A history of environmental disasters (Day After Blog Action Day)

October 16, 2007

Blog Action Day, 2007: We’re writing about environmental issues.

Blog Action Day 2007

Each January 1 I reflect on one of many forgotten environmental disasters, because it’s a focus of television coverage. Oh, the disaster itself isn’t covered — most often it’s not even mentioned — but it’s there if you know anything at all about it.

The Tournament of Roses Parade.

With the Bowl Championship Series game in town, and thousands of tourists out to see the parade, the games, and other festivities, no one really wants to talk about the why of the Rose Bowl, and the Rose Parade.

But once upon a time, under the sunny skies of southern California, Pasadena hosted a flower industry. Cut flowers were the produce. The Los Angeles Basin around Pasadena produced $1 billion in cut flowers annually by the late 1940s. Partly to promote that industry, local civic movers pushed a festival named to celebrate the flowers, to promote them, to feed local industry. The shtick was this: Parade floats had to be decorated exclusively with flowers and flower petals. What better way to showcase the local agricultural miracle?

Nearly 60 years later, I’ll wager less than 0.1% of the flowers used in the parade come from the Los Angeles Basin.

Air pollution forced the flower growers to move. Air pollution mottled the petals of the roses, browned the daisies, and otherwise spoiled blossoms. The greenhouses, the fields, the entire industry left the area. And today, all that is left is the parade and football game. Parade floats are decorated with flowers imported from Venezuela, Israel, Europe, Hawaii, Mexico, South America and Asia.

And so it goes. Significant upheavals in human activities, prompted by environmental goofs by humans, get shuffled out of the history books, out of our collective consciousness — and as Santayana warned, we repeat them, over and over. Los Angeles is not the only city ever to have suffered from air pollution — there were killer fogs in London and Pennsylvania within a decade after World War II. Surely people learned, no?

Consider Mexico City today. Consider Beijing today.

So I just want to list some environmental disasters that we would be better off, if we remembered them and considered how to avoid them in the future, rather than forget them and be doomed to repeat them.

(I reserve the right to post links and edit this list to add to it, as I find additional information, and as readers may add information in comments.)

Environmental disasters you should know

It’s not an exhaustive list by any means — I wager some of these are new to most readers. I wager some of you can provide better information, and other disasters that I, perhaps, have forgotten. Please, inform us.

The curve of binding history

October 16, 2007

From this lead paragraph in a BusinessWeek story could come a heck of a semester of high school economics:

Leonid Hurwicz was born in Moscow in 1917, the year that Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. Ninety years later—on Oct. 15, 2007—Hurwicz was awarded a Nobel prize in economics, in part for explaining the fundamental flaw in the central planning that Lenin imposed in the Soviet Union.

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