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May. 14, 2010

The ABCs of human impact

by Neil Wagner

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A-E

ACID RAIN

Pollution can cause acid rain which has reduced fish population numbers, decreased biodiversity, killed trees, damaged cars’ paint jobs, and more. It’s affected parts of Europe, Canada, China, Taiwan the United States. Government regulation has gone a long ways towards easing the problem.

ARAL SEA

 

Irrigation shrunk the world’s 4th largest lake to 10% of its original size. All the stuff that was supposed to stay underwater in the lake now blows around to as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and causes health problems for local populations.

 

CHICAGO RIVER

Chicagoans didn’t like the direction it was heading, so they reversed its flow.

CUYAHOGA RIVER

This Ohio river was once so polluted it bubbled and periodically caught on fire. Ohioans cleaned up their act—AND the river!

DESERTIFICATION

Human activities are creating 70,000 square miles of new desert every year. Over a third of the world could end up as desert.

DUST BOWL

Poor land management turned a periodic drought into a phenomenon with its own weather system. It produced red snow in Boston, made it rain dirt in Chicago, and deposited an estimated 350 million tons of dirt from the Great Plains to as far away as the east coast.

EARTHQUAKES

People have triggered them when drilling for oil and geothermal power. Mining is a possible culprit, and there’s growing evidence the presence of dams triggers them as well.

F-J

GULF OF MEXICO DEAD ZONE

The Mississippi River carries farmers’ runoff to the Gulf, creating a New Jersey-sized area where nothing lives.

INVASIVE SPECIES

People introduce species to new ecosystems, both intentionally and by accident, with sometimes devastating environmental and economic consequences. For example, Japan’s Kudzu vine, Russia’s zebra mussel, and the Asian carp are spreading across the United States, costing the country a combined $1 billion annually in containment, damages and lost revenue.

K-O

MEDICINE

Nature gave the human race polio, chicken pox, small pox, diphtheria, malaria, measles, tetanus, thyphoid fever… People said, "No thank you" by creating cures.

OZONE LAYER

People cooled their houses, sprayed their hair, and made a hole in the sky.…then changed their habits after the Montreal Protocol and could be solving the problem.

P-T

RAINFOREST

Over 230,000 square miles of Amazon rainforest have been cleared out, causing mass extinctions and reducing conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen. In the last decade, deforestation there has averaged over 6,500 square miles annually. That’s like flattening an area bigger than New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and the state of Delaware every year.

STRONTIUM 90

Within a couple decades of its creation by mankind during the development of the Atom Bomb, every living person on the planet had it in their system.

U-Z

ZEBRA

 

I actually have nothing for "zebra," I just needed to fill the "Z" group.

 

About Neil Wagner

Neil Wagner's What on Earth? comic strip uses humor to discuss global warming.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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