Environmental Disasters

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Environmental Disasters

For the purpose of this article an environmental disaster is defined as a specific event caused by human activity that results in a seriously negative effect on the environment. Sometimes a natural disaster can become an environmental disaster, but that is a topic to be discussed elsewhere.
In most cases environmental disasters are caused by human error, accident, lack of foresight, corner cutting during industrial processes, greed, or by simple incompetence. In other words without some kind of human intervention they would never have happened. They are also often characterised by firm authoritative denials that anything serious has even happened.
Lack of foresight is a common cause of an environmental disaster. In agriculture a classic example of is the increasing salinity of soils in hot climates. With the need to produce more food, a warm climate seems ideal for European-style agriculture, once the existing vegetation has been cleared. The one proviso is that there must be plenty of water. Irrigation projects and deep wells are usually the answer, but as has been found in Australia, if this is not properly managed, salination can result and the land becomes effectively useless.
A further example of a catastrophic and misguided interference with nature resulted in the dust bowls that hit North America in the 1930s. The fertile soil seemed ideal for intensive agriculture, but a combination of deep ploughing and a lack of crop rotation weakened the soil structure. Following years of drought, high winds simply removed all the topsoil and millions of acres of once fertile farmland became a virtual desert.
Another unforeseen agricultural disaster was Moa Zedong's 1958 decree to eliminate sparrows. It was considered that because sparrows ate grain seeds they were robbing the people of the fruits of their labour. The campaign was very successful that it cleared the way for swarms of locusts to descend on the farms. Crops were decimated,

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