5 Attempts to Save the World that Went Disastrously Wrong

Tying yourself to 2,000 balloons can be a bad idea, actually
5 Attempts to Save the World that Went Disastrously Wrong

Today, you have a choice. You can laze around and spend your time just screwing about on the internet, or you can step up and focus your efforts on really making a difference in this world.

Personally, we recommend the former option. It’s fun, it’s educational and it somewhat reduces the chance of you totally screwing up like the people in the following stories. 

The Doomed Mission to Revive Florida’s Coast

Reefs are good for the ocean. When rock or coral form an irregular terrain full of nooks and crannies, wildlife basically set up a thriving mixed-use community, full of pubs, art galleries and other stuff. When some section of the coast is featureless and boring, enterprising humans sometimes build artificial reefs, perhaps out of concrete. In the 1970s, we came up with a new idea: How about we make reefs out of old tires?

The reasoning pretty much came down to the fact that we had millions of used tires hanging around and didn’t know what to do with them. Recycling is supposed to be a great idea, so if we can repurpose those tires into something that helps the environment instead of just forming giant piles of waste, that would be perfect. Fort Lauderdale led the charge, tying together two million tires into thousands of bundles and then lowering them into the water in 1972 so fish and crabs could set up shop. Let’s take a quick peek at that ecological paradise they set up:

Osborne Reef

US Navy

Hey look, it’s a bunch of trash.

The steel and nylon quickly broke apart, so rather than a complex structure, the “Osborne Reef” ended up being just a bunch of litter dropped in the ocean. No wildlife thrived here. Instead of transforming the Florida coast look like the Great Barrier Reef, it just made the Florida coast look like Florida. 

Looking at this now, you’d swear it was all some swindler’s plan to dump their trash in the ocean, but this really was a well-meaning idea gone wrong. Dropping the tires here took much more work than just leaving them at some landfill, and hundreds of volunteers helped, along with the actual military. Today, the actual military is doing the slow and harder job of removing all the tires befouling the Florida waters. 

A Fundraising Parade Killed Thousands

In September 1918, the people of Philadelphia needed some cheering up. The Great War had been a bummer for a while, and it was still not quite done. Philadelphia aimed to raise morale by throwing a big parade. People would love seeing the miles of floats and marching bands. It’d also be a great way to sell war bonds, which were also known as liberty loans. Don’t laugh — liberty loans are a serious manner.

1918 Philadelphia parade

National Archives

We can’t just fund the war by running a deficit. That would be crazy.

The parade killed an estimated 4,500 people. Not by elephant stampede or anything so direct but by hitting them with the catastrophic 1918 flu. People should have foreseen this possibility. The city already knew about the flu festering in military bases close to the city, and medical experts told city public health director Wilmer Krusen that this exact time was a poor choice for John Philip Sousa tunes. 

Within three days, every hospital in Philly was full, and every establishment that wasn’t treating patients shut down. Still, people tried to keep their spirits up. “What then should a man do to prevent panic and fear?” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Live a clean life. Do not even discuss influenza. Worry is useless. Talk of cheerful things instead of disease.”

A Save-the-Whales Voyage Did the One Thing It Wasn’t Supposed to Do

On May 10, 2000, activist Michael Reppy set off from San Francisco for a mission — to save the whales! Exactly how he was going to save the whales, well, that was a little unclear.

He did not, say, pilot a ship armed with cannons, which he would use to attack whaling vessels. His boat was a racing boat, measuring just 60 feet long. He aimed to travel from California to Japan, breaking the world record, probably without encountering any whalers at all. If he got publicity from his trip, he hoped this would raise awareness about whales, which would maybe convince people to stop whaling. 

Avatar: The Way of Water tulkun

Walt Disney Pictures

He considered instead filming Avatar: The Way of Water, but he lacked the technology. 

On his very first day of sailing, he collided with a pair of whales. This would be sad if it injured the whales, but the actual result might be even sadder: The whales hurt his boat. One ripped off his rudder, almost as if to say, “Abandon this foolish quest, human!” Reppy did call off the quest and headed to Hawaii instead, always a good choice.

He didn’t permanently give up, though. He went on to open an animal sanctuary and campaigned to free whales from captivity. As of December 2020, a full 20 years after that failed attempt, he was once again talking about trying to beat the transpacific record, now in a boat with a logo reading “Save Japan Dolphins.” 

An Environmental Charity Got Hijacked by a Foreign Caller

Conservation isn’t just about letting animals go, though. Conservationists also care about where animals go, which can mean breaking out their spy gear. In 2018, a Polish organization called EcoLogic Group was studying the white stork, a bird that migrates long distances. What routes does the stork take? Would this finally answer the unsolved mystery of where human babies come from? EcoLogic Group aimed to find out, by sticking a tracker on one of the birds.

white stork

Carlos Delgado

After several failed attempts, they tried first waiting till one landed.

In the old days, “tracking birds” came down to wrapping a band around one’s leg and hoping you ran into that particular bird sometime in the future. You can now attach a device that records latitude and longitude, but you’d still have to retrieve that device to get the data, or you can attach a transmitter, with a limited range. EcoLogic attached a GPS tag that transmitted using cell signals. That way, they could go on picking up data remotely once the bird was halfway around the world.

If flew as far as Sudan, which was great. Then someone there spotted the tracker, removed it and fished out the SIM card from inside. They popped it in a phone and found it could make calls. EcoLogic stopped getting stork info but did find that they were now on the hook for thousands of dollars in phone bills

The Priest’s Whimsical Stunt Blew Him Away

In 2008, Father Adelir Antonio de Carli wanted to build a new church. It would be a church for truckers, said the Brazilian padre, and to raise the money, he would raise himself. He would rise in the air, by attaching 2,000 balloons to a chair he was sitting in, then cutting the bonds holding him down and letting the helium do the rest. Here’s a photo of him strapping himself in, looking reasonably safe:

Here’s a photo of him in the air, looking like he has truly ceded all control of his fate to the Almighty:

His balloon contraption took him up 20,000 feet. Then the air blew him over the ocean, and the fascinated people watching him soon lost sight of him. The priest had taken the precaution of carrying a phone with him, which gave him a chance to make contact with home and inform them that he was about to crash and there was nothing they could do about it. 

A couple months later, his body turned up near an oil rig. Or rather half his body turned up — we don’t know what happened to the upper half, and they needed a DNA test to identify him. Thus underlining our two lessons of the day. One: Fun stunts can end horribly. And two: The sea spells doom for us all. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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