Photos Of Humanity's Devastating Impact On Planet Earth

Ecological disasters, coupled with outright disregard, have done untold amounts of damage to our planet.
Harriet King May 3rd 2018 Science
Planet Earth is our home, and the cradle of humanity. It's the only home we have, and we have a duty to take care of it. Ever since the onset of industrialization, we've been failing in that duty. Ecological disasters, coupled with outright disregard, have done untold amounts of damage.
There are many other types of flora and fauna sharing the planet with us. Over the course of thousands of years of evolution, they've adapted to live harmoniously with the planet. Human beings have done the opposite; we've tried to make the planet change to suit our selfish needs.
In a world where some deny that climate change and environmental damage is even happening, we've collected evidence that proves the opposite is true. This list contains fifty photos that prove we're damaging Earth beyond repair. The worst thing is that we could easily have made this list even longer.
1. Explosion At Deepwater Horizon
Off the coast of Mexico in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig suffered a severe mechanical fault. Methane gas expanded within the drill and ignited, causing an enormous explosion which engulfed the entire platform. Sixteen of the workers posted on board suffered severe injuries in the blast. Worse still, a further eleven could not be accounted for after the explosion and are considered lost at sea.
Within hours of the explosion first occurring, the entire rig had sunk below the waves, leaking oil directly into the waters and flooding into the Gulf of Mexico. It remains the largest marine oil spill in world history and was still seen to be leaking two years after the accident. A further year later in 2013, infant dolphins were recorded to have a mortality rate six times higher than average, along with the death of many other marine species. BP, the company in charge of the rig, was fined $18.7bn for gross negligence.
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2. Less Rainforests, More Palm Oil
Of all the forms of oil we're aware of, palm oil is the cheapest to obtain and supply. That makes demand for it extremely high and provides an incentive to those countries who can supply it to create as much as possible. Indonesia is one such nation, and in response to elevated demand, their Government has opted to increase palm oil production by forty million tons by the end of the year 2020.
The most efficient way to do that is to cut down areas of rainforest and turn them into palm oil plantations. This is an incredibly short-sighted and selfish move. Trees provide us with oxygen. We literally need them in order to carry on breathing. Aside from that, the forests play host to hundreds of different kinds of flora and fauna, all of which have been displaced and many of which have died due to the loss of their natural habitat. Orangutans, who in evolutionary terms are cousins of humanity, are one of the species under threat.
3. Machines That Cut Through Earth
Take a second to look at this picture and assess the scale of this device. Compare it to the side of the hillside it's carving into, and the factory on the horizon. This what's known as a bucket wheel excavator, and is the largest vehicle ever constructed by humankind. There's no doubt that it's an incredible feat of engineering, but it's also an incredible tool of destruction.
In the image, you can see the debris created by the excavator being deposited into a bucket. Every single one of those buckets is capable of holding up to 200 tons of weight. The purpose of the machine is to rip through earth quickly so that miners can access whatever minerals lay below the earth. Sometimes that will be fuel, and sometimes that will be precious stones. In either case, it's done with complete disregard for the landscape, the plants and the creatures that live in that earth.
4. Surf's Up No Longer?
Surfing is a popular pastime for thrill seekers. The act of taking a board out and leaving yourself at the mercy of the waves is the ultimate white-knuckle ride, requiring a lot of skill and nerves of steel. If we continue polluting the seas at our current rate, it's going to become a hobby of the past.
This opportune photo was taken near Java, Indonesia. The photographer simply wanted to capture an image of the surfer doing what he does best, but as he lined up his shot the sea deposited piles of trash onto the surfer. You can make out food wrappers and bottles in the picture along with other petty garbage, but moments later there were also full-sized tree trunks in the water too. Businesses that generate debris of this kind use the sea as a dumping ground, figuring it will never come back to bite us. Based on this evidence, they're wrong.
5. Ice Melts Away
There is a wealth of scientific evidence that proves we're losing the core of ice at the heart of the Arctic and Antarctic, and it takes a dedicated act of denial to believe any differently. While big businesses and even some prominent politicians are claiming climate change is a myth, the icebergs are busily melting away at record rates. They don't care for conjecture; only for fact.
There is a myriad of consequences to the loss of the ice. It will have an immeasurable impact on the ecology around the ice, and in some cases, it already has. Over time, it will also lead to a rise in sea levels. The current rate of dissipation is 1.5 million icebergs the size of the Titanic melting away into liquid every year. Right now, that only pushes the sea level up by a minuscule amount. Continued over time, and especially with escalation, the cumulative effect will not only drown coastal towns, but it will also change the direction of currents.
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6. The Oil Sands Of Athabasca
Looking at this picture, you might believe it's an overhead shot of a road network somewhere in wetlands. Perhaps an aerial shot of a city with a lake at its center? In fact, it's neither. These are Athabasca's 'oil sands,' a human-made scar carved into the flesh of the world.
The oil sands represent the most substantial bitumen installment anywhere in the world. The strange color of the Earth here is due to a mixture of water, clay minerals, silica sand, and crude bitumen. There used to be 141,000 square kilometers of forests here, all of which have been cut and razed away so humans could gain access to the estimated 1.7 trillion barrels worth of bitumen which are believed to lie beneath. We got our bitumen, but at what cost? And what do we do next when it's all gone?
7. A Pit Of Despair
This is another picture that requires a moment to look at in order to appreciate the scale. Look at the monumental size of this hole. Around its edges are regular-sized buildings and roads. A hole has been drilled into the Earth which goes 525 meters deep and has a diameter of 1,200 meters. It's a vast wound which can never heal.
This is the Mir Mine, a diamond mine in Russia which was once the largest in the world. Mining operations commenced at the site during the 1960s, and at its peak, it produced in excess of 2000 kilograms of diamonds each year. We've exhausted the mine, with production dwindling and the yield falling as long as 400 kilograms, but we keep on digging and mining. The mine was recommissioned as recently as 2009 and is expected to remain open for at least another forty years beyond now, by which time the miners will surely be left with scraps.
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8. The Sprawl Of Mexico City
It's possible to look at this picture and consider it to be beautiful. These were once barren hills, and now they've been completely adapted to suit human life. Homes, offices, schools, and hospitals seem to stretch on forever. It looks like a Photoshop creation, but it isn't. This is really what Mexico City looks like if you catch it from the right angle.
What you won't see anywhere in the picture is a park, or any areas of green land at all. The town planners in the city have just kept on building and building until there's nowhere else to go. Whereas in other parts of the world it's the custom to build up when you run out of space to build out, Mexico City has just carried on wedging houses in wherever it can find enough yards to do it. It's one of the world's most overpopulated residential areas. Due to the lack of trees and green spaces, it also has some of the worst air quality.
9. Fires of the Amazon
Nature is quite good at working out what needs to go where, and in what quantity. After all, it's had millions of years to become good at it; far longer than humans have been on the planet and building cities. Ecological systems are a balance, working in harmony to maintain order. When we tamper with that harmony, we cause problems.
There have been more forest fires within the Amazonian rainforest during the past twenty years than there have been in any previous twenty-year period on record. Climate change - which we contribute to - is partially responsible for this, but so is drought and deforestation. Densely packed forests stay damp and are difficult to burn. With less density, they dry out, and become prone to fire. A severe drought during 2007 led directly to the largest forest fire known so far, in which an area roughly equivalent to a million football fields burned to the ground, along with the animals that called it home.
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10. Chinese Pollution
It's been a noted trend in recent years that Chinese visitors to the Western world often wear face masks when they're out walking the streets. Some people think it's an amusing curiosity, while others think the visitors are being rude about the quality of air in their host nation. It's actually neither - just a hobby they've picked up from home.
You could make an argument that no country has adapted to industrialization as enthusiastically as the Chinese. They're the global masters at mass production. The consequence of this is that they emit immense amounts of pollution. There are only two types of air quality in built-up areas of China; 'unhealthy' and 'very unhealthy.' Both levels are hazardous to human health, and locals have become accustomed to wearing the masks in order to limit the damage to their bodies.
11. California Oil Rush
And to think that some people believe wind farms look like blots on the landscape. This was once bare land but is now home to oil drill after oil drill; a whole oil field, spanning wide and deep and disappearing over the edge of the horizon. Based in California, this is the Kern River oil field, and has been open and working since 1899.
The amount of oil that can be produced from fields like these is monumental. During its time of operation, the Kern River oil field has produced in excess of two billion barrels of oil. Although it was once feared that the supply below the ground was close to running out, further research has suggested that there may be up to 500 million barrels worth still in the ground, which suggests it will run for at least another thirty years before it bleeds the earth dry. All that will be left is a barren wasteland.
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12. Deforestation
We've mentioned deforestation a couple of times already on this list, but nothing brings it home like seeing the effects of it with your own eyes. Every stump you see here was once a tree; a tree that in some cases would have stood in place for centuries, producing flora and playing host to many different forms of wildlife. Now they're all dead, useless and forgotten. As a result, so is the land around them.
As well as being a producer of oxygen, trees also extract carbon dioxide, which cleanses the air we breathe. If we do away with too many trees, our own planet's atmosphere will become poisonous to us, and we'll choke. You could make a case that we deserve it, but it would be better to avoid the problem entirely by not cutting down trees on such an industrial scale. The ecosystem of this area has been lost forever because of the deforestation activity.
13. Plastic Birds
We're forever being told about the importance of recycling, so much so that it occasionally feels like we're being lectured. This picture will hopefully provide a stark reminder of why it's so important that plastic, in particular, is recycled rather than being thrown away.
Plastic that's thrown away inevitably either ends up in one of three places; in a landfill, at an urban waste dump, or out at sea. In the latter two cases, a risk develops that creatures will eat the plastic waste, including birds. You're looking at the remains of an albatross which made that mistake. It's swallowed so many plastic items that it can't digest that its stomach became full. Unable to take on any food, and poisoned by the contents of its stomach, it died. That's on the conscience of everyone who casually tosses plastic away.
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14. The Rise Of The Sea
We touched on this earlier on, but there's a big difference between looking at an image of a melting iceberg and looking at an image of the sea encroaching upon an island. Melting ice leads to rising sea levels. That's just basic science. People and places which lay at the center of land masses aren't at risk but spare a thought for those who are. People who live on low-lying islands, for example.
Island nations and their peoples will be the first victims of rising sea levels. The effect won't be instant, so we should be able to evacuate people before a disaster happens, but their homelands will be gone forever, lost below the waves. After that, it will be coastal towns at the sea's edge. Centuries of human culture and history will be washed away because we didn't take action to stop it from happening. Right now, we still have that chance. Soon, we won't.
15. The Greenhouses of San Augustin
Taken from above, this looks like a network of shipping containers, either discarded or waiting for transport. In reality, it's actually the world's largest gathering of greenhouses, assembled and left to do their work in the middle of the desert in San Augustin. They're growing plants and food in places that there were never plants and food before.
On the one hand, this is a good thing, and we recognize that. On the other hand, this was once a dry desert. As we said earlier, nature has a natural balance that's evolved over millions of years. Wetlands and drylands are where they are for a reason. We have rules about not importing ecosystems from one area in the world to another for fear of contamination. We have no idea what the impact of altering a desert is likely to be. Also, did anyone think about the animals who are now unable to cross it?
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16. The Relics Of Electronica
We're all a little guilty of this. Technology marches on all the time; especially in the fields of home computing and mobile phones. In our desire to own the latest and most powerful model, we're eager to discard our existing kit as soon as something better comes along. Someone else may take on what you dispose of, but eventually technology becomes obsolete; usually within a small number of years from its launch. Much of that technology can't be recycled, and so it's just dumped. That's what we see here.
In among that mass are microwaves, refrigerators, old home computers, monitors, keyboards and consoles. Things which once sat at the heart of your family home are now broken wrecks on enormous piles. Although we as consumers are partially to blame for this, so are the companies that make them; the constant push to release as many products as possible, in as short a time as possible, generates vast amounts of waste and refuse. Perhaps if they were made responsible for cleaning it all up, they wouldn't be so eager?
17. Filling The Land
Regular landfills don't look any prettier than heaps of electronic junk. As the furnaces burn off what they can (depositing harmful chemicals into the air as they do so), the rest of the waste just clutters around them, covering vast distances and effectively creating a trash city. Very little waste of this kind biodegrades, and if it does, it takes hundreds or even thousands of years. We as a species create such a tremendous amount of waste, and yet we do so little to clean it up.
This picture was taken in Bangladesh, where the waste is particularly bad, but there are a number of other countries where identical images could have been taken. It says something about us as a species that we burden developing nations with the task of hosting and disposing with waste on this scale; such a site would be unlikely to be permitted in most of America or Europe.
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18. The Stink of the Ganges
This unpleasant image is a summation of what happens when spiritualism meets industrialism. The water you can see is that of the River Ganges. It's one of the most famous rivers in all the world, flowing through India, and of particular importance to those of the Hindu religion. It's also very heavily polluted.
Because of poorly developed waste disposal methods, both industrial and human waste flows out into the Ganges. However, for both spiritual and practical reasons, people still bathe and wash their clothes in the water of the Ganges, despite what their eyes and nose can clearly tell them about the quality of the water they're wading into, and what's in it. That's the stage we've now reached with industrialization; people bathing in human waste. With a little more care, and investment in education, we could stop this.
19. Too Many Humans
Ever been to a major city and felt a little crowded? You're not alone. There are too many humans living on this planet, and the population is increasing at an exponential rate. There is only so much space, so much food, and so many natural resources. We're already probably at stretching point. Much more than this, and we won't be able to cope. It will be the developing nations who suffer in that scenario more than anybody else.
Consider this statistic: There have been human beings living on this planet for thousands of years, but the population of Earth has doubled from 3.5bn to 7bn in just the last fifty years. People are living longer, and better medical care means fewer people die, however in turn that leads to overpopulation. That's more consumption, more pollution, more famine, and more disease.
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20. The Slums of India
Depending on where you are in the world you might refer to what we see here as either a slum or a shanty town. Both mean effectively the same thing; a badly planned and constructed series of dwellings for the poor. The kinder way to refer to them is as an 'informal settlement,' but as the slums stay where they are for decades, it doesn't feel right to refer to them as 'informal.' For many people, this is their whole life.
A slum home is better than no home at all, but it's still not right in when we live in a world of such economic riches. Until overpopulation is brought under control, though this will continue to happen. Many nations just cannot build fast enough to accommodate all the new lives that are born within their borders. People make their way to the slums and disappear there, with no real address or identity and little prospect of ever making it out again.
21. Animal Farm
Animals survived for thousands of years with very little encouragement or assistance from us. When humankind established itself as the dominant and most advanced form of life on the planet, we began enslaving and breeding animals for our own purposes. The net result of that is sights like this one, which can be found in most densely populated nations.
Intensified animal farming like this is unnatural. Animals never wanted or needed to be housed so closely together, or in such a concentrated or controlled environment. Placing so many cattle together in such a way is particularly harmful; it leads to concentrated doses of methane being released into the atmosphere, where it creates a chemical imbalance in the air. Moreover, we tend to remove forests to make room for these vast farmlands, disrupting the ecosystem that previously existed there in order to do so.
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22. The Towers Of Kowloon
Hong Kong is a tiny scrap of land that's had quite a storied history. Because of its geographic location and economic importance both as a population and trade center, Hong Kong has been disputed and fought over for centuries. It's now back in the hands of the Chinese, after the British relinquished their ownership of it in 1997.
Hosting so many people on so little land requires ingenious solutions, and there's no denying that this is one, but at the same time it's an ugly way of housing human beings. The average number of people per square kilometer in Hong Kong is 6,500. That figure is somewhat inflated by the existence of Kowloon City. The brutalist construction is home to more than 33,000 people in what is effectively one massive city block. That's bad news when it comes to the potential of disease breaking out and spreading rapidly. It's also bad news when it comes to concentrated human pollution seeping out into the land and atmosphere.
23. The Crop Deserts of China
We keep coming back to China. We've already highlighted the fact that it's the most industrialized nation on Earth, and perhaps we shouldn't completely blame them for that. All countries have to make money, and the Chinese have proven to be especially effective at finding solutions for that.
Not all of those solutions are great for the planet. This ornate looking overhead shot is actually field upon field of farmland, all devoted to growing only one kind of plant. Such fields are all over China and many neighboring countries. By planting so many of the same kind of crop, farmers have driven out what used to be here. That's usually a thriving forest, or a 'natural' field where many other forms of plant grew side by side. A diverse ecosystem is well defended against many kinds of natural disaster. Fields of a single species are not; they're just one outbreak of disease away from becoming barren.
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24. Forests Of Flame And Smoke
The last picture of deforestation we showed you was the after-effect; trees cut down to nothing more than stumps, and the land around them dead. Here's what it looks like when that process is in full flow; a violent image that looks like a war zone. This is the Amazonian rainforest as nature never intended for it to appear.
These forests are being cleared to make way for cattle farms; the kind we showed you a few pictures ago, which present environmental risks all of their own. Before that even happens, smoke rises into the atmosphere as the land is shredded. Forest creatures that live within these lands are left with no choice but to run for freedom, with the smoke of deforestation activity choking their lungs. If we could see it more often, we'd probably do more to stop it from happening.
25. The Red Tide
Here's another potent symbol of China's waste and pollution problem. A red river would be a beautiful sight and a curiosity if it occurred naturally, but it doesn't. The waters here aren't supposed to be that shade of red; a shade which is only growing more intense and vivid as time passes.
This is the Yangtze River; the largest river in the world to start and end within the same country. It would be a wonder of the world, but instead it's a scar on our collective conscience. Industrial pollution is to blame; both waste being pumped out into the water, and all the fuel and waste from the ships which sail upon it. Some see the total collapse of the ecosystem in this area is inevitable. We should heed that warning; when an ecosystem collapses, we're one step closer to a global extinction event.
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26. The Cellphone Sea
When you were looking at the image of the electrical waste dump earlier on, and we mentioned cell phones, you probably didn't think they would pose as much as a problem. After all, they're smaller, and therefore they have to take up less room, right? Wrong. Cellphones may be much smaller than computers and other electrical devices, but there are also much more of them.
As well as being more numerous, they become obsolete a lot faster. A good refrigerator will probably last you ten years or more; a computer maybe five. The average life of a cellphone is only one or two years before the progression of technology makes them obsolete. When they're no longer of use to you, they end up abandoned in giant 'seas' like this in the Congo. The Congo is and has been a war area for many years, where people fight over land and resources. The material and technologies in the phones are just one more thing for the warring factions to fight over, meaning there is both an environmental and human cost to disposing of them in this way.
27. Charger Mountain
It's not just cellphones we throw away when we have no further use for them; it's the chargers that come with them. The companies who make cellphones - and arguably Apple in particular - are to blame for this. At an earlier stage of cellphone development, most different models of phone used the same charger. Now, each manufacturer tends to demand the exclusive use of chargers supplied by them. That means old ones are thrown away when new phones are released.
We don't help with this either. We treat phone chargers as disposable. Left your charger at a friend's house? Buy a new one. Can't remember where you put it? Buy a new one. Worried about losing one? Buy two or three backups, all of which are useless when you come to upgrade. You're looking at the net result of all that disposability; a mountain of phone chargers that will never degrade, and yet will never be any use to anybody ever again.
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28. Beach Of The Dead
If nothing else has pricked at your conscience so far; this will. This image shows only a very small sample of the millions of dead fish who turned up overnight at Redondo Beach, California, in 2011. This isn't the first time this has happened; the phenomenon occurred in both 2003 and 2005. The cause of death? Oxygen starvation. There simply wasn't enough oxygen in the water for the fish to carry on breathing.
Fish, like mammals, breathe oxygen to stay alive; they just do it using gills instead of lungs. There's only so much oxygen in the water though, and when something drains that oxygen, the fish are doomed. In this case, it was an excess of algae. Algae occurs naturally anywhere there's water, but in Redondo Beach, the algae thrived because of stimulants provided within fertilizer and other waste being dumped into the water. The algae grew too quickly, used up all the oxygen, and the fish couldn't breathe. It was a slaughter.
29. The Tracks Of Our Tires
Have you been looking for a spare tire to keep in the trunk of your car? We know the perfect place to look; this dumping ground in the deserts of Nevada. You'll be spoilt for choice, because there are hundreds of thousands of them here.
The most terrifying thing about this picture is how quickly the wasteland has developed. It may look like the land is a dry desert, but it actually isn't far from populated areas. Until 2006 it was a popular place for recreation, but nobody would bring their children here now. It's just become yet another wasteland, collecting all the refuse that humanity doesn't know how to dispose of properly, left to rot under the baking sun. If it's progressed this far in thirteen years, we shudder to imagine what it might look like in another twenty. Hopefully, we've found a permanent solution by then.
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30. No Space From Space
This photo has been taken from space and allows us a more alarming and informative view of overpopulation than we can get from the ground. This is what New Delhi, India, looks like from far above the clouds. It's a massive, sprawling sea of human construction, spreading in every direction for as far as the lens can capture. New Delhi houses over 30,000 people per square mile, most of them in accommodation like this.
It's obviously better for people to have a roof over their head than not but consider what conditions must be like for the people contained within this mass. Where do the children go to play? Where do the adults to go rest? Where are the parks and the fields? Has anyone living in the middle of all this ever seen a tree? You could walk for miles in any direction from the center of this picture, and all you'd see are buildings that look very similar to your own home.
31. The Nuclear Hazard
This incident got plenty of publicity when it happened, but it's important to remember it. It's a powerful reminder of what's at stake when our reliance on nuclear technology goes badly wrong. The Japanese weren't to blame to what happened at the Fukushima Power Plant in 2011; it was caused by a powerful tsunami which tore the land apart. The results for the environment, however, were devastating.
Three years after the incident, radioactive tuna was found off the Pacific coast of the United States of America, having migrated there from Japan and been affected by the fallout from the disaster. Malformations have been reported in both the trees and the wildlife around Fukushima. In 2018, a full seven years after the meltdown, a robotic drone tested conditions in the interior of the shattered reactor and determined that it's still too dangerous for human beings to go in there. We have that choice. Birds and other animals which might accidentally wander into the land do not.
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32. Not Chemtrails, But Contrails
Conspiracy theorists love to talk about these markings in the sky. One popular theory says that they're chemicals sprayed by Governments in order to keep the population docile and under control. In reality, they're the contrails of ever-increasing numbers of passing aircraft, but you don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that they're dangerous.
This is the sky over the River Thames in London, which has two of the busiest airports in the world in Heathrow and Gatwick. With Heathrow working on an additional runway, the skies are only going to get busier in years to come. That means more contrails like this, which represent both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The planes may not be spraying chemicals onto the people down below, but they are releasing them into the sky. In the long run, that's probably even more harmful.
33. Rejected Meals
Looking at this picture is a little like gazing upon a work of art. What does it represent? Who put it together? It's colorful and easy on the eye, especially with the black background that allows all the details to stand out. Regrettably, it's nothing like as pretty as it appears.
With the exception of the shells which are there naturally, this is all regurgitated debris from the ocean. The one thing they all have in common is the tell-tale signatures of animals which have tried to consume them. They're all either chewed or partially digested, but then dispersed back to the land by the tide after the animals have either spat them out or died in the attempt to consume them. It's a reminder that the smallest and most insignificant piece of waste is enough to choke a sea creature if it's disposed of carelessly.
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34. Water From Ice
This picture captures a lake in Greenland that shouldn't be there. In fact, the lake is so new that we haven't even come up with a name for it yet. Scientists may not want to, because they're working on ways to help it revert back to its natural state of ice. This image was taken right at the top of the Greenland ice sheet, and if you'd taken it in the 1970s, it would all have been ice, all year round.
You can add this one to the list of evidence that climate change is very real, and that it clearly poses a threat. Records of the rate and extent of ice melting in this area have been kept ever since the early 70s, and they show a clear and consistent pattern. The 'melting season,' which as the name suggests is the period each year where the ice slowly melts before re-freezing in winter, is now seventy days longer than it used to be. That's more than two entire months.
35. Trying Times For Tuvalu
While we warn that rising sea levels will ultimately impact all coastal times and all islands, it's hard to make people believe in it until they see it with their own eyes. Here's a picture of it actually happening. This image, taken in 2007, is of the center of Tuvalu, heavily underwater. People still live here but may not be able to hold on much longer.
Tuvalu has been dealing with record levels of flooding in recent years. Because it has a maximum height of only fifteen feet above sea level, it will be the first populated island in the world to completely vanish if sea levels continue to rise. That means six thousand people who know Tuvalu as not only their home, but their nationality will have to abandon it and never return. While we debate whether or not we should limit our environmental impact, Tuvalu is running out of time.
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36. Dirty Old Town
It isn't just China or developing nations that struggle to maintain air quality; on the wrong day, with the wrong weather conditions, dank air can settle upon even the most advanced cities on Earth. Almost unbelievably, what you see here is a picture taken from the end of London Bridge in March 2012.
A perfect storm of negatives happened to create this haze; dirty, polluted air was blown in from the north by a strong wind, heavy traffic jams meant traffic pollution peaked and mingled with the dirty air, and then a sudden drop in the wind that had meshed the two together left it hanging and stagnant over England's capital city. For most of the world, this is how the air is the majority of the time; the WHO estimated that 92% of the world population is continually breathing in dirty air, and that it caused three million deaths globally in the year this picture was taken.
37. The Rain That Burns
There's one environmental phenomenon that humans are one hundred percent responsible for, and nobody can deny: acid rain. There was no such thing as acid rain until we started burning hazardous chemicals. It may not occur frequently, but when it does, it brings nothing but death and decay for animals and the environment.
Most acid rain is caused by a deadly combination of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and burning coal; all industrial waste products which combine inside clouds until the clouds can bear no more weight, releasing them back to the ground as liquid. The acid rain pools up inside lakes and streams and kills any fish living there. Whole species of fish have been eliminated this way. The rain that falls on land is soaked into the ground and absorbed by plants and trees, poisoning them and killing them slowly. Acid rain takes no prisoners; it can kill quickly or kill slowly, but it always kills.
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38. Bear Minimum
As the ice sheets melt, we're causing problems for more species than just humanity. The residents of Tuvalu and other island nations are debating if and when they might have to abandon their homes. Polar bears are watching as their territory disappears from in front of them, with no idea how or why.
This image captures a polar bear and its cub cautiously wandering across very thin ice. Polar bears are completely dependent upon sea ice; it's their natural habitat. They walk across it to find fish and other forms of food, and they have preferred hunting spots. As the ice grows thinner, the bears can lose the walkways to their hunting spots, and worse still, their walkways to each other. That means small polar bear families are left alone and marooned, in constant peril of either drowning or starving to death because there's nowhere for them to find food.
39. Bleaching The Seas
White is an unusual color for coral. It looks quite attractive, and it's well worthy of a picture. Unfortunately, as its unnatural, it's also bad news. White coral isn't supposed to happen, and it's not a shade that appears when coral is healthy. It's caused when there's too much carbon dioxide in the water. That carbon dioxide is there either because it's been emitted into the sea, or because there aren't enough trees in the area to process the carbon dioxide and keep the levels down.
The coral can just about cope with being white, but it's a warning signal. If the carbon dioxide balance isn't corrected, the coral will die. That would have an unimaginable impact on the underwater ecosystem; coral plays a vital role in regulating life below the waves, often providing both home and shelter to smaller creatures.
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40. Not All Climate Change Is Global Warming
You'll often hear it said by climate change skeptics that there are as many freak snowstorms in the world as there are freak heatwaves, and as such there's no such thing as global warming. Ergo, there's no such thing as human-influenced climate change. They're wrong. Climate change and global warming is not the same thing
Global warming refers solely to the insulating effect of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which will retain too much of the sun's heat when they become too dense. Climate change is the disruption to global weather systems caused by the imbalances of gas in the air. While that will sometimes mean hotter than usual weather, it also means snowstorms where no snowstorms have occurred previously. Take this picture, for example. It shows plenty of settled snow on the sands of Saudi Arabia in 2012. It's a nice novelty for the locals, and it looks pretty, but it's not a good sign. Snow shouldn't fall on Saudi Arabia. When it does, something is very wrong.
41. No Fishing Here Today
Why is there a pier jutting out from the land over this deserted track in the mountainous terrain? Why is there a fish-cleaning station in the distance, rusting away and unused? The answer is simple and terrifying; this used to be a lake. These were once the shores of Lake Mead, which sits between Arizona and Nevada in the USA.
A combination of rising temperatures and climate change, coupled with overuse of the Colorado River, have led to the Lake almost completely disappearing, along with the fishing industry that relied upon it and the fish that lived in it. A whole way of life in this part of the world has gone forever. With no way of saving the lake and no means of reversing the trend, the dwindling levels of water that still remain here will be gone by the end of 2021. Unless we change our ways, it will be one of many.
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42. Black Coffee
Picking coffee cherries from plants has been both an industry and a way of life in Chiapas, Mexico, for generations. Those who work among the fields now may be the last of their kind, as disease continues to affect the crop, and returns diminish year upon year.
The specific disease which is responsible for the blackening of the leaves visible in this image is coffee leaf rust. It's not only Chiapas which has noticed it; many farms across the south of Mexico and Central America are suffering from the same issue. In some cases, it's reduced the output of coffee leaf crops by half or more, destroying the livelihoods of the people who depend on it. Temperatures have risen in the area in recent years, enabling the fungus responsible for the disease to grow. It used to appear only in crops on lower land; now it's making its way up the hillsides.
43. Hungarian Disaster
Even when we try to process chemicals and go about the processes of industrialization as safely as possible, accident or disaster can strike at any time, with terrible consequences for human life, animal life, and the surviving environment. The people of Hungary know all about that.
In 2010, the reservoir at a Hungarian aluminum plant burst and flooded and then burst, causing an explosion of visceral red toxic sludge that coated the entirety of the surrounding area. Such was the force of the blast that cars were overturned, with one being sent flying 100 feet down the road, and another blown clean off the road and over a fence. Neither people nor animals touched by the waste had no chance of survival; it was burning, and full of caustic acid. This could happen on any day, at any aluminum plant anywhere in the world.
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44. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Texas is the largest state of them all, with a land mass that dwarfs many European countries. Despite that, it's still smaller than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It's an entirely human-made floating mesh of debris and sludge that should make all of us ashamed of ourselves.
Right in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean is what's referred to as a gyre; a bulk of collected marine waste which has been formed by oceanic currents slowly delivering them all to the same point. It's so enormous that it's impossible even to know where to start in terms of trying to clean it all up, but it mostly comprises of non-degradable plastics, and chemical sludge jettisoned into the waters. It not only represents a potentially fatal threat to marine wildlife in the area, but it's also so thick and hazardous that it now poses a strategical problem to major shipping routes.
45. The Chinese Inferno
One of the many hard-working industrial plants in China was the 101 Petro Chemical Plant, which was situated at Jilin City, the capital of China's Jilin Province. In 2005, a chain reaction of explosions inside the plant ripped it to shreds, tearing the plant into pieces and decimating everything around it.
The force of the explosion meant that survival for those close to it was impossible. Six people were killed instantly, dozens were injured, and ten thousand civilians had to be evacuated for their own safety. The shattered plant leaked over one hundred tons of polluting chemicals out into the land, seeping into the Songhua River. In among the compounds were both benzene and nitro-benzene. They would have killed all of the life in that stretch of the river fairly quickly, but the impact on humans is still being felt to this day. The chemicals together can reduce the white blood cell count in the human body, significantly increasing the risk of leukemia.
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46. The Doorway To Hell
Unlike many of the other disasters featured on this list, this fiery pit is the result of good intentions gone wrong. A team of Soviet geologists operating in Turkmenistan had constructed a drilling rig for scientific purposes and were alarmed when it collapsed into an enormous hole with a seventy-meter diameter. The freshly created pit instantly began to emit enormous quantities of methane.
Aware of the consequences of so much methane being released into the atmosphere, the geologists decided the best course of action would be to burn it off and get out of there as quickly as possible, figuring the pit of flame would extinguish itself as soon as the methane ran out. Unfortunately, we're still waiting. The fire started in 1971 and has burned ever since, with the ignited gas still being released into the air.
47. No Love For The Canal
This is one of the most glaring cases of disregard for the environment or human beings featured on our list. The town of Love Canal near Niagara Falls was founded as a model town in the 1890s. By the 1920s, a license had been granted to a company called Hooker Chemical (now known as the Occidental Petroleum Corporation) to bury chemical waste below the land. The job was done cheaply and inefficiently, and the chemicals leaked out into the land and water.
It took a few decades for the crude containment system built around the landfill to fail, but when it did, black water started to filter into Love Canal. Rates of cancer, miscarriage and congenital disabilities sparked sharply and suddenly. The land was poisoned, the people were sick, and the wildlife was killed off. Eventually, President Jimmy Carter was forced to declare a state of emergency and evacuate the town.
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48. The Dead Zone
When an area is referred to as 'The Dead Zone,' it's a fair indication that you probably never want to pay it a visit. In this case, the dead zone is out at sea, and the dead are all of the fish and other aquatic life in the affected part of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Dead Zone is the most notorious hypoxic area in all of the United States. It's the result of years of phosphorus and nitrogen being dumped out at sea by the Mississippi River. The waste didn't end up here entirely on purpose; the Mississippi River has the unfortunate honor of being the primary drainage area for almost half of America. Waste dumped into lakes and streams from many different locations finds its way into the river, then out to sea, and then out into the dead zone, which covers 8000 square miles. The chemicals sap the oxygen level in the water, meaning the fish can't breathe. They end up washed up on beaches like this.
49. The E-Waste Graveyard
We're back in China again for what might be the most tragic of all their industrialization tales. Around 70% of all the world's electronic waste ends up in China, mainly through illegal transportation because international law forbids waste transfer on this scale. Guiyu seems to be the Chinese Government's preferred dumping ground for this waste, which has had appalling consequences for the city.
The world's media have dubbed Guiyu 'the electronic graveyard' due to the effect of toxic chemicals from electronic waste infecting the area. It has a much higher than average rate of miscarriages, but the news is worse for children who have already been born. Tests have revealed that a sickening 88% of all the children who live in Guiyu suffer from lead poisoning as a direct consequence of the local environment. With printer cartridges being washed out into the rivers, and acid baths used to strip salvage materials, most of the wildlife is already dead or dying.
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50. Chernobyl Disaster
Outside of wartime, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 is still the best known and most lethal of all the environmental disasters ever to occur on our planet, registering as a seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale. No event has ever been awarded a higher rating, and it remains the worst nuclear disaster in history.
A routine safety test at the plant inadvertently triggered the disaster, which resulted in explosions and fire at the plant followed by a nuclear meltdown. Four square kilometers of forest around the plant turned red and then died, contaminated by the blast. Cattle and horses died of radiation poisoning. Rivers and streams were poisoned. Cancer rates rose rapidly, and the children of both humans and animals were born with severe deformities and other illnesses. Even now, over thirty years since the incident, cancer is more common in the area than elsewhere in Russia, and the fish are still radioactive.

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