5 Amazing Ways Old War Relics Are Saving the World
There's a quote in the Bible about gathering all of the world's swords and turning them into plowshares, an inspirational symbol of taking weapons of war and putting them to humanitarian use. But while there are tons of uses for old swords (you can melt them into a throne!), what the hell do you do with old landmines? Or bombers? Or nukes full of radioactive material?
Lots of things, it turns out ...
An Old Minefield Serves as a Penguin Sanctuary
The Falkland Islands are chock-full of landmines, thanks to the Falklands War, and because mines are a pain in the ass to remove (go try it!). So the minefields are still there, to this day:
Making anything anyone does nearby seem 30 percent more badass.
You may recognize this as a horrific situation, since any random child or tourist can stumble across the mines and wind up as a tragic headline. But in the Falklands, they're not in too big of a hurry to clear the minefields because something unexpected and adorable happened: The fields have become the world's most effective penguin refuge.
"Go ahead and take one. We dare you."
If you're expecting a hilarious YouTube embed of a penguin stepping on a landmine and getting blown sky high, you'll be disappointed -- the penguins aren't heavy enough to set off the mines, to what we're assuming is the profound disappointment of many a tourist. But the mines are deadly to all of the things that threaten penguins. For instance, the whole reason the Falkland Islands penguins were an endangered species in the first place was due to overgrazing by sheep. With the minefields in place, however, sheep couldn't graze those areas without horrifying consequences. The result: penguin party.
"One of you guys brought blow, right?"
It's the type of animal protection overkill that not even PETA would have considered, but the horrific leftovers of the war became the perfect conservation tool for the penguins to thrive and stave off extinction. These days the penguins happily waddle around on top of the mines, completely unaware of the danger lurking inches below their feet (there is probably a metaphor in there somewhere). The penguins, and the fact that removing the mines would cause massive environmental damage, means that the Falkland mine-sanctuaries are probably there to stay forever.
Old Artillery Shells Are Used to Blast Avalanches
Artillery is among the most deadly and feared weapon ever deployed in warfare. A whopping 60 percent of all deaths during World War II happened during sudden showers of exploding metal death unleashed by artillery. But after World War II and Korea, we found ourselves with thousands of these shells laying around completely useless. What other use could there be for giant canisters of death meant to be lobbed miles from a giant cannon?
"Well, we'll still need something to fire ineffectually at Godzilla."
One army veteran saw an opportunity to defeat an entirely different enemy: snow. And that's what the U.S. Forest Service has been using them for since the 1950s -- taking on deadly avalanches.
They used to laugh when he said he worked for the Forest Service.
This is why areas around ski slopes might occasionally look like vintage war zones. The Forest Service installed artillery emplacements at key locations around the slopes and, instead of killing skiers with them and cackling like madmen, took on their new cold, white enemy. By firing into the snowcapped peaks on mountains, they instigate man-made avalanches, paradoxically preventing "real," or more specifically unplanned, avalanches from ever occurring.
"Yes, it's definitely that and not cover for our secret war on yetis."
The entire program has been a massive success. Each year hundreds of shells are lobbed into the mountains to create preventive avalanches to stop larger ones from killing snowboarders or sweeping away towns and highways. And the system is in use everywhere from Colorado to Alaska to California.
There is only one issue: They're running out of shells to use. As it turns out, vintage rounds from 70 years ago are getting hard to come by, and newer ones are a) still in use and b) more expensive. Alternatives are being looked at, but most people still want to stick with the original idea of blasting the avalanches to oblivion, since that's what has been working so well all these years. Hey, would you ever want to stop doing this?
"Of course it's the dead of summer. The avalanches will never see us coming."
Old C-130s Are Planting Trees
The Lockheed C-130 has been the backbone of American military support since it was introduced in the 1950s. Famous for being in Call of Duty and many Hollywood movies, it has been used for everything from military shipping to bombarding enemy positions to trying to kill Liam Neeson and the A-Team.
And then there was that time the Air Force blinded God.
Over 2,300 have been built since it was first flown, and naturally many of the older ones have gone on to other, less deadly careers. And while you might think they'd get downgraded to cargo planes or some shit, there is one use that would make the hippies truly feel like they won: reforestation.
It started when former RAF pilot Jack Walters had an idea that Lockheed took and made a reality. Using old air-dropped mine-laying technology from C-130s, they refitted the aircraft to instead drop something a little more useful to Mother Nature: tree seeds.
"We've bombed a few Boy Scout jamborees on accident, but nobody's perfect."
More specifically, what it actually drops is a metal cone that contains tree seeds. The cone buries itself in the ground where the metal rots away, leaving the trees to grow. And not just a few trees, but a shitload of trees. The aircraft have a capacity to plant a whopping 900,000 trees in a single day, and at times 3,000 trees a minute. They're hoping to get to a billion trees a year, including plans to replant the Black Forest, which, ironically, was previously deforested during the Cold War to provide a line of sight across the Iron Curtain. It's a hell of a lot easier than stomping around on the ground and planting them with a shovel.
If that entry left you disappointed because you were hoping they were going to blow the shit out of the old planes for target practice or something, well ...
Old Bombers Are Used as Crash Test Dummies
The B-52 is the grandfather of all current bombers, and it dwarfs the C-130 mentioned earlier. Introduced during the Korean War, it has seen service in every single major conflict the U.S. has been involved in since. However, some of the older variants have been retired and scrapped due to their age. But this doesn't mean that they have been totally useless in death.
OK, that one might be on fire.
In the early 1990s, the U.S. struck an arms deal with the Soviet Union that required them to retire 30 B-52 bombers. They were sent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, which incidentally looks like someone went crazy with Photoshop:
Whoa, a little heavy on the copy/paste function there.
Someone at that point had the awesome idea to destroy the massive planes with explosions, but then somebody thought, "Hey, I wonder if that would yield tons of information about how big planes explode? And if the people who make airliners would like to get in on that?"
Not that airliners were just exploding left and right 20 years ago, but they kind of needed to know how to make their planes explosion-proof due to, you know, terrorism. When a terrorist bombs an aircraft, it usually rips a hole in the plane. However, that isn't usually what causes the whole thing to fall out of the sky -- instead, after the hole has been created, cracks spread, and the whole thing can just burst like a metal balloon. The solution? Create a material resistant to those cracks. The only thing stopping this research was a lack of aircraft to blow up to see how it worked ... until the FAA found themselves with those 30 B-52s that needed to be blown up anyway.
Reduce, reuse, explode.
It would be awesome if we had video here of them blowing the shit out of the planes, but obviously that video wasn't released to the public, since the most interested parties would have been terrorists who'd scrutinize the clips and think, "Ah, so we need to blow it up like this from now on." Which would have defeated the purpose somewhat.
Old Soviet Nuclear Missiles Are Used to Power Homes
Most people alive today, and many of you reading this article, grew up in a time when thousands of nukes were pointed at their homes from halfway across the world, ready to rain death and destruction at a moment's notice.
"What happens if I press this but- oh shit."
However, since the Cold War was won (USA! USA!), the need for these missiles has lessened greatly and thousands have been decommissioned. So what happens to them after they're decommissioned? Well, there's a 10 percent chance your computer is powered using old Soviet nuclear fuel.
Under a program titled Megatons to Megawatts, Russia has been handing over their decommissioned missiles in order for the U.S. to dismantle and remove the nuclear material for use in their nuclear power plants. Old Russian nukes provide more power than geothermal, solar, and wind. The program has been so successful that 45 percent of all U.S. nuclear fuel was pulled from weapons that were previously intended to kill the very people getting power from it. It's because of this spooky irony that the power industry has been hush-hush over the entire deal.
They just called the uranium "recycled" and left it at that.
The U.S. sees it as a way to prevent loose nuclear missiles in Russia, while Russia sees it as a way to make the U.S. dependent on nuclear treaties. And Russia is right. The U.S. power industry has now been permanently tied to nuclear disarmament treaties. Ten percent of the U.S.'s annual power comes from the fuel from these missiles ... which is expected to be completely depleted at the end of 2013. Utilities operators (as well as people who enjoy consuming electricity and living in the modern world) have their fingers crossed that a new disarmament treaty will be passed soon. So that would be another reason to do it.
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Related Reading: Sometimes the military finds new uses for its own old equipment. It's kinda the munitions equivalent of masturbation, but tell us those Chinese military crossbows aren't the shit. If you're interested in crazy antique weaponry that was straight-up abandoned, click this link. It turns out the Navy routinely throws away billions of dollars' worth of battleship. If low-budget DIY warfare is more your thing, this list of incredible military improvisations should sate your peculiarly specific tastes.