Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top Ten Environmental Disasters

My son, with aspirations in the restaurant industry, has talked for more than a year about leaving California to be a chef in New Orleans. He's a fabulous cook and loves things spicy and rich. New Orleans seemed like a dream destination for someone to add to one's experience.

Then, the oil spill came.

As you can imagine, as the days became weeks with no end in sight, concerns were raised about the viability of this new direction. One Saturday morning I was talking with my mom and she brought up an even greater disaster, the island of debris in the middle of the ocean. She said that there was a circle of plastic and garbage and waste the size of New Jersey out there. I had never heard of this so I did some checking. Turns out she was wrong. The island of debris is the size of Texas.

This week they succeeded in stemming the flow coming out of the gulf leak, to some extent, but how the mess ultimately gets addressed is another story, and something of a commentary on man's achievements on planet earth. Technologically we have accomplished so much, but we've also been leaving our mark in other ways.

Yesterday, CNBC published an editorial by Terry Tamminen titled "10 Environmental Disasters Worse Than BP Oil Spill." The title alone draws you in. We love lists, as I have noted recently, especially Top Ten lists. Tamminen is former secretary of the California EPA. The giant offshore garbage patch that my mother mentioned is number eight on his list.

Tamminen's article is more than a bland serving of food for thought. But be sure to read the comments at the end as well, a little seasoning that makes the dish even more zesty.

Here's a snapshot of what he calls the 10 worst (man-generated) environmental disasters.

10. Chevron oil refinery, El Segundo California

9. Our impact on Pacific Salmon

8. The Texas-sized garbage patch in the Pacific

7. The oil pipes of Esmeraldas, Ecuador

6. Destruction of the Mississippi and Colorado Rivers

5. Decimation of the American Bison

4. The Great Dust Bowl

3. Ocean acidification

2. Emptying of the groundwater in California

1. Air pollution

The BP spill has created a terrible mess, but it's not the only mess humans have created in history. Tamminen blames greed for a lot of it, but some of it is ignorance and probably a measure of it is overconfidence and pride. Mix in a little stupidity and the kind of attitude that assumes no responsibility, and you get into some dicey consequences. I think here of Michael Crichton's cautionary tale Jurassic Park. Everything seemed so safe, until factors out of their control came into the picture... Just like real life.

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