6 Dazzling Sights in Nature (Caused by Human Stupidity)
Look, pollution is no laughing matter. It can result in some fairly unreasonable things, like poisoned waterways, gigantic holes in the Ozone Layer, the end of life as we know it, and other minor inconveniences.
Still, as shitty as it is that humanity is rapidly destroying its own potential to continue to exist on this planet, at least we can console ourselves with the fact that, occasionally, we manage to create some goddamn trippy imagery in the process. We're talking about shit like ...
A River of Poison Blood
Wow. That looks like a river of blood, all right.
The Rio Tinto (Red River) in Spain has had a shitty time ever since humanity turned up. We're not indulging in hyperbole, here; Homo sapiens have been dumping pollutants in the river for over 5,000 years, a number you may recognize as five times the combined duration of the Roman Empire and the Egyptian Empire. To be fair, we've not been doing it because some aged king did the old "Fuck this river in particular" routine several millennia ago and no one ever got around to stopping. Rio Tinto just happens to run through an area with some of the richest deposits of copper, gold, and silver in the world, and as such the area has been screwed by the world's foremost mining boners since time immemorial.
If your own boner releases such a discharge, see a specialist.
The area was first mined by the Iberians and Tartessians in the third millennium B.C., and it remains a viable source of copper even today. Over time, it acquired its characteristic red color from heavy metals that crept in as a side effect of mining. The color's not all that trickled in, either. The river is actually even more lethal than its uninviting appearance suggests. The pH of the water hovers around 2, placing it on par with stomach acid. Yes, Rio Tinto could literally digest you.
Being the stubborn bastard that it is, life has still somehow found a way to persevere in the hellish environment of Rio Tinto. Anaerobic extremophile bacteria have been found to thrive in its waters, the conditions of which are so out of this world that NASA is collecting samples of these bacteria to simulate searching for life on other planets. Meanwhile, we now know what it would look like if the Earth was to get into a knife fight.
Monstrous Algae Infestations Straight Out of a Horror Movie
In 2008, swimmers in the Chinese city of Qingdao were in for a surprise when they visited the beach. The sea had turned into a green mass of slimy tentacle squash, like something out of one of Lovecraft's discarded story ideas. Well, not the whole sea -- just a coastal area the size of, oh, 5,000 square miles or so. The city was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of one of the biggest algae blooms in history, thanks to a shitload of chemicals dumped off the coast.
"Now that the algae ate the chemicals, the water's safe for swimming, right?"
Yes, just as in all of those giant monster movies from the 1950s, it turns out that this super-sized mutant horror was due to mankind's hubris. The naturally occurring algae in the river had been driven into frenzy by heavy agricultural runoff, leading to a vast algal explosion that covered entire coastal areas with piles and piles of the stuff, running almost 10 feet thick in places. This was a bummer, as the algae ate up all the oxygen in the water, which kills off the fish. Also, the Olympics were just around the corner, and Qingdao was supposed to host the sailing events.
Somehow, they managed to clean up the area in time, and Qingdao was finally able to forget this nightmare ... for now.
"Why is it screaming?"
This is totally happening all the time, as the lakes, rivers, and coastal areas of China are rife with sewage, chemical pollutants, and fertilizers.
It's not just China, either. Although Qingdao's algae flood seems to be an annual fixture these days and remains the worst of the bunch, these giant algae attacks are getting more and more frequent in other areas, too. This shit has happened in the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Erie, and the freaking Gulf of Mexico, among other places. Meanwhile, the good people of Qingdao are trying to make the best of a bad situation by practicing their Swamp Thing imitation whenever the algae days roll around.
A moment later, his smiling severed head rolls away.
The Great Sulfur Pyramids of Alberta
Drilling for oil sands is kind of like burning hundred dollar bills to keep warm: It's nobody's first choice, but when the cost of the alternatives goes up exponentially, it starts to look a lot more appealing. But that's not the important part here. One of the byproducts of the process is sulfur -- lots and lots of it. The problem is that sulfur is almost completely worthless. One company, Syncrude, came up with a revolutionary way to deal with all this yellow waste piling up in their corners:
Step 1: Start building a huge-ass pyramid out of it.
Step 2: That's pretty much it.
Step 2 used to be "Eh, fuck it," but people started to take it too literally.
In a scheme that seems less like a business plan and more like misguided Minecraft enthusiasm, they actually started shaping all that excess sulfur into blocks and stacking them into giant pyramids, much like the Egyptians did. The pyramids are still technically ziggurats and well under construction, but they have already reached massive proportions. There's about 15 million tons of sulfur, just sitting there. The biggest pyramid is already 60 feet tall and has a quarter-mile base. To put those numbers in perspective, here's a chart comparing the Pyramid of Giza to the greatest of the Alberta constructions:
Although it's still in its initial stages, the Alberta structure is already larger in volume than the Great Pyramid, and it's growing all the damn time.
The low price of sulfur makes it cheaper to store it than to sell it, which means those piles aren't going anywhere in the foreseeable future. On the bright side, Canadian pharaohs have never had an easier time picking out burial sites.
But when it comes to piling up mountains of unwanted shit, it's hard to top ...
Literal Mountains of Shit
See this huge range of massive mounds behind the cows?
That's poop. All of it.
The U.S. beef industry is the largest in the world, but because of that it's also the world's largest cow-shit producer. Most people realize that cows poop and that the meat industry is raising a lot of these delicious crap machines. What almost all of us actively forget, however, is how much poop just one cow is able to produce, let alone the gazillions we turn into value meals every year. The end result is measured in very literal metric shit tons.
Poop. All poop.
It's estimated that just 3,500 cows can produce 40,000 tons of crap each year, which is on par with the amount produced by a small city. Keep in mind, though, that most feedlot operations are much, much bigger than that. The cattle feedlots outside Greeley, Colorado, alone can hold tens of thousands of cows and produce more poopy waste than the cities of Denver, Boston, Atlanta, and St. Louis combined. So they just go "fuck it," and pile the shit up. Occasionally the piles burst into flame, too -- the methane is very combustible, and one shit fire at a feedlot near Milford, Nebraska, burned for months before firefighters could extinguish it.
And because man-made burning cow poop mountains aren't terrifying enough, there's also the slight matter of rain. Since the piles are kept out in the open, rainwater turns their runoff into a vast diarrhea flow that has to be diverted into specially constructed areas called "lagoons."
Bright Blue Bee Hives
So ... is this some kind of stained-glass thing we found on Etsy? Or maybe those are blue marbles stuck into a honeycomb, as part of somebody's art project?
Nope and nope! That is honey, produced by bees in exactly the same way honey is normally produced. It's what they use for making said honey that's causing the freaky colors. In 2012, beekeepers in Northern France went to check on their hives and discovered something truly terrifying (well, more terrifying than the giant, wriggling horror-mass of bees that is their daily life). In addition to the typical amber-colored honey, the bees were gleefully making red, green, purple, and even blue honey. Like so:
Possibly some sort of pride thing.
After immediately surrendering to the bees, French health inspectors launched an investigation into the cause of this mystery. Were the bees some new strain of mutant X-bees? Or maybe the queen bee just decided she wanted a change in decor?
The answer was even stranger: The bees had skipped the whole "pollen from flowers" thing in the honey-making process and collected surplus M&M shells from a nearby factory instead. Worker bees normally go to great lengths to collect pollen, but sometimes they find alternatives that are closer to home. In this case, the bees had located a plant that was processing waste from a candy factory that produced M&M's. The waste, specifically the colored candy shells, was kept outside in open containers, which the bees promptly started stealing and incorporating into their honey.
Thankfully, the surrounding areas did not contain any Sriracha factories.
Sadly, the world will never find out how "naturally" produced M&Ms taste like, as the presumably additive-ridden honey was immediately labeled unfit for human consumption. Farmers had to get rid of their entire stock, putting the country's already-struggling honey industry in even more jeopardy. That is despite the fact that approximately 90 percent of the people reading this just want to know what it tastes like.
Toxic Aerial Landscapes That Rival Impressionist Paintings
Photographer J. Henry Fair specializes in taking aerial shots of regions that are heavily impacted by industrial pollution. He publishes them in his exhibit Industrial Scars. They're horrible, but they're also 10 kinds of badass. Just look at it! All of the images are beautiful in ways that only exotic chemicals can be.
The image above is "the effluvia from aluminum production as it spreads across Earth and sea, staining and changing the ecology of everything in its path," as the linked Atlantic article describes. On the bright side, it looks like a bowl of melted Skittles.
Here's a shot that, if you squint, seems like it's capturing the emerald glory of an open grassy field ...
"It's beautiful! Wait, why are my lungs growing hands?"
... and then you realize you're looking at the runoff from an herbicide manufacturing factory. Yep, all those sweet shapes are actually deadly poison that's killing the environment. Let's take our mind away from that with this metal as shit lava landscape:
"AWESOME! But now my lung hands have psoriasis ..."
... that's actually a few tons of toxic, yet currently non-regulated waste flowing from a coal power plant. Still, if you don't mind risking death by toxic metal fumes, at least you can use it as a backdrop for your YouTube re-creation of the volcano lightsaber fight from Revenge of the Sith.
Kel's greatest goal in life is to find a black guy named Kenan and become best friends with him. Follow him on Twitter.
Related Reading: Unfortunately, not all of our wonton destruction results in beauty. Sometimes it creates a killer wave of molasses. But how much does it matter anyway? We don't need nature when we're making lightning out of lasers and dooming ourselves by creating Terminators..
If you're any kind of human, you want to know what naturally flavored M&M's taste like. Click the Facebook share button below, and together we can demand answers.