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Peter Dykstra: What could go wrong?


The Aral Sea is a huge freshwater lake located between the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Well, formally fresh water. And once immense.

After World War II, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin launched a plan to become world king of cotton farming by diverting the rivers that feed the Aral. The lake is now less than a tenth of its original size. Its remaining waters are saline. Much of the land once irrigated by the project is now dry and dusty again. Pesticide-laden dust blows over the area.

Many fishing boats that once worked the Aral are stranded on dry land, miles from the shore and the now salty water. There is a concerted effort to prevent the Aral from shrinking further, but there is no reasonable hope that this multi-faceted tragedy can be reversed.

The Aral Sea Mistake is just one of many environmental ideas that could have needed a few more workshops.

Let’s bomb it

There is a near-American Cold War tragedy called Project Plowshares that allegedly “helped” a remote native community in Alaska by bombing it. Specifically, Point Hope would have gained an Instantly Searched Deep Sea Port via The Bomb. But Point Hope said “no thanks” loud enough that even a 1959 Cold War-era Pentagon had to listen.

But wait… there are more plowshares! In 1961, the head of what was then called the US Weather Bureau suggested that we could one day calm hurricanes by dropping the Big One in its eye. But the ever-cautious Francis Reichelderfer added that the Weather Bureau would not become the world’s next nuclear power “until we know what we are doing.”

The idea did not resurface until it was brought up by President Trump in 2019. (Trump denies this.) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration immediately stated that the idea of ​​nuclear weapons striking a Cat Four would be “devastating”.

Select “stupid”, then press “repeat”.

Not only is the idea of ​​towing an iceberg from the polar regions so silly, but the fact that it keeps coming back makes it a classic.

In 2017, a marine rescue expert who dubbed himself “The Ice Pirate” launched a plan to save South Africa from a brutal drought by lassoing an Antarctic berg. However, Nicholas Sloane never delivered the loot.

That of the Atlantic Alexis Madrigal put together what is so far the definitive work on the Iceberg Quarrels in 2011. He detailed shots of Scripps eggheads, Saudi princes and outright pranks dating back to the early 1900s. 1800.

What did Wooly Willy do?

For most American men, iron filings can only mean one thing: the legendary hobo clown toy (born 1921) surrounded by black, magnetized metallic flakes. With a magnetic stylus, future stylists could draw Willy a Castro beard, a Charlie Chaplin mustache, or Amy Winehouse’s eyebrows on Wooly Willy.

But a few entrepreneurs and scientists saw an ecological future for the deposits to reduce the very real threat of ocean acidification.

Scientists believed that the large-scale introduction of iron could neutralize the increasing acidity threatening the health of the oceans.

An entrepreneur named Russ George also saw the potential of iron to “fertilize” seawater, stimulating the growth of phytoplankton. But George’s methods got him expelled from the territorial waters of three nations.

Iron dumping in the oceans has been a dead problem for a decade. Our oceans are still in danger.

But at least we’ll have a good supply of iron filings for future generations of Wooly Willys.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at [email protected] or @pdykstra.

Its views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or the publisher Environmental Health Sciences.