As the climate changes dramatically and we experience more volatile weather seemingly every year, a lot of things are going to start seeming normal. Warm winters, cool summers, and brutal storms are going to be a commonplace happening across the world. Climate refugees are going to become a real thing, and wars will be fought over rapidly diminishing resources like clean water, farmland, and reasonable temperatures. Humanity’s impact on the landscape has been a constant theme through history, from the harmless to the catastrophic to the ridiculous.
The human effect on the landscape can be weird and captivating. The scars of trenches from World War I, over now for a century, still crisscross Western Europe. Entire swathes of France in particular were considered impassable in the wake of the war and marked as forbidden areas. Called the Zone Rouge, these areas, with no people to screw things up, are now home to flourishing plant and animal populations. Species that were thought to no longer live in the area have returned and done well. Meanwhile, inhabited areas are still digging up explosives by the ton for disposal by the army in what French and Belgian farmers call “the Iron Harvest” – 25 tons from WWI were dug up and disposed of in the 2016 Harvest alone. Some estimates say the ground where just the Battle of the Somme took place will take 500 years to totally clear of all explosives.
Modern France has also seen one other example of the human impact on nature. In 2012 beekeepers in northeastern France were startled to see that their hives were producing honey in bright colors that were like nothing any had ever seen in nature. They soon discovered the culprit – a biogas power plant a few miles away that used waste from an M&M’s factory for fuel. The sugary, brightly hued candy garbage was irresistible to the bees, and the dyes showed up in their honey.
Final story – There’s a place called Lake Peigneur in Louisiana that went from a sleepy, ten foot deep freshwater lake to a saltwater body that’s over a thousand feet down in some places.
You shouldn’t be shocked to learn that this happened due to the stupidity and carelessness of man.
In 1980 a crew on an oil rig was drilling in the middle of the lake when their drill got stuck. As they worked to free it, the rig began to heave and tilt as the drill got more and more jammed in the mud. Alarmed, the men abandoned the rig and fled towards shore, just in time to see the rig topple into the water and disappear into what should have been a lake that was only as deep as a swimming pool. Something was wrong.
There was a salt mine below the lake, and the rig’s drill had punched a hole right into the top of it.
Tens of thousands of gallons began pouring into the mine, dissolving salt pillars in the eighty-foot tall mineshafts and rapidly collapsing the structure as the fifty miners stuck to their well-rehearsed safety drills and took the elevator up from their spots 1000 feet below the surface, 8 men at a time. The rushing water opened up a vortex that was eventually a quarter-mile in diameter, sucking down the rig (plus a neighboring one), eleven barges, a tug boat, and dozens of acres of land from a nearby island into
Hell the mine. Not a single person died during the entire ordeal.
Two lucky (and probably confused) fishermen were stuck in the middle of the mess and got to walk out across the mud once their boat plopped down onto the flats where just minutes earlier there had been a lake. 3.5 billion gallons of water went down what had started as a 14 inch hole in three hours, and Lake Peigneur temporarily ceased to exist.
A canal began backfeeding water from the Gulf of Mexico into the lake, rendering it forever brackish and temporarily creating the largest waterfall in the state of Louisiana. The scene is hard to even imagine. Human industry had forever altered a lake in what can only be described as the most Looney Tunes-esque industrial accident even before seen.
Human traffic and activity can also affect creations made by people, not just those in the natural world. Bronze statues of people and dogs have had their noses and feet rubbed shiny for generations, usually for luck. Stairs at historic sites around the globe can be molded and smoothed by centuries of foot traffic by devotees and tourists alike.
People make both temporary and permanent impacts all over the world. Some of these represent destruction and carelessness, while others represent local customs or centuries of tradition. We leave our fingerprints all over the landscape, both the natural and the man-made. Being aware of our actions, and acting responsibly about their impacts, is the responsibility of every single one of us. And if you ever find yourself drilling for oil, it’s probably best to double or even triple-check the maps.