Stupid Ways Humanity Is Screwing Up The Planet
"Let's build a civilization," we said. "It'll be great and also easy," we said. Then we plunged blindly into this whole mess, altering nature in ways none of us could have imagined. Just an oil refinery here, a coal mine there, and before we knew it, we killed the Bramble Cay melomys. (Guess what kind of animal that is. You're wrong.) Well into the 21st century, these changes keep getting weirder and more unpredictable. For example ...
Our Hair Is Disfiguring Pigeons
Is there anything better than passing a warm spring afternoon feeding pigeons in the park? You know, aside from sex, video games, corn dogs, and everything else that is better than that? Well, unless your hair care routine is particularly religious, it's likely that you're hurting those little buddies more than you're nourishing them.
Have you ever noticed that most pigeons are missing a toe or two? So did a group of concerned researchers in France. What's going on there? Weird aviary beauty fad? Retaliation from the pigeon mafia? Nope. It's strands of human hair. They tend to be floating around on the ground where pigeons gather because it's also where people gather, so they get all tangled around the pigeons' li'l toesies. Pigeon wings are uniquely ill-suited for untying millimeter-thin lengths of fiber, so they just keep wrapping tighter and tighter until the toe in question succumbs to necrosis and peaces out.
"Well, those layabouts should get proper jobs and quit pecking up our scraps to begin with," you might say if you have an especially high tolerance for animal mutilation. But that's our fault, too. We killed off the vegetation they would otherwise eat to build our condos, forcing them to adapt to scavenging food on the nasty, hairy ground. If there's any upside here, it's that at least these birds get to taste the glory of a Cheeto before it kills them. In that sense, we're kind of all in the same sodium-rich, trans-fatty boat.
It's So Hot In Spain That Chicken Shit Caused A Wildfire
In June 2019, the whole-ass Europe and specifically Spain suffered from a major heat wave. This wasn't any normal "put your bra in the freezer for a minute and you'll be fine" situation. Forget frying an egg on the sidewalk -- it was so hot that you'd get a highly undesirable flambe before that egg even made it to your croque madame. We know because that's what happened to something else that comes out of chicken butts.
The good thing about a heat wave is that it dries up things quickly. The bad thing about a heat wave is that those dried things -- in this case, a huge heap of Spanish chicken shit -- easily catch on fire. With the not-so-friendly help of warm air and dry winds, the fire quickly spread. In no time, 10,000 acres of land were up in probably smelly smoke.
That alone gave the event the right to be labeled the worst wildfire in Catalonia in the past two decades. Thankfully, only 53 people needed evacuation, but they needed 350 firemen, dozens of fire engines and water-containing vehicles, seven aircrafts, two hydroplanes, heavy machinery, and emphatically not a partridge in a pear tree to contain the fire. It was the first time ever the French national weather authority, which you'll recognize as a completely different country, issued a "red level" alert due to a heat wave. All because of a pile of chicken shit.
Drugged Livestock Killed 99% Of Vultures In India
For a long time, vultures in India had it pretty good. The second-largest livestock industry in the world kept them rolling in fresh corpses, and they don't really have any natural predators, so they just lived the dream. Then they started dying. By the millions. Suddenly, 99% of the vulture population was gone, and nobody knew why.
If they'd asked us, we'd have probably just said "aliens" and called it a day, but fortunately, they asked scientists. They found out that it was not, in fact, an extraterrestrial plot to kill off all of our earthly scavengers for ... reasons but an anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac that was regularly fed to livestock. It was essentially a cure-all that was given to the animals if they showed any inconvenient symptom. Won't eat? Give 'em the nac (which is what we assume is the street name for diclofenac). Feeling weak? More nac. Can't sleep? Bit of the ol' nacaroni. It turns out, however, that vultures who consume the carcasses of animals who have been given this drug get gout, which extremely kills them. Whoopsy.
That's not the end of it. Another batch of scavengers stepped in to fill the disgusting void: wild dogs. Since the dominant religious beliefs forbid killing these dogs, some areas of India have experienced a whopping 1,200% increase in the feral dog population. As those numbers went up, so did cases of rabies. India now constitutes one-third of the globe's total cases of rabies. We're no fans of dog killing, but maybe some stern finger-waggings are in order?
Landfills Are Changing Animal Behaviors For The Weird
One aspect of human civilization we've worked really hard to not deal with is our trash. Of course, leaving gigantic heaps of waste out of sight (for us) doesn't mean other creatures won't notice. It can be confusing to beings who don't really have a concept of waste management, like those beetles who thought the brown bumps on the bottle of an Australian brand of beer were lady beetles they could mate with, but this is one situation in which embarrassing sexual mishaps are actually the best-case scenario.
One of the most outstanding examples is a community of baboons in Kenya, where the dominant males routinely imposed their rule in less-than-Disneyish ways until a tourist resort started dumping food leftovers in the bush. This created virulent competition within the baboon troop -- specifically, the assholes. They battled over the best portions each day until a piece of spoiled meat infected them with tuberculosis, effectively eradicating all the violent males in this population. What was left of the male population was chiller than Bob Ross under heavy sedation. The tension was gone, and the environment grew more mellow, an attitude that was adopted by newcomers and young baboons who grew up under the new conditions. The effects of that incident persisted among that troop for decades.
The situation is a little dicier for a species of baboons in Egypt. Their diet, supplemented heavily by human food waste, has led to a decrease in infant mortality and an increase in size and aggression. Good for them, bad for us. As their newfound health has made them cocky, they've discovered a fondness for invading agricultural land, stealing crops, and generally scaring the shit out of neighboring humans. Similar patterns have been seen among other mammals living near human settlements all over the world, from dingoes to grizzlies. If you grew up feeling disappointed the real world doesn't have mutant turtles, maybe this could serve as some consolation.
The Melting Arctic Is Releasing Dormant Diseases
Some of the scariest four words you can say to an environmentalist is "The Arctic is melting," but it's followed closely by "It's not just ice." The vast northern steppes and tundra in and around Siberia is covered by a thick layer of permafrost that has preserved all sorts of modern and prehistoric easter eggs, like the famous mammoth carcasses you're probably picturing right now. However, for every awesome discovery like those, we're also unearthing -- and being exposed to -- an increasing number of undesirable items, some of them genuinely terrifying.
Let's start with the cool prehistoric creatures: their bodies remained almost intact with the help of those freezing temperatures, but a warmer climate means they're finally free to decompose and release all the carbon nature had kept underground for so long. That is extremely bad on its own (we're talking about 1500 billion tons of carbon), but these specimens are also harboring pathogens and bacteria responsible for diseases we thought were already extinct or at least under control. That's how, in 2016, a 12-year-old Siberian boy was killed by anthrax and dozens of people from his village were sickened. The specialists deployed to the region traced it all back to the 75-year old-carcass of a reindeer that had been trapped under the permafrost for decades before a recent heatwave finally exposed its corpse, releasing the infectious bacteria into the water and soil and then to the local food supply. This also killed 2,300 reindeer. Not even Santa is safe.
So, like, what other diseases are lurking beneath that frosty crust? Some fear it could be anything from the Spanish flu to smallpox to the bubonic plague. In fact, traces of the Spanish flu were found among the remains of animal carcasses in Alaska. In another chilling study in France, a 30,000-year-old virus came back to life after it was warmed up for analysis. It's a good thing we're so well-equipped for a pandemic, huh?
Top image: Unsplash/Kalpesh Patel