There's a reason natural disasters are called that, and not "natural fun times." It's a constant scourge on our development as a species that we are perpetually beaten down by the wrath of nature. But that's why it's so surprising to learn that occasionally, just occasionally, natural disasters can have surprising upsides. Here are a few cases where the universe's fury has actually worked out pretty well for some of the people involved.
5Earthquakes Bring Two Rival Nations Together
Surprisingly for two peoples united in their shared love of rotating meat, for most of the 20th century, Turkey and Greece really, really hated each other. As recently as the '90s, the Greek foreign minister was referring to the Turks as "thieves and rapists," while Turkey regularly celebrated its victory at the Battle of Smyrna by symbolically bayonetting actors dressed as Greek soldiers before hurling them into the sea and then stamping on a Greek flag. So it's probably fair to say that things were pretty tense.
But when a huge earthquake hit Istanbul and northern Turkey in 1999, the Greeks reacted out of character. Apparently concluding that a horrific natural disaster was worse than Turkey deserved, the Greeks stepped up to the plate, sending rescue crews and medical aid and raising a large sum of money for the relief effort. One Greek guy even called up the Turkish embassy and offered to donate a kidney to anyone who needed it. For the first time in decades, little rainbows started shining through the two nations' mutual disdain.
"They're hoarding gold! Kill 'em!"
Then, less than a month later, a separate earthquake hit Athens. At this point, we've got to believe Poseidon was attempting a kind of horrible diplomacy the only way that he knew how. But it worked, as Turkish rescue efforts flooded into Greece, with Greek commentators struggling to contain their emotion at the outpouring of support.
This time the thaw stuck around. Diplomats from the two countries started meeting to discuss closer relations. Greek ships began docking in Turkish ports for the first time in 25 years. Greece even agreed to drop their opposition to Turkey entering the European Union. The Turks even agreed to stop pretending to stab old-timey Greek soldiers. We assume they moved on to pretending to stab, like, North Koreans or somebody. The point is, all it took to break the ice was two earth-shattering cataclysms. Hey, it's just the way humans are.
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
4Mississippi Floods Wash Away an Oil Spill, Replenish the Environment
What sucks about disasters is they almost never join up to cancel each other out -- the flood never comes just in time to put out the wildfire. But every once in a while, you get lucky. In 2011, the Mississippi River burst its banks and doused Louisiana in the worst flood that it's seen in about a quarter century, which is really saying something in a part of the world that gets pummeled constantly by hurricanes and other weather-related horrors. So why did NPR report it as "a good thing?" Do they just have a major hard-on for human suffering? No, it's because this time it was helping to undo a few earlier man-made disasters.
James Woodson/Photodisc/Getty Images
Like the rebirth of legendary superhero Swampsuit Johnny.
First, the effort to divert water away from the Mississippi had the effect of restoring the ecosystem that Louisiana needs to survive. Since some enterprising humans decided that nature would look better as a housing development, they wrapped the whole river in levees and dams so effectively that the native wetlands had been drying up and shrinking since 1930. The floods helped to mitigate this by replenishing populations of crawfish, shrimp, and other slimy critters that form the local residents' livelihood.
But even more than that, the 2011 floods had the dual benefit of washing away some of the nasty oil sludge left behind from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Oh, yeah, remember that?
It was kind of a big deal.
It's very difficult to get rid of crude oil in a natural area, but the flooding helped push some of that oil out of the wetlands where it could be more easily collected in the ocean. Of course, it would be nice if the Mississippi could achieve all this good without displacing thousands of people from their homes, but that's unlikely until we find a way to put all our houses on poles like in The Jetsons.