Thursday, April 29, 2010

6 Man-Made Natural Disasters Just Waiting to Happen

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History is not short of stories of man-made natural disasters, as we have detailed previously. But while it's easy to laugh at the mistakes of the past, it's downright scary to realize how many similar disasters are just waiting to happen, right now.
Between lack of foresight, poor workmanship or just bad luck, the world is full of these ticking time bombs.
The Campos Novos and Mosul Dams
One look at that thing, and you can probably guess what the problem is.
A modern dam has two main jobs - providing electricity and keeping people from drowning. The builders of the Campos Novos dam in Brazil stopped reading after the word "electricity".

"Fuck it, this is taking too long. TO THE DAM!"
In building the dam, they evicted everyone who lived in the valley below, giving them little more than a stiff middle finger in the way of compensation. They also managed to devastate the fishing trade of the river they plugged up, passing out IOUs in the amount of "Go To Hell" to the people whose livelihoods were disrupted.
To round it all out, the valley the Campos Novos was built on wasn't the best choice for thousands of tons of concrete, and when a tunnel inside of it collapsed under its own weight, cracks developed across its face.
Less overtly dickish, but way more terrifying is the Mosul, the largest dam in Iraq, located upstream from the city of Mosul on the Tigris River. It's built on top of gypsum, a soft mineral which is water soluble, making its eventual collapse all but certain. Really, the whole thing seems like a giant practical joke.

"Drowning is funny, right?"
It's estimated that if Campos Novos were to collapse, it would screw thousands of people out of way more than just houses and fish. Mosul is an even bigger headache; it is estimated that if/when it goes down, it'll bury Baghdad under 15 feet of water, and drop Mosul itself under 65 Feet.
In 2007, when the Campos Novos's 150 foot deep basin leaked out in a single day, the dam's builders Enercan decided they had to do something. After all, had it not been in the midst of a drought, their faulty dam would have killed thousands. Namely, they decided to fill the basin back up and deny that anything was wrong. One specialist on the project even went on record stating, "There is no structural damage to the dam, whatsoever."

"I mean besides that."
In Mosul, two dozen machines have been employed to pump a constant stream of "grout" into the base of the dam, hopefully keeping it shored up while another dam is being constructed downstream, though it remains in danger of collapsing. Luckily, the project is taking place in Iraq, one of the most stable nations in the world. Sure, militant radicals could easily decide to blow it up, but they'd never dream of doing something like that, right?
Chemical Weapons from the Deep
When someone says "terror from the deep", most of us don't think of nerve gas and aerosol-based arsenic.

Most of us think of this.
But as it turns out, we should: between 1946 and 1972, several of the world's nations decided to toss their outdated weapons of mass destruction into the bottom of the sea. It's unclear whether they genuinely thought this would effectively dispose of the weapons, or if they just didn't give a rat's ass.

"Fuck it, there's no cops out here."
Since the dumping began, over 500 people, mostly fishermen, have been hospitalized after dredging up fistfuls of everything from mustard gas to Sarin, which hilariously degrades into arsenic when exposed to sea water.

"Arsenic? More like YARsenic! But seriously, that box of fish sticks could very well poison your entire family."
You may remember that exposing human beings to these types of substances is the exact thing that got Saddam Hussein hanged on YouTube, so you'll be happy to learn that so far, absolutely no one anywhere in the world is being held responsible for the rampant dumping (a Google image search of the phrase "rampant dumping" was equally disheartening).
In fact, there are 32 known dump sites around the US alone, the contents of which are pretty much a mystery.

"What, you don't seriously expect us to keep track of all this shit?"
Depending on what country you live in, there are maps available that show approximately where the dump sites are, but their accuracy can range anywhere from "educated guessing" to "this map was drawn by a drunken janitor". Japan apparently has several sites, but rather than mark any of them they've decided to just leave the toxic material where it is and let it become one with nature.

Like this.
The Asian Brown Cloud
The Asian Brown Cloud is a seasonal cloud of pollution that hovers over the Indian Ocean just south of India and Pakistan, caused by the combined efforts of over two billion people burning wood and cow shitfor electricity, running cars that belch out carbon monoxide and generally operating in a manner that would make Al Gore cry the tears of a bottlenose dolphin.
All this pollution collects in the sky and hovers there every year between January and March, disappearing back to oblivion presumably to watch March Madness.
In defense of our friends over on the subcontinent, this isn't so much a result of lack of foresight as it is the result of having a massive, highly concentrated population in an industrialized nation. Plus it's not clear that only India and Pakistan are the cause, as China has a giant population of its own farting out some high quality pollution just a few miles to the north.

Beautiful downtown Beijing on a normal day.
If you're wondering why we have this on a list of disasters waiting to happen rather than ones happening right this minute, it's because of the potential long-term effects the cloud can and will have over time. The Brown Cloud could be causing surface dimming, which is essentially the blocking of the sun's energy from reaching the Earth, changing rain patterns and other elements of the biosphere, resulting in flooding and droughts and other catastrophes.
The cloud is also causing the glaciers in the Himalayas to melt faster, adding to that whole flooding thing. In addition, the chemicals floating through the air have lead to increases in cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and chronic respiratory illness.

Basically, it's a nuclear fartcloud.
On the positive side, the solution could be as simple as getting everyone in the southern portions of Asia to go green by cutting back on emissions. If two billion people all started driving hybrids and/or walking to work, it could gradually reduce the effects of the Brown Cloud.
But realistically, we can't even convince everyone in the United States, a country of 300 million, that global warming even exists, let alone get them to stop driving massive SUVs in the wake of a gas shortage and an economic depression. So good fucking luck with that whole India thing.