Worlds 10 worst environmental disasters: A lot to do with certain governments losing the plot,  disrupting their economies and destroying their environments

1. Communism in the USSR – Chernobyl and Aral Sea etcetera
This was the cause of the greatest and most sustained anthropogenic disruption of nature. As professor Mnatsakanian explains, “Clean air, water, and a pristine environment were considered free goods without value. So polluting them was acceptable”. Certain kings of capitalism were prone to similar sentiments.  Lang Hancock’s infamous statement that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs comes to mind. But for collective, ideological indifference to the environment, corruption of science (Lysenko), sheer human suffering and culmination in the iconic anthropogenic ecological catastrophe, Chernobyl, USSR communism takes the ‘cake’. A visit to the Aral Sea anyone?
2. East Germany – Coal Furnaces etcetera
If USSR communism has been humanity’s worst disruption of nature, then East Germany was its pin-up boy. The brown lignite coal furnaces are still going, accounting for 11.6% of all energy in 2007, sustainables were 6.7% with biomass three quarters of that, and East Germany was responsible for the green apocalypse story of the 1960’s-1980’s, acid rain.  This is indeed a heavy price for some gold medals.
3. Communist China – Air/Water pollution etcetera
The biggest Asian Tiger of them all. Some would say its ecological problems are due to its capitalist tendencies but they would be wrong. China’s accountability is as opaque as USSR communism. About 750,000 Chinese die each year due to air pollution.
4. The Iraqi Marshes – Drained
After his defeat in Kuwait, Saddam evened a few scores by draining the 9,000 sq km’s of the Southern Marshes, reducing them to 760 sq km. The destruction of such a large body of water had devastating consequences for PN. Since Saddam’s overthrow the marshes have rejuvenated. There is little man can do to nature which is irreversible.
5. The Kuwaiti Oil Wells – Burned etcetera
Before draining the Southern Marshes, Saddam set fire to over 700 Kuwaiti oil fields while simultaneously dumping 10 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. This exceeded the Exxon Valdez spill 20 fold. The consumption of oil by the flames was over one billion barrels for the first seven months. The fields were not extinguished for three years. Probably three billion barrels went up in smoke; about 10% of what the world uses in a year. According to AGW temperature is going up about 0.3C PD or 0.03C per year. Saddam by himself increased the temperature by 0.003C.
6. Indonesian land-clearing
The Australian Conservation Foundation says the emissions from Indonesian land-clearing are five times Australia’s total emissions. This clearing is occurring because of transmigration and/or for palm oil production destined for biodiesel, and/or timber mainly for Asia pulp and paper, and/or subsistence farming.  The main problem is the method of clearing by burning, which makes Indonesia the world’s third highest polluter.
7. Amazonian land-clearing
The Amazon is 5.7 million sq km, 75% of the Australian land area. Since 1970, 1/6 of the Amazon has been cleared, mainly for beef, and increasingly for ethanol. Clearing a rainforest to grow ethanol creates a carbon debt 17-420 times the carbon benefit of that ethanol replacing fossil fuels. Ethanol grown on already cleared land has little or no carbon debt. The green dilemma: to clear or not to clear.
8. DDT/Pesticides
DDT is an iconic example of the clash between the ‘PN and human progress by keeping nature at bay’ dichotomy. It also demonstrates the “Sword of Damocles” aspect of every application of human technology. There are still unresolved questions including: Was DDT losing its efficacy and creating resistant bugs when it was banned; or did banning/reducing DDT use cause more deaths? On the other hand the new highly efficient replacements are quite good at destroying the nerve cells of the applicators as in Ecuador where the IQ in northern potato growing areas is 2 standard deviations lower than the national average … French fries anyone?
9. New Guinea
New Guinea is the quintessential pristine environment, second only to the Amazon in extent and variation. A 2009 study will determine whether its glaciers are retreating. Many of its peoples live according to Albrecht’s maxim of sustainability. OkTedi showed how Progress through development of New Guinea’s vast mineral wealth should not be done. Will the Lihir Island resource be a reasonable compromise between PN disruption and Progress? Oh, and who was the boss of Lihir?
10. Bhopal
Bhopal caused over 4000 deaths and half a million casualties due to severe air pollution by MIC gas. India was keen to have western technology. Union Carbide compromised standards to an extent it couldn’t do at its equivalent plant in West Virginia. The Indian and regional Madhya Pradesh governments were complicit in this. There have been no more Bhopal’s. Can we learn by Bhopal and have progress without such disasters?

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