whether it’s a carless mistake, technology gone wrong or man simply being greedy, Earth is littered with scars from environmental disasters and here are 3 of the most devastating
We need oil and we’re incredibly dependent on it mostly for petrol/vehicle fuel. Unfortunately there are several major problems with this:
• There is only so much crude oil available, as we start to depreciate the natural reserves it gets more and more expensive making it a very valuable commodity, one day we will run out.
• When oil is used in engines it releases carbon dioxide which is a greenhouse gas and common consensus is that this is leading a hole in the ozone layer and is one of the biggest contributors to global warming.
• The larger reserves of oil are found buried deep beneath the Earth’s surface which means large and costly extraction and as so much of the Earth is covered in water, this can often mean drilling down and disturbing marine life.
The biggest problem when drilling for oil under the sea is if something goes wrong either mining for it or transporting it by ship, it’s almost impossible to confine it.
BP found this out first hand in 2010 when a well head blowout resulted in 210,000,000 US gallons of oil spill out over 68,000 square miles devastating the Gulf of Mexico, destroying marine and wild life and killing 11 workers.
It was the biggest oil spill in the history of drilling for oil.
The world’s media watched as images of oil gushing under water, wildlife coated in oil and the seas slowly blacken appeared across TV news stations, newspapers and the internet.
The final official report blamed BP and its consortium (there were leasing the drilling unit that malfunctioned from Transocean) for cutting corners and trying to save money. They were found to have ignored safety and reports of faulty equipment.
Chernobyl is perhaps one of the most famous environmental disasters in the history of mankind.
Not because it directly produced the most deaths but because it demonstrated so well just how easy it is to render such a large part of our planet uninhabitable and how little power we have over our quest for energy if it does all go wrong.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred in April 1986 and was and still is the worst nuclear accident on record. It occurred in Pripyat in what was then the Ukrainian SSR and part of the Soviet Union and to this day the entire city is uninhabited and declared unsafe, not just for levels of radiation but also structural integrity as the buildings have been left abandoned.
• How it started: After a power spike, a series of explosions occurred exposing the graphite moderator of the reactor to the air which caused it to ignite. It was this smoke that was so deadly as it was incredibly radioactive, and like the oil spill in the sea, it’s very hard to contain a smoke plumb.
• Where it affected: This smoke quickly spread over large parts of Europe and the western Soviet Union with the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus bearing the main brunt of it. Of course it was the city of Prypat most affected as this entire city was primarily designed to house the workers from the nuclear station.
• Secrecy: The biggest problem, both dealing with the immediate aftermath and continuing recovery was the secrecy.
The USSR was extremely proud of their nuclear programme.
The first sign the city inhabitants had that anything was wrong was when dozens of people started falling ill hours after the original fire with headaches and vomiting (classic symptoms of radiation poisoning).
It wasn’t until two days after the original explosion that the disaster was reported and the people of Prypat were evacuated after elevated levels of radiation were reported by a nuclear station almost 700 miles away in Sweden.
The final reports of the accident are hard to pin point, firstly because of the secrecy of the USSR and secondly because of the symptoms.
Less than 50 people died as a direct result of the explosion (mainly the original fire-fighters who extinguished the initial blaze).
Secondly because it’s very hard to assign a direct culprit for someone who develops cancer, those who fell ill in the years after the accident have no way of proving it was a direct result of radiation exposure.
In the early 1950’s London was still recovering from the war and although this catastrophe isn’t the direct result of human negligence it is proof of what our atmosphere can do to us if we’re not careful.
It was December and cold, Londoners were burning lots of coal to keep warm but it was a low quality coal which coupled with the pollution coming from the large local power stations, meant large volumes of sulphur dioxide were being pumped into the air.
This wouldn’t usually be a problem in itself but the weather conditions meant it all settled over London and didn’t move and resulted in London being engulfed in a smog.
Of course this was London, and this city wasn’t usually bothered by a bit of smog, it was and still is fairly common place.
Because it had nowhere to go it just hung in the air and clung to anything.
This meant people who did go out were breathing it in, visibility was very poor and at night nothing could be seen because the street lights couldn’t penetrate it.
After four days rain came and washed it away (leaving a particularly nasty smell in its wake).
Tens of thousands of people reported feeling sick as a direct result of the smog and later reports claimed that up to 6,000 people died as a result (although it’s possible that number could be even higher).
It was this disaster that lead to a realisation an effort had to be made to reduce air pollution and restrictions were put into place to limit the use of dirty fuels and black smoke.
Tom is a writer with a passion for the environment.