7 Bizarre Ways You Didn't Know 9/11 Changed the World
September 11, 2001 changed the world. Laws changed, regimes changed, the way we look at the world changed and the release date of the Tim Allen masterpiece Big Trouble changed because it featured a bomb on an airplane. But under all of that, the world was affected in a number of bizarre, unexpected ways that largely went unreported, for obvious reasons. But thanks to the action of a handful of terrorists ...
The World Got Hotter
In the wake of 9/11, something happened that most people never thought they'd see until the utter collapse of human civilization: completely empty skies.
"Welp, it's the end. Apocalorgy, anyone?
After the attacks, the U.S. government temporarily grounded every plane in the nation (including crop dusters and those little planes that tow ad banners -- no, that is not a joke). Inbound flights that were already in the air were rerouted to other countries, and some airports stayed closed until as late as October, because as we all know, terrorists have only ever killed people in airplanes.
The problem with that is, unbeknownst to most, contrails (those white vapor trails that form out of airplane exhaust) act as mirrors, reflecting heat away from the Earth's surface. Those thousands and thousands of vapor trails have actually had a cooling effect that has counteracted global warming to some extent for years -- each airborne plane is sort of like Captain Planet zipping around with a UV shield tied to his boots.
But, unlike Captain Planet, only assholes want to hurt planes.
With so many planes grounded all at once, the atmosphere suddenly found itself without the mirror it had grown accustomed to over the past half century, and the temperature in the United States increased by 2 degrees in just three days. That may not sound like much, but consider this: Global warming typically only causes about a 0.5-degree increase every year. Grounding all of the planes caused a 2-degree increase, 400 percent of the average annual rate, in three goddamned days.
Knowing this, you'd think those shiftless penguins would have done more to help fight al-Qaida.
And sure, a couple of degrees difference isn't going to kill anyone. But this next one did ...
Thousands of People Died ... in Car Accidents
As a result of the fear of air travel that arose post-9/11 (and of the fact that all planes were either heavily restricted or flat-out grounded for a week after the attacks), many people decided to just drive the trips they had planned on flying. After all, it seemed highly unlikely that al-Qaida would hijack anyone's Ford Festiva and try to crash it into Trump Tower (some confused valet would've probably run out and tried to park it). By that line of reasoning, what could be safer?
"Box-cutter this, you needle-dicked sheepfuckers."
Flying, actually. As you may know, car accidents are staggeringly more common than plane crashes (terrorists notwithstanding) due to the fact that pretty much everyone drives. The average person spends about two hours every day behind the wheel of a car, and statistically speaking, you are much more likely to crash after an hour of driving than you are after an hour of flying. By responding in the reactionary knee-jerk way media-driven cultures generally do, Americans dramatically increased the number of fatal car accidents in the year following 9/11.
Because no one will ever be as good at killing Americans as Americans.
How much? How about an estimated 1,595 extra deaths, almost half the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks themselves, due to all of the extra driving people did in a year when air travel dropped 20 percent. All because Americans thought that driving everywhere was the only way to avoid being killed in a blazing explosion. Note to Alanis Morissette: This is what irony actually is.
"And isn't it ironic? It's like dying in a car crash to avoid terrorists on your, um, wedding day. Fuck."
Pests Invaded America
Before 9/11, America had an extensive network of agricultural scientists dedicated to ensuring that crop-ravaging insects didn't make their way into the country. By way of in-depth inspections of imported produce, somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000 bugs a year were intercepted at the nation's borders, and presumably deported back to their homelands to compose entries about American fascism for their Tumblr accounts.
"I was pupated here, goddammit! Jus soli, Jus soli!"
However, after the attacks on September 11, Homeland Security devoted nearly 100 percent of these watchdog scientists to detecting the chemical and physical traces of bombs that might be getting smuggled into the country. We admit, the reasoning was solid -- bombs and terrorism hadn't existed before, and after the invention of both on 9/11, the United States simply couldn't afford to waste resources on protecting the crops necessary to sustain its own population. Besides, in the post-9/11 world, all food would be grown from rehydrated science capsules, like the pizza in Back to the Future Part II.
Future-Cosco would, presumably, be slightly larger than a bread box.
As a result, billions of dollars' worth of produce, private orchards and prized forest land were destroyed by insane foreign contaminants that were brought into the country through uninspected imports. And it wasn't just insects -- fungal infections, which are a very serious problem for citrus orchards, and plant-specific diseases also made their way in, crotch-punching crops across several border states. New pests and infections increased by almost 30 percent in Florida alone, whereas other states, such as California, suffered extensive damage to the local wildlife population after pesticides had to be dumped by the gross to combat invading insects.
"Sorry, bunnies! This was Osama's fauuuuuult!"
This ended up costing taxpayers around an extra $120 billion every year in the form of rising food costs and government pest eradication and control programs. However, since none of the bugs were radioactive or exploding, nobody really gave a shit.
Whales Were Happier (for Two Days)
Yes, whales got happier after the 9/11 attacks. How the hell can we possibly know that? And why did we bother to find out? Well, that takes a bit of explaining.
Clearly, whales hate our freedom.
By sheer coincidence, two unrelated studies were being conducted regarding the North Atlantic right whale in Canada's Bay of Fundy on the morning of September 11. One particular researcher was testing whale feces in an effort to understand their reproductive process and overall health (because poop is the exact center of both of those things) when she received word of the terrorist attacks in America. Deciding that halting her poop-sifting knowledge quest would be exactly what the terrorists would want, she bravely persevered and plowed ahead with her work.
The other set of researchers were focusing more on underwater sound recordings of whale mothers and their calves to shed more light on their social behavior. Again, both of these studies were being conducted immediately before, during and after the attacks on September 11. When the two studies were later compared side-by-side, they painted a complex, completely unexpected and vaguely sinister picture of whales.
He's flipping us the bird. The whale bird.
Both studies found that the whales' overall stress levels had fallen dramatically on 9/11 and on the days immediately following. The whales, it seems, were actually happier in the wake of the attacks. While Americans were inflating their jeans with brown loads of panic, these whales were almost serene.
You see, directly after 9/11, governments worldwide shut down not just the majority of air traffic, but also most shipping activity. That means for a brief period of time, there were no massive freighters churning through the water where these whales lived.
Which means the whales join Glenn Beck on team "wishes it were still the day after 9/11."
The researchers discovered that, without the constant thrum of shipping freighters directly on top of them, stress hormones in the whales had plummeted dramatically. This "acoustic pollution" does serious harm to ocean creatures that rely on sound to navigate and communicate -- imagine trying to have a conversation with your family while someone is riding a Harley around your living room. For those few glorious days, the whales had the ocean all to themselves, and their quality of life boomed.
Of course, normal shipping traffic resumed very quickly, and the whales went back to being cranky and irritable, waiting for the day when the sea would be returned to them. Even now, they wait.
Suicide Rates Dropped (in England)
Over in England they have something called the "Blitz spirit," a reference to the can-do attitude of perseverance and national pride experienced in the midst of the Battle of Britain during World War II. So in the days and weeks following September 11, British scientists saw an opportunity to study the phenomenon firsthand. What they found was significant: a 40 percent drop in suicides following al-Qaida's plane-shaped sucker punch.
The theory is that massive tragedy tends to unite people, making them feel like they're struggling against something as part of a team. When you feel like a part of something, you're much more likely to feel a sense of duty, obligation and (more importantly for this study) support, like there are people out there who need you and would give a rat's ass should anything happen to you. The U.S. and Great Britain have had their differences (see the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812), but dammit, we're still friends, and killing yourself when your friends need you is just lame.
"The Americans are there for us whenever a royal gets married or dies. And, by British God, we'll be there for them."
So if a tragedy that hit an ally an ocean away galvanized the suicidal mopesters of Great Britain, you'd expect an even more prominent reaction when something terrible happened at home. But while suicides did drop 40 percent after the 7/7 bombings in London, the suicide rate only stayed "depressed" for two days. By comparison, the drop in suicides after 9/11 lasted four weeks.
Which, incidentally, is how long the people in that stock photo managed to hold their pose.
There are two possible explanations for this. One is that the infinitely more massive media reaction to September 11 gave it an exaggerated impact that resonated much more deeply than the transit bombings in London. The other possibility is that huge disasters are like Batman sequels: We get so worked up over one that by the time the next one comes along, we just don't care anymore.
"Pssht. Bomb in a train. Totally called it."
Ecstasy (the Drug) Took a Hit
Anyone old enough to remember flying before 9/11 probably recalls the infinitesimal shit security used to give back in those days. It was a golden age of sprinting to your gate, flying with your own shampoo and (apparently) smuggling Ecstasy.
"Yes, I'll be carrying it on. I want to roll face through a storm cloud."
In those days, Ecstasy was typically brought in from Europe, easily hidden in a mule's carry-on luggage or just plopped in their goddamn pockets and walked right out of the airport to a taxi cab and a night of Daft Punk and glow-in-the-dark pacifiers. Remember, these were the days when people could go all the way up to the gate without going through security, provided they were just seeing someone off and not actually getting on the plane.
We've lost many freedoms to the War on Terror.
After 9/11, the TSA ramped up the ol' wand-and-tickle in light of new and exponentially stricter security regulations, and the years following saw a record number of people getting busted with Ecstasy. Painkillers like OxyContin rode in to fill the sobriety gap as drug dealers began to increasingly rely on the more challenging task of smuggling Ecstasy in on the ground through Mexico and Canada.
As a result, the drug is now much more difficult to come by, and more expensive -- 2001 ended up being the peak year for Ecstasy, with its popularity and relevance steadily declining each subsequent year (much like Staind). In a way, that's kind of inspiring. 9/11 might have forced Americans to change their drug habits, but it couldn't stop them from doing drugs. We think that means the terrorists lost.
Every good high is a victory against the forces of evil.
It Traumatized a Generation ... of Unborn Children
Over a half million New York City residents suffered from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the years following 9/11. Among the multitude of people directly affected by the events of that day were roughly 1,700 pregnant women, and some of them expectedly went on to suffer from PTSD. However, their yet-to-be-born children were also found to be afflicted.
"He's shouting something about ragheads. Ma'am, this is easily the third most racist fetus I've encountered."
Scientists at the Mournfully Weeping Institute of World-Souring Bleakness measured cortisol levels in pregnant women who were near Ground Zero during the attacks. Cortisol is kind of like a chemical marker in PTSD victims -- if cortisol is low, it indicates that the person more than likely has PTSD. The scientists found that all of the pregnant women they tested who developed PTSD had an abnormally low cortisol level.
In a follow-up study, they went on to prove that Tupac is dead and fairies don't exist.
Acting on a little-known but mind-blowing phenomenon known as epigenetics (basically the passing down of a person's experiences to subsequent generations), they decided to test the children of the mothers with PTSD. This research had previously been applied to survivors of the Holocaust, and had shown the effects of that tragedy reaching the victims' children. The 9/11 study only made the phenomenon more concrete -- at 1 year old, the children of the women with PTSD exhibited the same low cortisol levels as their mothers.
So now we have infants afflicted with PTSD without ever having experienced any trauma in their lives. What's more, the scientists have observed epigenetics passing down traits in mice to at least two subsequent generations, meaning that all the kids born with PTSD from 9/11 might very well give birth to children decades from now who also have PTSD.
It's a shame those Navy SEALs didn't have a gun capable of choking a man to death with thousands of unwashed penises.
Robert Evans heads up Cracked's workshop moderator team and manages the article captions. He writes about world travel and dangerous adventures for Vagabondish. Contact him at revanswriter @ gmail . com.
For more odd things that changed the world, check out 6 Uneducated Amateurs Whose Genius Changed the World and 6 Mistranslations That Changed The World.