6 Man-Made Natural Disasters Just Waiting to Happen
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.
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 shit for 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.
Related: More Cloud Backup! Now!
Mumbai and Bangkok are Ticking Flood Bombs
Cities are one of mankind's greatest accomplishments - we somehow manage to cram millions of people into a few hundred square miles without suffocating them all to death or driving them stabtastically insane. All it needs to keep running smoothly is decent public service and running water.
Pictured: public service, running water.
Which brings us to the densely populated cities of Mumbai and Bangkok.
We'll start with Mumbai. In ages past, the city used the surrounding mangrove forest to drain off excess water during times of high tide and flood. Sadly, the expansion of the city as a result of the current continuing population explosion has resulted in clear-cutting those forests, building over the natural drainage. They have a man made back up system, but it's a century old and currently clogged worse than the toilet Elvis Presley died on. It also has only three outfalls (places where it dumps into the sea) that have floodgates, leaving the other 120 outfalls to welcome rising tides with arms wide open.
This doesn't include the northern suburbs that were put together with no drainage plan, whatsoever. Being that the coast is to the south of the city, this means that all the flooding and run-off they generate just effs Mumbai in the B even harder. Yes, everyone living there has basically made their home on the Titanic.
Bangkok's problems are a bit different. On average, the city sits only three and half to five feet above sea level, with many parts of the city resting well below that. Considering Bangkok is the major population center of Thailand, if a major hurricane hits, the whole joint is going under the sea, leaving Thailand pretty much screwed. Also, it's fucking sinking.
See, Bangkok is build on clay instead of bedrock, so every time a new building gets thrown up or another baby gets popped out, it increases the amount of weight on the substrate the city is built on, sinking it further. Also, the people of Bangkok need to pump subterranean aquifers in order to have drinking water, which weakens the ground beneath the clay, which, as you may have already guessed, sinks the city even more. Altogether, this ship is going down at about four inches per year, with some estimates giving it another 15 or 20 years before it gets completely submerged.
"Soon, Bangkok. Very soon."
But hey, it's not like their whole nation will wind up under water, right? So at least the people will have a place to move to. We can't say the same for...
The Doomed Island of Tuvalu
Tuvalu is a small island nation halfway between Hawaii and Australia in the tropical Pacific, and it looks like this:
Not a word, Jimmy Buffet. Not one damn word.
It is practically the definition of "island paradise", except for the fact that the county's maximum elevation is 15 feet above sea level, which is roughly the size of Shaquille O'Neal standing on his own shoulders. From the previous entry, you can guess where this is going.
First, the people of Tuvalu have been clear-cutting their meager forests for years to provide the nation with fuel. Oh, and they've been using sand as a building material for a long time, which has caused a large portion of the beach to erode away, though to be fair there aren't exactly a ton of other options.
"Really, the sand is all we've got."
So already you have issues with erosion shrinking the island. But all of that pales in comparison to the fact that since sea levels are currently rising thanks to global warming. All that adds up to the fact that Tuvalu is inevitably going to vanish completely under the Pacific ocean.
Honestly, it's only a matter of time before the people of Tuvalu cannibalize their island until it's roughly the size of a postage stamp or the rest of the world melts the ice caps enough to drop the island below the surface like a sand castle wiped away by the tide. We're totally creating a new Atlantis here, people.
Chernobyl and The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant
Chernobyl may seem like old news, but in recent years it's been staging a Mary J. Blige-esque comeback in the form of a continuing nuclear meltdown.
Back in the 1980s when the reactor blew and irradiated everything in a 150 mile radius, the Russians decided to clean up the mess by building a giant concrete shell over top of it (the shell was dubbed the Sarcophagus without a single bit of irony whatsoever). That seemed like a great idea, until they realized that normal wear and tear on the Sarcophagus coupled with the intense heat of the radiation trapped beneath it would eventually cause the whole thing to collapse and reopen the festering radioactive sore within.
Also, the toxic material is sinking into the ground, so the fear is that should the superheated radioactive material hit groundwater, it would cause a steam explosion that would be worse than the original catastrophe.
"So... so do we put a shell on top of that?"
Then there is the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) in Japan, which is the largest nuclear power plant in the world based on the amount of energy produced.
Because Japan sits on more than 40,000 fault lines , the KKNPP was built to withstand powerful earthquakes, up to a magnitude of 5 on the Richter scale. Pretty solid, except that a quake registering 6.6 on the Richter scale hit just off the coast.
We should cut Chernobyl a little slack, since the sarcophagus was built hastily as radiation was being vomited all over the landscape. And honestly, if you asked most people at the center of a meltdown if pouring a shitload of concrete onto a nuclear disaster is a good first step toward fixing it, you'd probably hear a lot of "yes, do that immediately" mixed in with the agonized screaming.
The KKNPP, however, is apparently run by a dubious bunch. The plant was shut down for a year after it came out that data about the plant's output had been falsified. Then the earthquake hit and caused a bunch of shit like spilling toxic waste into the Sea of Japan and tipping over 400 drums of radioactive waste.
Furthermore, the KKNPP may very well be ON a fault line, so it doesn't take a lot of guesswork to imagine what would happen if that decided to let loose. But the company that owns the plant assures us that the potential fault line is 12 miles below the surface, so at least the ground won't just crack open under the plant.
You sure about that?
Thankfully, some steps are being taken in both cases. The KKNPP is being reinforced to resist even stronger earthquakes in the future, although if the fault line below it grows, it will all be horribly, radioactively moot. In the Ukraine there is a project underway to build an even bigger and better sarcophagus around the old one, so when that thing collapses into a pile of shit, it will at least be a contained pile of shit. That is, until it sinks all the way to the Earth's core. Then we're probably fucked.
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To find out about how the world has already ended (multiple times), check out 5 Horrifying Apocalyptic Scenarios (That Have Already Happened) . Or learn about some galactic accidents waiting to happen, in 5 Cosmic Events That Could Kill You Before Lunch .
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 2.12.2010) to see how Cody is doing his part to doom the planet.