Monday, April 5, 2010

Aral sea - 4th largest freshwater body in the world 90% gone

The Aral Sea was a shallow island dotted inlands sea for thousands of years. It was the 4th largest freshwater lake in the world. Then the Soviet Union decided to boost cotton production in Uzbekistan. It was a noble goal in that it sought to increase crops and bring prosperity to a desperately poor region. But it was also base goal, driven by a model of capitalism as ruthless as America’s mountain top removal coal mining; it has irretrievably devastated the environment.

The Aral Sea is no longer larger than Lake Michigan. It is barely 10% of its former size. Nor, is it even a fresh water lake any more. It is so salty that it can barely support life. Concentration through evaporation has changed it from fresh water lake to a shallow pool of water 2.4 times as salty as the Ocean. In fact it is actually just 2 separate fragments of its former greatness.

It is also still dying. The situation is so bad that all efforts to save the southern remnant have been given up. The huge area of dry lakebed has become a giant desert covered in salt flats. The fishing fleets that used to feed millions are rotting on sand dunes. 73 species are extinct due to the collapse of the lake.

Why does all this matter to us? Because it is a warning. Base, thoughtless exploitation of nature just to increase short term profit for some corporation is rampant in our own nation. We have to face the facts that we are destroying things that we cannot remake. Coal companies can tear down mountains, but they cannot put them back. All so that they can keep profits high and we can continue to waste more electricity than most countries produce. Giant factory fishing ships can dredge the ocean clean of fish in nets miles across, but they cannot replenish those oceans when the breeding stock is ground up for cat food or just tossed overboard as a waste product. There is a direct line between healthy oceans and that Mahi Mahi you ate last Saturday.

Am I saying, sit at home in the dark and eat raw potatoes? No, but you can lobby to stop mountaintop removal. You can reduce your electric waste and push our lawmakers to make polluting coal power plants pay the full cost of the pollution they cause. You do not have to give up Mahi Mahi, but you can be willing to pay the real cost of harvesting it in a manner that is sustainable.

If we do not learn how to live more gently on the land, we may see the land turned into something we do not recognize. Simple living is not always easy - but it is simple. Wake up to the disasters our greed is causing and try to be a part of an answer, not the problem.

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