6 Ways We Ruined The Earth (While Trying To Save It)
Every now and again, the Earth gets treated like a kid in a particularly heinous custody battle -- environmentalist attempts to do what's best for the ecosystem accidentally screw it up further instead. So without further ado, here are some incidents which will someday cause our lush green planet to skip school, get its asshole pierced, and go smoke bath salts behind the nearest Cracker Barrel.
Humans Try To Save Monarch Butterflies, End Up Making Them Lazy And Stupid
The monarch butterfly is easily the most recognizable butterfly in North America. They're particularly famous for their annual migration from Mexico to Canada, and for their usefulness in helping second-graders get C-pluses on science fair projects. ("This is a butterfly. I caught it in the yard.") The monarch is also dying off at an alarming rate. Some populations have declined by as much 90 percent since the '90s, and researchers think they know why. Monarchs rely on milkweed plants for food, mating spots, and egg-laying locations. However, milkweed is (duh) a weed, so humans keep killing it, inadvertently driving the monarchs away.
Even more effective than the Magna Carta.
In an effort to try to boost monarch numbers, many American gardeners began planting milkweed in their gardens to give the butterflies a place to eat and bang. But despite this altruistic planting of butterfly no-tell motels, monarch populations kept declining, sometimes at an even more rapid rate. What gives, weeds?
Well, these well-intentioned gardeners would have helped ... if they hadn't planted the wrong goddamn weed. Not all milkweed is created equal, and many gardeners planted tropical milkweed, a species which kills butterfly ambition. So rather than continue the migration (which is necessary to their life cycle), the monarchs would just settle down in their little milkweed patches and never leave, sort of like that star quarterback who ended up back in his parents' basement after dropping out of college.
"If it hadn't been for my bad knee and those 12 DUI arrests, I could've gone pro."
The most ridiculous part is that there are 20 different varieties of milkweed that are A-OK for monarchs, but humans still managed to find the one that's terrible for them, which could mean no more cool science projects. Think of the children!
An Island Nation Severely Underestimates The Joys Of Fishing
The small Pacific island nation of Kiribati (population ~100,000) has a simple economy with two main industries: fishing and coconuts. The problem was that there were too many fishermen (or at least, too many good fishermen), so the government came up with a brilliant plan. In order to reduce overfishing, they would subsidize the coconut pickers. That way, the people would have an incentive to make more money, and the fish population would have a chance to recover.
While the government patted itself on the back for their flawless plan and passed around cigars, a grad student named Sheila Walsh thought to ask, "Hey, did your plan actually work?" Spoiler alert: It didn't.
Walsh came back and told them that fishing was up 33 percent, and that the reef's ecosystem was in dire straits as a result. It turns out that the people weren't exactly interested in having enough money to buy whatever leisure items you might possibly need on a gorgeous Pacific island. What they were interested in was having enough spare time to enjoy leisure activities out on their oceanic paradise ... like fishing.
By subsidizing coconuts, the government had accidentally gone with the option that took up less time. Folks could now earn more money in a shorter amount of time, and now all they wanted to do was fish -- which could incidentally be used as a further source of income. Damn you, prosperity, leisure, and industriousness! Damn you to hell!
The EPA Tries To Save A River, Fills It With Toxic Sludge
Old creepy mines do more than provide affordable housing for Scooby-Doo villains. They tend to leak acidic wastewater and heavy metals (the non-Slayer kind) into nearby water supplies. The EPA often tries to combat this by lobbying to get abandoned mines labelled as Superfund sites, which are the government's way of telling businesses that they don't get their weekly allowance if they don't clean up their room. But such a cleanup costs time and money, and we can't expect businesses to be spending money on things, now can we?
It's always better to apologize later with nice, cheap words.
In any case, the EPA often just lets out an enormous sigh and does the cleanup themselves, which gives businesses even less incentive to do it. Last year, in Silverton, Colorado, workers were attempting to add a water tap to a tailing pond near a local mine, which is a sort of holding tank for all the sludge and waste that a mine generates. By adding that tap, it would be easy to control the drainage in a safe manner and keep it away from things like drinking water resources. The residents of Silverton were able to see this tap in action as the nearby Animas River turned from an ugly blue to a beautiful and healthy opaque orange.
"Is it too late to get Nickelodeon to do a tie-in promotion?"
It turns out that adding the tap damaged the retaining wall on the pond and turned their nice, controlled drainage into an unstoppable flood of toxic chemicals. The initial break released over three million gallons of wastewater, and was still pumping out around 750,000 gallons per day a week later, which is you'll note is about 750,000 gallons per day more than it had been spewing before. A nearby dam released extra water to try to dilute the mess, but even now, residents are reporting that the Animas still has the charming hue of runaway diarrhea.
A Drought-Stricken California City Saves So Much Water (That It Goes Bad)
In the summer of 2015, the mayor of Poway, California urged residents to cut back on their usage as much as humanly possible to conserve their precious water. And you know what? They fucking did it.
The citizens of Poway cut their water bill by an incredible 45 percent, creating a huge surplus in the local reservoir. So how did the town celebrate their exceptional achievement? Did they let every child run through a sprinkler, or maybe give everyone an extra 30 seconds in the shower on holidays?
A single, ceremonial water balloon?
Ha, no. A clusterfuck of California heat and stagnant water coupled with chemical over-treatment rendered a whole hell of a lot of water undrinkable. The treatment plan had arrived at its chemical numbers based on the assumption that the people of Poway would use more water, and instead the mayor had to order half of a million gallons of water to be dumped away, never to be used by anyone at all. This is what happens when we underestimate folks' willingness to avoid showering.
Endangered Species Keep Getting Murdered (By Environmentalists)
Eliminating the threat of an ever-growing invasive species, especially one that looks like and hangs around an endangered species, is sort of like trying to get blood stains out of a red shirt. Yeah, it can be done, but at what cost? The odds are greater that you're going to screw something up. Unfortunately, certain environmentally-minded folks are not great at playing God.
The job's not all lazily pointing from flying jellyfish, you know.
In one incident in New Zealand, the Conservation Department had contracted a group of hunters to take out some garbage birds which were competing for food with an endangered bird species called the Takahe (of which there are 300 left in the wild). Despite being carefully instructed on how to go about their hunt, they accidentally shot four of the Takahe. Y'know, the ones the Conservation Department was hoping would not get killed.
But that was a situation in which folks were apparently supposed to be doing some killing. Then there's the case of the British environmentalist who was out camping and noticed a bunch of yummy-looking crayfish that resembled the American Signal Crayfish, an invasive species that's been wreaking havoc on the native endangered crayfish. Filled with righteous hunger, the guy ate a few dozen of the crustaceans ... until a passerby informed him that he'd been chowing down on the exact same endangered crayfish he'd been trying to save.
He probably didn't use nearly enough butter, either.
Okay, so that's some birds and some lobster knockoffs. What about animals everyone cares about? Well, in 2012, a conservation group in South Africa made preparations to dye the horn of an endangered black rhino. This dye doesn't hurt the animal, but renders the horn totally worthless to poachers. That said, it's a bit dangerous to attempt to mess with the horn of a very awake rhino, so it needed to be tranquilized first.
However, despite what movies may have shown you, tranquilizing a large animal is a delicate process which requires precise math. Otherwise, you're probably going to kill the animal. In the case of our black rhino, he went into convulsions and died after being shot. Even worse, the group had invited various members of the media out to see how the procedure was done, so the whole fiasco was thoroughly documented.
"Make sure you get in close so you see the whole thing!"
Fucking Macquarie Island
Macqaurie Island is a small piece of land owned by Australia that's about halfway to Antarctica, and those are pretty much the only pleasant things we can say about it. Back in the day, it was a popular destination for seal hunters, who inadvertently let a whole bunch of rats off of their ships and onto the island. Taking their plans straight out of Tom & Jerry, these seal hunters thought it'd be a great idea to let some cats loose on the island. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to inform the cats of what their job was.
"Right-o, gents, strut around like we own the place, same as always."
Around the same time as the introduction of the cats, fur trappers also brought rabbits to the island to serve as a food source for potential shipwreck survivors. As a result, the cats now had the luxury of rabbit instead of rat for dinner. Meanwhile, the rabbits continued to breed like, well, rabbits, and the cat population exploded accordingly.
Thinking that by reducing the number of rabbits, the cat population would decrease, Australia decided to introduce an actual plague: myxomatosis, a virulent disease which kills most rabbits within two weeks of contracting it. After they released their bunny WMD on the island, the rabbit population fell from 130,000 to 20,000 in less than 10 years. All this did was cause the cats to look at rabbit as more of a delicacy, and they turned their focus to the island's flightless birds instead, wiping out two native species all on their own.
"I'm not even hungry."
Finally, Australia simply decided to shoot all the cats, and succeeded. Unfortunately, this caused the rabbit population to spike right back up, and away went the island's plants again. This time, it got so bad that the lack of vegetation caused a landslide, which in turn wiped out an entire colony of penguins just for good measure. With a government-endorsed "Fuck this," Australia decided to stop screwing around and killed the rabbits using poisoned bait. By 2014, the island was finally declared rabbit-free, and Australia was boasting of "the most successful pest eradication program ever."